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EMS Dinosaurs

I've been thinking about the concept of the EMS dinosaur: the medic who's been around since the universe began. ("Yeah, I remember that first call the Big Bang, we called it matter flying everywhere.") This is the war-weary veteran of the trenches, the guy who remembers the LIFEPAK without a number. Is there value in his experience, or should his hidebound ways be politely ushered from the prehospital stage?

What promoted these musings is twofold. The first is that as I get older (and become an economic dinosaur, falling out of the coveted 18 35 advertising range my brand loyalty is set), I listen to more and more music where I can actually understand the words. So it seems natural that I've been drawn to the shows on PBS where they reunite old doo-wop and rock-and-roll groups from a time before "rock" referred to a unit of crystalline cocaine. (I suppose it's a further sign of age that I watch PBS and, I confess, listen to NPR but at least I turn the volume to mute during the pledge drives.) It's amazing to watch these guys perform. Many are in their 60s and 70s, some of the voices are cracking or can't hit the high notes, and other lineups show gaps where the unending press of time has taken members for itself. But those who can are out there, singing and strutting, reminding us that, in the words of the Contours, "We may be older, but we can still really shake it down." (Five points if you can pick out the song).

The other side of my brain has been thinking about "Great Asian Dinosaurs," a traveling exhibition of prehistoric animals from Mongolia. The display is at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach until June 22nd. This is the collection's first stop in the United States, and much of the material has never been out of Asia before. There are the obligatory dinosaurs, including a display of an adult and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus batar, a smaller cousin of the fearsome T. rex. (My son says these are a "daddy and boy.") But the most fascinating creatures are those that came eons before the dinosaurs. In all of them you can recognize characteristics of the animals of today, but they were uniquely specialized to their environment.

(Author's note for fans of Big Extinct Things: As a local booster, I'd be remiss not to note that Daytona also has the world's most complete skeleton of the extinct giant ground sloth, which roamed the Florida swamps way before NASCAR. This is another favorite of my little guy. We were at the Museum the other day and he walked into the natural history gallery, arms open, to exclaim, "It's our old friend giant ground sloth!" Strange kid. But strange parent, so what do you expect?)

So what do these varied experiences tell us about EMS dinosaurs? Like the old rock-and-rollers, the experience they bring to the table has a certain magic. Their pronouncements, like their songs, are timeless classics. They've seen it all, and they sing a more worldly, more feeling tune. But their wisdom must be taken in the context of their age. The Rays ("Silhouettes") probably don't listen to rap, and the Duprees ("You Belong to Me") likely confuse Depeche Mode with papier-m ch . Bruce Springsteen is that loud kid from Asbury Park. For these medics, change is hard. It's difficult to convince them that EMS operates in a more scientific, more technologic, less "gut-wrenching" time. But you have to respect them, for theirs was a time when only the best became a paramedic, and they were the best of the best. Being a paramedic was an honor, a rare recognition of skill and knowledge. It was not, as it has too often become, a way to make a few extra dollars per hour or to keep EMS faculty in business. So when one has an opportunity to learn from these elders, one should listen, join in the reminiscences and seek out the gems within the memories.

Like EMS dinosaurs, the creatures in the Great Asian Dinosaurs collection were the beings par excellence of their time. They were the top predators, the most fleet of foot. But evolution has passed them by. We marvel at their achievements and seek what we can from their experience. These animals survived for millions of years; we have learned to destroy the world in a few short millennia (opposable thumbs are neat, but they're not the whole explanation). But put into our time, they're sluggish brutes that would have the same chance at world domination as my dog would of stopping a bulldozer (although she'd try a brave, if not entirely too bright, little thing). To see them today is a stark reminder of how things change.

I think that past success is the base for future progress. If we're talking about music, it's learning that the same notes produce an infinite cacophony of sound; if we're talking dinosaurs, we see how the details change while the plan remains the same. In the EMS context, what we think of today as BLS care is the bedrock of all we do. Certainly there have been changes in the way we implement this care, but the basics of attention to airway, breathing and circulation have been fixed since the beginning. The dinosaurs of EMS understand this better than anyone.

It's been said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Conversely, those who pay too much attention to the past ignore the needs of the present. Twenty years from now, we'll all be dinosaurs to a new, bright-eyed, technically savvy group of recruits. If we can find a balance between the wisdom of the old guard and the knowledge of the new kids, then maybe we can teach the EMS of the future to respect us when we become the EMS of the past.


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