Monday, 27 October 2014

Perhaps It's Just Me

"Is it really possible to have a career in EMS and be emotionally unaffected by the things we see?"

This is the question I posed on Twitter a few days ago. Many seemed to think that it's an impossible task, that, after all, we're human too. However, there were some who seemed to think it possible. To work through a career and remain untouched. Unharmed.

It seems I have joined an ambulance service where macho-ism, for all its pros and cons,  appears paramount, or at the very least, a lot more visible. Whereas in my previous place of work the male-female ratio was split almost straight down the middle, my new place of work is staffed mainly by males. Perhaps that lends itself to a culture of bravado. Perhaps having more females around allows for everyone to be braver with their emotions, whereas having fewer means that those left must be impressed. Perhaps I'm imagining it or over-analysing it. Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it's just me.

Other thoughts have taken root. Paramedic burnout seems faster here. Turnaround is high. New paramedics are qualifying all the time, only to find that their best career options lie elsewhere, away from the front line and away from patients. Patient empathy seems less common and the emotional toll seems negligible. Maybe that's the answer. Ignore the reality around you, and treat every shift as another day on the production floor. No emotional involvement. All the while, I'm still taking calls home with me.

Questions still run through my mind. Are the hardened souls really that hardened, or do they hide their torment better than I can? Are the tougher types really that tough, their souls numb to the humanity we witness every day, or have they just learnt to compartmentalise better than I can? Are they just burnt out, their hearts and minds numbed after seeing so much, too much? Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it's just me.

Perhaps it's a cultural issue? Perhaps I'm not quite as "at home" as I think I am? Perhaps I'm just being ridiculous?

PTSD amongst EMS staff is well documented, if not well recognised or well accepted. At least not well enough. There's too much stigma still attached. Those affected are seen as weak, not "man enough" for the job. Not strong enough. Too attached. Too emotional. Too ridiculous. 

I don't think I'm any of them. I don't think that anyone who carries these feelings with them is any of them. I think that perhaps they, we, just have a different way of connecting with our patients. Some see their patients as the latest gadget on a production line. Some see their patients as their next challenge. And some see their patients, imagining them as their very own parent, or grandparent, or child, or best friend. Not every patient, but enough of them. Enough to make the emotion raw enough, real enough, for it to affect them in the longer term.

I'm not sure whether that's a healthy thing, but I strongly believe it makes me a better paramedic.

But perhaps it's just me.


Lentils said...

Doing your job without treating your patients like humans who could be relatives or friends may well get you through the day a little more easily but it certainly won't improve upon the incredible paramedic that you are. Is it just you? Who knows? Either way, I think you are getting it just right! You know you couldn't do the job like a robot even if you are aware that maybe it's possible and maybe someone else could. As for the PTSD, something I personally was affected a single solitary experience, I really hope that the service offers the right sort of support and spots the signs!

Dan said...

Anyone who can work in EMS be it in the field or an ER without being emotionally affected would have to be a sociopath, a defective person. Most who say they aren't affected are lying. Ignoring, denying and lying about how you feel is a coping mechanism.

flobach said...

It's definitely not "just you". There is a macho culture within the profession, unfortunately (and frustratingly) it seems it is a little stronger where you have moved to.

Hold on, stay strong...but only as long as it is healthy for yourself and your family to do so.