By Amanda Slater
My name is Amanda. I am a paramedic in Lake City, Fla., and I have a story I would like to share. It won’t be exciting or action packed. It also won’t involve blood, traumatic injuries to patients, or me saving someone’s life. What it will be is a small glimpse into a moment in my life that has forever changed me and how I care for my patients. I feel some history might help explain why I entered into this field.
My dad was a firefighter. So growing up around an apparatus and listening to the heroic stories made me want to be a fireman at a very young age. When my dad had to retire early due to a spinal injury and pseudo-seizures brought on by PTSD, he was heartbroken and I knew following in his footsteps would make him proud.
One night when I was 14, my dad had a seizure while lying in bed. He rolled onto the floor and landed on a glass of water he had been drinking. I rolled him on his side like I had done many times before, only this time he had a hole in his back that was oozing blood and air bubbles. All I could think to do was cover the hole with my hand and call 911. While waiting for what seemed an eternity for the ambulance to arrive, I sat there feeling so helpless as I used my hand to cover the hole in my hero’s back. As the medics took care of my dad on the way to the hospital, I sat in the seat next to him replaying every moment. It was then I decided to be a paramedic. I wanted to be a hero like them, to know how to save a life and never again feel helpless when someone I care for needs me or when there is an emergency.
When I got my EMT license and was hired to do interfacility transports I was, to be honest, disappointed. I wanted to be the hero on scene doing CPR, rescuing children, or responding to a trauma. However, I was in paramedic school and the job gave me experience. I would be a hero on a trauma alert later when I got my medic and changed jobs…or so I thought.
As a medic, my job was easy. Sure, I had the occasional trauma alert or respiratory arrest patient, but for the most part all that my patients needed was monitoring. So I sat in my seat, typing my report and occasionally asking a question. Since the reports are so long, it takes the entire trip to finish. Over time, it all became mechanical. Every word I spoke, every action I did and every word I typed; all my patients blended together. I was now just like every paramedic I had met before. That was until one patient forever changed me and how I view my job and career.
As usual, my partner and I were dispatched to the VA for an interfacility transport, and, given the diagnosis, I knew it would be uneventful. On scene, I gave the introductions and exchanged pleasantries as always; he was a very nice elderly gentleman. We helped him to the stretcher, put him on the monitor, and then loaded him into the unit. As I sat next to him, I explained the trip and assured him that I would be only a few feet away if he was to have any discomfort or need me, like I do with every patient. I then asked the question I ask all patients from the VA, “So, what branch were you in?” Looking back, it was this moment that time stopped for me. The Toughbook sat beside me, untouched. But on this call, this man left the Toughbook, the report, and everything I thought being a paramedic was as an afterthought.
My patient responded that he was in the Army. Drafted at a young age and sent off to fight in World War II, he dazzled me with stories of battles I had only heard from watching the History Channel. He told me about fights he was in and the stuff you don’t get to hear about like pranks they played and the fears he said he had never shared. He told me of the soldiers that were lost and the friends he made. I watched his eyes come to life as he recounted stories from his past. I asked the occasional questions, but for the most part I sat there feeling honored and entranced. The realization that, so very unexpectedly, this man shared a piece of his life with me, and knowing that some of these stories had never been told before and in a few years will only be told secondhand or in videotaped interviews overwhelmed me.
He continued with the battle that took his best friend’s life and the day he met his wife; of how he spent a year planning his proposal and every detail of her face when he asked her to marry him. He shared lessons he learned and regrets he had. I saw every moment of joy, sadness, fear and anger come across his face and flash in his eyes as he spoke and shared his stories. Before I knew it, we were at our destination and I wished we could keep driving. As I helped him into his bed, he gave me a hug and thanked me. He told me no one ever listens to what “old” people have to say anymore and that it was nice to talk about things from his past. I told him it was my honor and wished him a speedy recovery before we left.
As we headed back to the truck, I replayed the events that took place. I then realized that I had not typed a single word in my report. The Toughbook found its place beside my seat and I sat there in silence. I was given something special that day by a stranger; he gave me a new definition of paramedic and hero. Sure, I love the adrenaline rush of an MVA or trauma and getting to use the skills I learned to be a “good medic.” But that day a WWII vet showed me that being a great medic means being there in whatever fashion your patient needs.
I have brought patients back from cardiac arrest, covered bullet holes, seen death in someone’s eyes, and had to fight back tears as I tell a patient that his family was placing him in a home and weren’t there to say goodbye while seeing the hurt and betrayal on his face while wishing I could be anywhere else at that moment. I have also been the ear to hear stories, the hand for the dying patient, the shoulder for the grieving widow, the clown and puppeteer for the scared child, and the “daughter” to the dementia patient as she told me stories about “my” childhood.
Being a paramedic is not and should not be about being a hero, exciting and traumatic calls, or writing reports. Being in EMS is about treating patients on a personal level by first being available and open to their needs. There isn’t a day that goes by that my mind doesn’t wander to certain patients I’ve had and wonder if some that touched my heart are doing okay. They help me to be a better paramedic. I am no hero, even if my dad thinks I am.