By: Ryan O’Meara, Advanced Care Paramedic
Paramedicine is an amazing profession, and is always changing. You can have incredibly rewarding experiences that leave a lasting sense of positive energy one minute, only to end up humbled and emotionally trashed the next. I sit here writing this having just had one of the latter.
I’ve just watched the life drain unexpectedly out of a patient’s face knowing that things would never be the same for them ever again. And I was the only one present to observe it. Not a loving partner, adoring children, caring parents, or their cherished friend, only me… a stranger, in a strange environment, who’s trying to do what I can to help but I’m failing. All I can do is prop them up on the stretcher and try to keep their airway clear of the vomit recently expelled.
I’ve just seen a great deal of care, concern, and hard work, by a professional health care team to bring life back into that face. Some life, any life, would be considered a victory. But instead, despite the marvels of modern medical science, there was no life to return.
I’ve just spied the looks on the faces of that caring team as news of the defeat is delivered and processed. It’s hard to accept the result. We train and prepare with victory always in mind. Optimistically we assume every situation will end in victory, otherwise the weight of constantly expecting defeat would crush us. Someone has just become overwhelmed with emotion at the gravity of the proclamation and can no longer restrain their tears.
I’ve just witnessed the sadness that follows when the family is present in the room. There’s a look on the faces of family when they first enter the room. Before laying eyes on their loved one their faces hold an expression of unwanted trepidation that will shortly shatter into raw emotion. As they visit, weep, and console one another, their grief amplifies the weight of failure hanging about the room. This is when I must leave, for I fear if I am here any longer that weight might crush me.
I’ve just looked back on the events of the previous hours and seek to engage my partner ensuring there is nothing we missed, nothing we overlooked, nothing in which we find fault… nothing. Nothing is precisely what I now feel we accomplished. We should have been able to do something. All of our training, all of our experience, all of our gear, medication, and equipment, amounted to nothing. At least that is what I believe after we leave the hospital. Time passes and thankfully I’ve now seen through the fog of emotion and realize that we did accomplish something after all. We were there in those first moments of sheer panic, lending reassurance. We gave them the best possible chance. We helped to give the family time to gather together and wish their loved one swift travel to the next life. We did make a difference, even if we can’t see it at the time.
Scenes like this will play out over and over again in our Paramedic careers. They have the potential to break us, but also the potential to help us grow and become better. If we dwell only on the dark we can get lost in it. It can consume us if we allow. Try not to let yourself become mired in the dark. Seek out people who care and are willing to help and listen. Take the time to TALK. TALK to your partner. TALK to someone on the peer support list. TALK to family. TALK to a counselor. TALK to a support group. IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO YOU TALK TO, JUST TALK! Speak up and you’ll soon realize this is something you don’t have to go through alone.