Friday, October 03, 2008

Getting Normal Again

Trying to resume normal activities after such a long deployment is rough. I got used to the FEMA rule set and the degree of complete chaos involved in responding to a disaster. I got used to the high stress level and constant movement. There are many differences between normal station life and a deployment of that sort. Here are a few things I figured out.

The People.

After working at a station for years you think you know the people you work with. Everyone has dirty laundry that gets aired from time to time and you just kind of take it in stride as part of working in a EMS setting.

You put those same people in a disaster situation where you need to rely on them 24/7 for 30 days and you know what kind of relationships you have really cultured over the years. You want to really get to know someone? Deny them a shower for a week, feed them MREs and keep them up for 22 hours of every day. At the end of your deployment you will know exactly what kind of person they are.

With that said I learned that the people from my area are exactly the same as they are on station. We have put in the time and years to work well together under any circumstances. They performed exactly as I knew they would and their short-comings were exactly where I expected them to be. I played to that a lot and kept them propped up where I needed to and leaned on them when I needed to. I was glad to have them there and I could not have done the job without them.

Now... there were several people that were accepted to go that I knew little to nothing about in the beginning. They all put on an excellent front when they had their face time with me but in the field I could see under currents forming. I could smell dissent and I knew that a few of them were not cut out for this kind of assignment. We would have to do the best we could to keep them all in line. I spoke with my right hand man (sometimes he uses his left) and the safety officer and let them know my concerns. They had also started hearing the bitching and complaining that was done out of earshot from me. We decided that it was just normal stress of being away from their families too long and it would pass.

Well... guess what? We were wrong. Seemed like in our eagerness to get as many people deployed on this mission as we could we wound up getting a few "Complainers" in the mix. Nothing fucks up a good op quite as efficiently as the "Complainer"

One morning during my MRE induced explosion in the porta-john I overheard one of the complainers stating to another complainer (they feed off each other) that if they were assigned one more 911 call they were going to leave the truck, get a plane ticket and fly home. Now, being the asshole that I am, guess who did the next 8 or 9 calls? When they approached me about it several hours later I asked them "Miss your flight?" Needless to say, they knew I had overheard the conversation that morning and they did their best to kiss my ass the rest of the day. I was considering installing turn signals on my BDUs so they would stop running into me. Everyone needs to vent ... Just try not to vent when the Chief is shitting in the porta-john 10 feet away.

Then there was the ones that on day one I thought "They ain't gonna make it" the kind that was red faced and looking lost from the moment we started our 1700 mile journey. You would see them at the gas station stops looking like someone had beat the shit out of them. I was worried that we would need to fly in replacements before we even got to Texas.

Oddly enough, they proved me wrong. As the stress got higher and higher they stepped up and took charge of their situation. It seemed like they might have had something to prove to themselves. When we got home from Gustav they were the first ones that signed up to leave on Ike in less than 24 hours. They will make excellent additions to our team, I'm glad I got the chance to know them.

I know I have been prattling on about nothing for several lines now so I guess in closing this topic let me say that people will surprise you. Give them a chance to piss you off before you lose all hope in their ability to succeed. You might just end up with a new friend.

The Job

Oh my God... the differences are astounding. You would think that the life of a paramedic is exciting but if your not in the field you really have no idea. EMS is essentially many, many hours of intense boredom briefly interrupted by moments of sheer panic. There really isn't that many exciting things that happen day to day. It all becomes pretty mundane in the long run.

On a hurricane deployment things are vastly different. Many, many hours of panic briefly interrupted by moments of sheer exhaustion when you collapse in your unit. That goes on for the first 24-48 hours then your body kind of goes numb and your consciousness slips into auto-pilot. Every single bit of training you have received starts prancing around in your head and you become a machine. Do it, do it it again...stay alert...drink more safe...check on your crews...

Coming back to the station after that was kind of a let down. Nothing was happening fast enough and I found myself bored within a matter of minutes.

The Conclusion

If you get a chance to do it. Do it! We were honored to be there. It was the largest EMS response in United States history and we were all a part of it. We helped as many as we could and we mourned those that we couldn't help. We made friends in most unlikely of places and we measured each other as no one will ever be able to again.

Never Mistake Motion For Action -- Hemingway