There’s a song on my iPhone that’s stuck in my head. I’m not sure how it got there—perhaps my daughter downloaded it. It’s by a musician named Evan Purcell, and the song is called “25 Over Again.” The lyrics repeat in my mind:
You don’t look a day older than the day I left,
After all these years I can’t forget,
Faces are fuzzy, but my memory is set,
Twenty-five years later with no regrets.
I’d do 25 over again.
Now time has a way of losing friends,
And memories twist what might have been,
Age is a battle that I can’t win,
And 25 years later,
This has got to make you grin.
In a business that is devoted to humanity—EMS and emergency medicine—we sometimes lose sight of our own humanity. In our desire to do what we do, we often put family and friends behind the demands and culture of the job. I’ve made many great friends from my EMS days in northern Texas. We worked hard together—typically 24 hours on-duty, 24 hours off-duty, and then 48 hours on-duty every other weekend. Even when we were off, we partied together. But we were in our late teens and early 20s.
Friendships gave way to marriage and children. Most of us moved on and went a different route: medicine, law, computers and even the clergy. Some stayed in EMS. I’d run across these old friends at EMS conferences. Every year we’d say we needed to get together. We never did. Then, some of these old EMS friends started dying.
The first of the deaths was a good friend named David Jackson. We worked at the same station on opposite shifts. He got a degree in chemistry but stayed involved in EMS. One day he suddenly died. His wife and his best childhood and EMS friend (and former partner), Bill Scott, asked me to give the eulogy. Although I had a prior career in commercial radio and had spoken to large crowds, this was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But, it was certainly an honor.
Afterwards, we had a reception at a local Mexican cantina. The conversations quickly drifted back to the good old days. Although more than 20 years had passed, we assumed our old roles. We teased the same people. For a short time, we relived the old days. We all vowed to “have a reunion” and get together in the near future … but we never did.
The next year, another EMS friend, Jerry Harness, died of a massive stroke in his late 40s. Jerry stayed in EMS until the stroke took his mobility and speech, and he ended up spending his final years in his mother’s house in Gulfport, Mississippi. They had his funeral in Texas, and I was asked again to give the eulogy. After the funeral, we all vowed to “have a reunion” and get together in the near future … but we never did.
A few years later, another EMS friend, David Dishinger, suddenly died. David and I had worked together for years. He was the best man at my wedding in 1978. He went into real estate, but we stayed in touch. He loaned me money to get through medical school. Again, I was asked to give the eulogy and did so with all of my ability. After the funeral … well, you know the rest.
Now, I’ve been receiving mail from American Association of Retired Persons for five years. I still work hard—too hard—clinically, writing, researching and working around our houses. I still haven’t learned to take the requisite times for family and friends. A recent vacation in the Florida Keys with my wife, my son, his wife and two of our three grandchildren brought this into perspective. It’s not too late to change.
Although the tone of this article appears introspective and pensive, I’m happy and have a great life and family. But, I seriously regret not staying in touch with my EMS friends. I’ll see some of them at conferences, such as the Texas EMS conference, and we’ll vow to get together again. As my life is slowly taking me to Nevada, I’m trying to keep my Texas connections.
So, my message to you younger EMS folks is to find a balance between work, family, friends and life. Don’t wait for funerals and hospital waiting rooms to reconnect. You’ll regret it as I have. One of my favorite quotes, often attributed to Mark Twain, sums up my feelings well.
“Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”