We’ve all been there — the busy shift that wouldn’t end, running calls all day and all night. Then add a last minute call that adds another couple of hours to the shift and to the exhaustion our bodies feel. The question inevitably comes up: how many more shifts can I keep doing this to my body? Is there only so many years of EMS that we can work before our bodies have been wore out too many times, and they finally say that enough is enough?
I have worked full-time in EMS for 24 years on 24-hour shifts and know that my mind and body don’t spring back from a busy shift as fast as they used to. At the end of the shift, my endurance is depleted and my body craves to sit still at home for a few hours nursing a cup of coffee or collapsing into my bed. My sleepy mind questions why I do what I do. Surely there are other jobs I can do. Surely there’s no way someone can retire from a career in EMS. Surely I should give it up and find something more sensible to do. Somewhere that work doesn’t become a frequent foray into the world of sleep deprivation.
Maybe some of this is induced by the aberrant chemicals bouncing around my sleep-deprived brain, because it often takes the rejuvenation of a good night’s sleep in my own bed without the threat of pagers going off before the answer comes. And the answer is strong when it comes.
EMS is what I do in spite of the detrimental parts of it: working holidays and weekends; working long shifts; working beyond the limits of what the body wants to do; working in adverse weather conditions and difficult environments; working with panicked patients and families who often show that panic in angry and aggressive ways; working in a role where my decisions are overly scrutinized from all ends.