JEMS columnist Steve Berry shook up a sleepy morning crowd with a closing keynote address, telling EMS folks to incorporate more humor into their work. He left the crowd with belly laughs and plenty of inspirational messages.
“You’ve got to work with someone who nurtures your funny bone,” Berry told attendees. “I will not work with someone who can’t laugh.” Berry said the challenge of working in EMS is that people tend to take themselves too seriously and can be control freaks.
“You can’t be funny when you have to be in control all the time,” Berry said. “And it starts the first time you go code three. Let’s face it, the first time you drove code three the seas parted.”
Berry has been a paramedic and teacher for more than 25 years, and he makes people laugh with his cartoons poking fun at EMS in JEMS. He used that funny end of EMS, though, to get to the deeper meaning of the work. He said people in EMS have a different sense of humor, which he attributed to their closeness – and constant battle – with death. “Gallows humor, we have a name for it,” Berry said. “We kind of laugh at death, don’t we?”
He suggested EMS workers gain knowledge from their most chronically ill patients, and use humor with them, too. “When somebody says they never got a chance to say goodbye, it really means, they never got a chance to say I love you,” he said. “Say it every day.”
The dying understand that, he said.
“We carry a lot of equipment, but we also carry ghosts,” he said. “We have a lot of ghosts...Our mask, never show a feeling, never show an emotion, but you and I know we know there are times, there are calls, there are situations, that bring us to that level."
For most people, post-traumatic stress stems from the worst moment in one day. But people in EMS see that every day. And sometimes, he said, “the candle we burn will burn us.”
Sharing those stories back at the station helps, he said, and those stories are the fabric of the EMS community. Berry said that those in EMS shouldn’t let those war stories, sometimes horrific, alienate them from their families, either. “Sometimes you have to say, ‘I’ve had a bad call, I’ve had a bad day,” he said. He noted the irony in how sometimes it takes a death to make a life important.
Berry urged attendees to make it a mission to honor those who have died in the line of duty, either by visiting the EMS memorial or filling a church somewhere, sometime. “We think from the brain,” he said in closing. “We think from the gut, because sometimes we know this has to happen. But I also think we think from our heart. And I think that’s truly the joy of EMS.”
Earlier in the closing ceremonies, T. Ryan Mayfield, MS, NREMT-P was presented with the 2011 Best Research award by the Prehospital Care Research Forum (PCRF) Award, for his project on decreasing blood lactate levels in EMS patients, co-authored with Mary Meyers.
And Jennifer Aldrich, EMT P, was awarded the Best Oral Presentation award by the PCRF for her research on ambulances being reservoirs for bacterial disease transmission. Also credited on the report were Edward O’Connor PhD, EMT-P and Christian H. Eggers, PhD. “He’s a real shining star to watch,” JEMS editor in chief A.J. Heightman said of Mayfield. “What’s important is that both of these people have our backs.”
The 2011 Nicholas Rosecrans Award for excellence in injury prevention was presented to Glenn Luedtke, who spearheaded an NAEMT committee that created a day-long safety course for EMS providers. The award is named after Nicholas Rosecrans, a boy who died in a downing incident and inspired by a prevention program. The award was presented by Keith Griffiths, Paul Maxwell and Lynn Rosecrans.
“This is truly an honor on behalf of the NAEMT and especially the wonderful team we had to put this course together,” Luedtke said in accepting the award.
Rafael Sa’adah was named the winner of the 2011 James O. Page/JEMS award, which is presented to an individual or organization determined to bring positive change to the EMS system. Sa’adah is the assistant fire chief for EMS at the District of Columbia Fire & EMS Department. In 2007, the District of Columbia formed a Task Force on EMS to examine the system-wide delivery of emergency medical services in the District. AFC Sa’adah worked to accomplish the mandates of the task force and provide regular public reports to document progress.
The JEMS Games winners were also announced and presented with awards. A team of paramedics from Sussex County (De) was awarded the Gold Medal for their performance in the finals of the 2011 JEMS Games. Finishing second was a team from Sussex County (NC) and in third was Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
Heightman thanked attendees for being at the event.
“We know for many of you it can be a financial challenge to get here,” Heightman says, “and we appreciate your dedication."