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Seasoned Paramedic Remembers Empathy


We’ve all been there. It’s 3:30 in morning; you’ve run 14 calls, and the area’s frequent flyer phones 9-1-1, complaining of leg pain. She’s morbidly obese, can’t ambulate, has a raging cellulitis and hopes for a late night ambulance ride to the hospital where her physician practices, which happens to be 25 miles from your coverage zone. Anger and frustration are your first reactions. You think, “Why can’t she go to a closer facility? Why does she phone in the middle of the night? Does she realize she is taking an ALS unit out of service for so long? I have to work at my second job tomorrow, and I haven’t had any sleep. I know her husband can drive. Why doesn’t he just take her?”

So you listen to her story, assess her condition and grab her medications. On top of it all, she requests her purse, house coat, walking cane and for you to secure the home. Her husband is still sleeping, and she didn’t want to wake him. This elevates your frustration to new levels. Subsequently, your attitude plummets, and your care is less than ideal. The patient is febrile, tachycardic and having immense pain to the infected area. You continue with vitals, but you don’t establish IV access or consider something for pain.

During transport, she tells you her grandson just received his paramedic license this past month and begins his first job in EMS next week. She extols his excitement, apprehension and desire to help his fellow man. You begin reminiscing about the early days of your career that has touched so many people in such a positive way.

You think to yourself, “Do you remember when you took your licensing exam then waited weeks for the results?” Then you wondered whether you’d get the big envelope or the small one. Remember receiving the news? This might have been one of the biggest days of your professional career.

After that, you set out to make a difference. Do you remember when you were scared to make a mistake, mistreat someone or second guess yourself? Back then, these patients didn’t bother you half as much as they do now. So you think back to the young and excited paramedic you once were. The nice, motivated and steadfast stallion, who treated every patient with the same respect each and every day. Those were the exciting days, when the job mattered. You didn’t mind missing sleep because you were a paramedic. But that green paramedic would be disappointed in the version you’re demonstrating now. In fact, you might have your butt kicked by the old you right about now.

We forget that EMS is about the patient—not the EMS provider. Empathy, compassion, integrity and perseverance are all values each provider must encompass. We haven’t seen life through their eyes. We haven’t endured their misfortunes or faced their challenges or hardships. We all know about the repeat offenders, frequent flyers and people that just plain abuse the system. These types of patients are simply part of the job. The job we promised to endure at the highest level. The selfless job that made us so excited once upon a time … do you remember when? It’s a good practice for any provider to remember when they first put on that uniform, laced those boots and promised to help our fellow man in the best and most selfless way possible.



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