**disclaimer: there will be a handful of swear words scattered throughout this article — that’s abnormal for me + my writing — I’m sorry, but this is one time when I feel like censoring the force of my feelings takes away from actually writing this…for me or for you.**

The words you’re about to read have been typed out for years…floating around in my head for even longer. For whatever reason I’ve clung to them, afraid to share them. Afraid to be…afraid. The past few weeks have been really rough for me, in part because I’m finally taking on the role of being a full-fledged EMT in an emergency room/urgent care. Some people will tell you it’s easy peasy. They’ll argue that you have a team to support you + you’re ‘just’ an EMT so it’s not your responsibility. I call bullshit. For me, it’s more than that. For me, I am responsible…for lives. That’s terrifying. If that’s not terrifying, well…either you’re a bulletproof genius or your too damn arrogant to acknowledge the fact your human + humans make mistakes. I’m betting on the latter…but I digress.

I wrote the majority of this post two years ago, while I waited in the Newark airport for my flight that was delayed over + over. It’s been sitting in my Google Drive folder, fretting + festering. In that time my life has taken a slightly different turn + I’m slowly adjusting to the responsibilities of a career in EMS, but the sentiment is the same…it’s fucking terrifying. I read an article called “I’m A Paramedic But Nobody Taught Me How…” [you may need to be logged into LinkedIn to see this article, sorry!] which brought me back to my own fears. Fears I still feel compelled to put into words + share, because I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one terrified of failing…or of being afraid to fail.

“If there is a doctor or medical professional on board, please push your call button,” the flight attendant requested over the speakers of my first flight of a 20 hour travel day. It felt kind of like a movie or the opening scene of a crime show. Something had happened, someone needed help. At first, I thought little of this announcement — it wasn’t my problem + I didn’t want to get involved.

“Any medical personnel — doctor, nurse, EMT,” she repeated.

Uh oh. That took care of my “does an EMT count?” question. My pulse skyrocketed, my mind raced and I did one more slow glance around the plane. Still no call lights blinking. Damnit. I immediately started a mental list of the reasons I was not qualified to help, even as my conscience pushed my hand up, toward my own call button.

You see, I am a certified EMT-Basic. I spent ten whole weeks [there’s some sarcasm there, that seems like no time at all now that I write it out] learning the ins + outs of assessing situations, building field diagnosis + saving lives of fellow students as they took on the role of “patients”. My mornings + nights were spent pouring over my EMS book + I forced my friends to play patient…over + over + over. With a lot of time + a metric shit ton of effort I became a smart, confident + competent EMT. I worked incredibly hard to change from a talk-until-they-agree business career to a talking-saves-no-one medical career.

Being an EMT is Terrifying

Studying to Become an EMT // Career Change from Marketing to Medical

When the flight attendant made the page overhead I was three months post-NREMT certification. After my tests I promptly jumped on a plane to Europe where my confidence in my medical training faded in the mountain sunshine.

This wasn’t the first time I had this heart thumping panic as I danced around the semantics + guilt that my NREMT certification has wrapped itself up into, like a barb wired security blanket. Ever since I walked away from that NREMT test + into the real world I’ve had a chest full of conflicting emotions when faced with the reality of my training.

I will proudly explain how I made a career change from marketing to medical, very content with my newfound life path…until someone says “oh, you’re the person to hike with!”. Well, of course…I’m awesome. However, me being an EMT does not make me a never-do-wrong genius when things go awry. Being an EMT doesn’t mean I can solve every wilderness problem. If you get stung by something, fall down a mountainside or get ill while in the wilderness my EMT skills will do little more than hold you together until we get back to civilization. I’m an EMT, not a magician.

On that flight en route to Denver, Colorado I did push the call button to announce my ability to help. There was another EMT who did the same + together we were able to assess the situation, help administer some basic care + offer up some suggestions for the rest of the flight. Luckily for everyone involved, it appeared to be a very basic medical issue that we were able to stabilize rather easily with the supplies aboard the plane. All was well…this time.

In reality, this is not unlike the majority of calls an EMS provider will receive on the job. I say this with limited EMS experience + a head full of stories from the more experienced. There are horrifying calls + I’ll probably always head into a call expecting the worst…but I must remember that it is always the patient’s emergency, not mine. They tell you this repeatedly in training, yet my heart always races while my mind jumps to conclusions.

