Operations, Patient Care

There’s More to Life than EMS

Issue 6 and Volume 36.

EMS is a wonderful thing to do with your life, no doubt about it.

You’re there when people are born, and you’re there when they die. In between, you’re so close to the other stuff that happens to them, you can reach right out there and touch it. Nobody else would be welcome to see, hear or know most of the things you experience every day, but in each case, you’re personally invited—requested, welcomed, even embraced by people you don’t know. And by their families.

That’s pretty special work you do. But make no mistake, it’s work, and there’s a reason we call it that. When it’s easy, it’s really easy. When it’s hard, it’s really hard. Right?

On top of that, the kinds of people who are generally attracted to this work tend to be very nice. When you work 24-hour shifts with someone, you get to know them better than anybody. They become family, don’t they?

It turns out there’s a big difference between your work family and the one you leave at home. The people at work are your friends; the ones you leave at home are the ones to whom you’ve made lifelong commitments. That’s a good thing to remember if you treasure your key relationships and if you want to maintain your balance in life.

Balance is crucial to us all, not only in happiness but also in health. No doubt you’ve seen the truth of that in your study of physiology, chemistry, physics and even politics. Because of this, I’ve come to believe EMS is something you need to get away from, often and routinely. More than 20 years ago, this column offered a suggestion for doing that: Take a camera with a standard lens and a single roll of film (20 exposures), and spend a whole day trying to shoot one decent photo. Not a snapshot, like you could take with an iPhone, but a photo—carefully composed with such elements as subject, focus, foreground, background, depth of field, lighting and so on.

It’s a lot cheaper to do that today than it once was. A good camera costs about the same, but you don’t need to buy film or pay for chemical processing. And you can organize 10 years’ worth of large, high-resolution photos in a storage space the size of a fingernail.

Personally, I love farmhouses, and thanks to its dry climate, Colorado has thousands of old ones. Weathered, sagging, a little tired, or plain tuckered out, I think they’re beautiful. Especially considering many of them were hand built more than a hundred years ago, probably by their owners’ families and neighbors.

I also have a reverence for farmers. I think they’re the most knowledgeable people in the world. Think about it. During their 20-hour days, they’re required to be parents, climatologists, geographers, philosophers, accountants, hunters, butchers, statisticians, dentists, botanists, veterinarians, artists, electricians, firefighters, carpenters, hydraulic engineers, physicians, obstetricians, and most of all, gamblers.

A whole lot of living begins, unfolds and ends in a 150-year-old farmhouse. I find that fascinating.

When I need a break from EMS, I grab my trusty old camera, hop in my little truck and head down some dusty road. In recent years, my old friend Saint Sue has been coming along for the ride. To be honest, I don’t think she gets it, but she patiently pretends to, and it gives us time to talk about anything at all. Lately, her company has turned out to be one of the best things about those trips. And about my life.

You may not have a feel for farmhouses, Life-Saver. For you, it may be old cars, deserts, flowers, beaches, horses or canyons. Maybe you’re an athlete, perhaps a skateboarder, skier or a surfer. It could be anything that’s different and not equipped with sirens. There’s a whole world out there waiting to catch the eye of a practiced observer like you, and it transcends that important work of yours.

That’s a lesson I wish I could have learned in my first EMT class. I eventually learned it from partners and patients over the span of many years. Here it is for you now: EMS is a lot bigger than your job. And your life is a lot bigger than EMS. JEMS

This article originally appeared in June 2011 JEMS as “Finding Your Farm House: Caring for the rest of our lives.”