It was a very hot day. It was already 23 degrees when your shift started at 6:30 am. You were planning on grabbing a cup of coffee before your first call but plans scarcely ever work at this job ㅡ you didn’t even make it to the kitchen before the station phone rang.
You have your first patient.
26-year-old girl. Took a bunch of pills with the intent to kill herself.
You get a lot of suicidal patients. It’s one of the worst parts of the job. Saving someone from themselves- often against their own will-, it’s hard. It’s really hard. And it’s especially hard when you had already seen someone close to you in that exact situation.
She was gonna be fine, thank god. Physically. She said she was having some problems with her boyfriend. Your partner whispered: ’Over a relationship? Really?’. But she never said what was wrong with the relationship. It could have been ’just’ a break-up. Could have been abuse. You’ll never know.
There’s three of you working together but since she doesn’t need immediate medical attention they leave you alone in the rig, to stay with her. She doesn’t want to talk but there are questions you need to know the answers to. She withdraws into herself further and further with every question.
You spend the rest of the ride in silence and it takes a lot of willpower to not think about what she must be feeling like.
Please just be okay, you think as you leave her at the hospital.
The next few cases are “easier”. Heart attack, hypotension, heat stroke. Just the usual.
You can’t forget the girl’s face. That hollow look in her eyes.
Please somebody take care of her, you pray.
It’s getting hotter and you’re getting hungry and you’re not fully focused anyway, not since that first patient, so you’re really looking forward to going on that 20-minute break you’re allowed to have during a 12 hour shift.
But you don’t get around to asking for your break because your unit number is called on the radio.
Could be anything.
You can’t get to the exact location you were given- it’s in the middle of a forest. You grab the equipment needed for resuscitation, before you head to the patient. Just in case. You never know.
You’d never been there before but it doesn’t look like a forest where someone would go for a stroll.
You get a weird feeling. You start looking at the ground for plastic packages and needles and foils.
It takes a few minutes to reach the patient. Your back and arms already hurt from carrying all that equipment.
And then your unit leader examines the man and he yells at you to prepare for resuscitation.
He also warns you to be careful where you kneel – the ground is full of needles.
You get to work.
You only did this in real life once before. But you practiced it, hundreds of times. It’s nothing like practice, of course, but you still know the drill. Your whole team falls into a rhythm. You barely have to talk, everyone knows their job. You keep taking turns doing compressions and it only takes a minute or so for you to start panting. CPR is very physically demanding in general – it’s even more so when you have to do it in 33 degrees.
There’s a guy standing around, he says he’s a friend of the patient. He’s the one who called you. But he has no idea what’s wrong with him. No, he doesn’t know what those needles scattered around were used for either. Of course neither of them were doing drugs. What even are drugs, right.
You wish he wasn’t lying to your face but you understand. The police will be here soon.
You’re trying to get an i.v. line secured when the patient’s phone starts ringing. His mom is calling.
You’re not allowed to pick up and you’re busy anyway, but even if you could, you would never want to have this conversation.
But nothing’s working. You push all the adrenaline you can, you keep doing compressions, you keep bagging him, you’re at the verge of yelling or crying in frustration. Nothing helps.
Time goes on. Nothing changes.
You’re in the middle of a random forest, doing chest compressions, for over an hour, on a man you didn’t even know existed until now. And you’re exhausted and your shirt soaked through a long time ago and you can barely breathe anymore and your hands feel like you’re breaking them with every new push. But you don’t stop, you can’t stop because his mom keeps calling and because this just can’t be happening, people can’t just die in random forests at the age of 45 from something as stupid as drugs.
Then your unit leader tells you to stop compressions but you can’t, you just can’t, because this can’t be it, this is not how stories end. But then there’s a point when you’re just too tired to go on anymore and deep down you know there’s just no use. So you finally stop and it feels like you yourself killed that person with that simple action. And you loathe yourself for not being good enough to save him.
And you’re just kneeling there, looking at his face for a while, and then you help lay the bag over him.
And you’re just a 23 year old kid who only ever wanted to do some good in this world.
(He probably didn’t even overdose, technically speaking. It was a very hot day and drugs tend to work differently in different weathers. How random is that. So senseless.)
Then the police come. They recognize him right away. Turns out he was a known junkie and criminal. His death meant a lot of closed cases, so they were actually happy with what happened.
And all the while his mom keeps calling.
And on your way back to the station, your team keeps telling jokes about addicts and people who OD. That’s how most paramedics deal with their job. Even if you don’t take part in all that, you can’t show that what happened affected you in any way. You’re a paramedic. It’s your job.
And you’re sitting in the back of the rig, spent, parched and starving and with bruises already forming on the back of your hands from doing compressions so hard and so long. And you’re staring at your uniform pants and you think about how proud you used to be to have the privilege to wear them but now you just wanna tear them off because it just feels like some twisted dress up.
You don’t make it back to the station. You get about 7 minutes of freedom, you manage to buy a bottle of water and that’s it, the operator calls your number on the radio, there’s a new case you have to get to.
All you want is to go home and get a drink. Or two. Three.
But there’s a drunken teenager who needs your help.
Yet another person who got themselves in trouble.
So you go, and try to help them, and they kick you (you’re sure she didn’t mean to but still) and throw up on you and your team tells you to deal with her on your own because she’s your age and anyway, she’s a foreigner and you’re the only one on the team who speaks english.
And you think about all the times you had to drag people up off the floor where they’d landed themselves, all the times they hit you, all the times they screamed at you and lied to your face.
And you get angry, because why do you have to get caught up in others peoples crap? It’s not like anyones forced to do drugs or drink way too much. Why do you have to get involved in someone’s self-destruction? Why should you care if someone you’d never met before dies as a consequence of their own actions? Why should you care about someone who doesn’t care about himself?
It’s been a lifelong dream of yours to save someone’s life with your own two hands. And it’s actually happened before. Multiple times. But there’s a point where the bad just so evidently outweighs the good that an idealist like yourself just can’t stay anymore.
So you quit at the end of that shift. And you went home and drank, and hated everyone. For days.
It took a week but eventually you called your team leader and told him you’d like to go back to work. Yes, your last shift was horrible. But you can’t not work on the ambulance. You can’t not help. You can’t not be where you might be needed. And it’s not because you’re such a great person. It’s just what you need to do. What you want to do.
So, welcome back to the team. I can’t promise it’ll get any easier. Especially not in these times. But we’re all in this together, and you belong here.