Being an EMT is Terrifying

Wilderness EMT Rescue Training // High Alpine + Ice Rescue

As I read through I’m A Paramedic But Nobody Taught Me How… I felt the fearful, yet excited adrenaline rush that came with the scenarios she wrote about. The deaths, the anger, the pain…then the hope, the births, the impacts. Those are the reasons I really want to push forward in the EMS field. Those are also the reasons I’m terrified of continuing. I’m stuck. I’m scared.

Quite frankly, I think my fear of failure — with patient care + in the eyes of my instructors/team — is the reason I am so unsettled in life. It’s so much easier to work on the fringes of the EMS world with minimal commitment. This exactly what my random EMS gigs alongside trails + outdoor concerts have offered me. I’m support, until the ambulance arrives. I’m staying so far out on the fringes of EMS I’m not even the one delivery people to the emergency room.

This will change when I take on the role of a Critical Care Tech at a seasonal emergency room. I will be working with people who are injured + having a really bad day…but I’m surrounded by so many resources + an emergency room at the base of a ski resort is quite predictable. Dislocated shoulders, broken bones, torn ligaments…they all suck, but they rarely require CPR, intubation or rushed ambulance rides. It’s a seemingly safe place in a world of the unknown.

While working at the ski resorts ER last season I watched the clinical staff bond as a team — joking with a patient to calm their nerves, offering up a phone for a patient to call home, teaming up for potluck lunches. It was a generally relaxed environment. Until that call came in…

…the one where an un-helmeted rider was “not responding appropriately” after hitting a tree
…the one where a fall leading to “back pain” resulted in no feeling below the waist
…the one where they were escalating a “trouble breathing” patient to “unresponsive” patient

Those were the calls where everyone got serious, lunches were forgotten + our “medical clinic” becomes a very, very focused “emergency room”. As the radio spit out details, the techs’, nurses’ + doctors’ faces changed as they prepared themselves for the worse. Without taking away from the very real trauma of the situation, it was truly mesmerizing the watch the atmosphere change. That change is the reason I respect my colleagues so much. It is something I want to be part of…

…but to get there, I need to commit more. I need to do more than just comfortably work around the fringes of EMS in a sheltered setting. Instead, I need to learn more, experience more + put myself out there more. I know I’m competent + I know I’m capable.

Being an EMT is Terrifying

Getting Outside + Hitting the Trail // Recovery — Mentally + Emotionally

Getting outside is my go-to way to recoup…from everything. I’m lucky enough to be involved with EMS Unlimited, which has created Team EMS. The organization focuses on giving EMS professionals an outdoor outlet + encouraging them to take on their emotions on the trails. I’d seriously recommend checking them out — especially if you or someone you know works in EMS.

As with my recent travels — I know it will be okay, once I get past the internal discomforts. I also need to stop using “travel” as an excuse to stay away from what truly scares me…yet, how does one give up something that is fulfilling for something that is terrifying? I have no idea + I highly doubt I’ll ever find the *right* answer. Until then I’ll teeter around on this see-saw that makes up my life — trying to balance what drives me to keep going.

 

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2 Comments

Alex Deitz Little · January 9, 2018 at 10:46 am

Hey lady! I hear you 100%! I had 6 years of EMS experience (911!) then left the field for 8 years — now that I’m edging back in, I am shocked at the things my younger self just dove right into with no fear whatsoever. I know I have always been kinda slow on the uptake for certain things, but holy hell, I was an 18-year old EMT, charged with literally saving lives, and it was just an exhilarating roller coaster ride. I definitely studied a lot harder, stress a lot more, and feel a bunch more anxiety doing it this time. The good news is, all of the mitigators are true — you are part of a team, you generally are seeing manageable cases, and the fact that you’re scared means you care appropriately. The barriers to entry for EMS are so, so low — you and I can definitely do the work (even if the pay sucks – ha!) and with our diverse life experience, probably do it better than we think. Good luck chica!

    Heidi Kumm · January 9, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    Oooh…you’re coming back to EMS? I do enjoy what I do. It really ends up making such a difference for people + I love that aspect of it. You’re probably pretty spot on with the younger versions of ourselves being so invincible. I know I thought less + did more back then. Maybe I just really miss bits + pieces of that former self.

    Enjoy living + breathing that textbook…I may start sleeping with mine again just so I don’t forget anything. Besides, it’s basically the size of a pillow! 😉

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