Sunday, December 27, 2009

Death a collection of scars.

It's a fact of life, that life ends. From the moment we are born we begin the process of dying, it's not a mystery and it is not avoidable. You are born, you live, and you die and along the way you give and get a few scars.

I can run on a DOA of a senior and not even batt an eyelash. It's so common place that you have to remember to be sullen and mournful while in the presence of the family. I guess my brain justifies it as "They had a good long life." To tell you the truth I'd be hard pressed to remember the name or even location of the call. I'd have to read my report to refresh my memory, but it leaves a small scar on me.

With that said, while you're all thinking I'm some cold heartless bastard, I can remember the name, age and face of every person I ever came across DOA or worked in vain that was under 70. I don't know why 70 is the magic number for me, it just seems to work out that way. It's not like someone dying at 71 is any less a tragedy, but my brain just doesn't process it the same way.

The others haunt me sometimes. I'll dream of them and wake up in a cold sweat. I'll close my eyes and vividly recall every single action I took on the scene. I'll hear and feel the screams and sorrow of the family. My heart will start racing again just as if it were that day. I can't escape them and honestly I don't think I want to. They keep me centered, oddly enough. The ones that we lose can teach us much more about ourselves than the ones we save. Can you remember the last 20 patients you "saved" (treated, etc..)? I can't, but I can remember all the ones I lost. I know what I did, how I felt, how the patient presented. I can recall all of my treatment and could probably tell you pretty close to 100 percent on how I wrote the report. The same goes for the DOA's. I can tell you how the house looked, how we determined death, who I called, who was there from the family and who arrived later and pretty much what time they got there. The scars from these calls run deeper.

Then there is my personal nemesis, the 30 somethings. I'm a 30something and when one of them buys the farm I can't shake it for months. Probably some sense of self preservation or something but it scares the hell out of me when someone my age punches their ticket. I have shit to do, I'm not ready to check out, but whenever a 30 something dies I always think "That could have been me". So then my brain goes into "justification mode". I try to find a reason that person died: drug use, poor driver, no seat-belt, alcohol, bad genetics, non-compliance with prescribed meds. Really, anything I can try to explain why this person died. It's all just a ploy though, when your number is up....your number is up. These scars are noticeable.

Kids are the worst. I imagine they are for everyone in this profession. Let me be clear, it's not the absence of life in the child that damages me the most. It's the sound of a parents weeping, like their soul is being ripped from their chest. There is no worse sound in the world than a mother or father crying over the loss of a child. It will burn it's self into your consciousness and sub-consciousness and you will never remove it. No amount of therapy or booze will help, don't bother with it. Maybe you would have to be a parent to understand. These are deep vicious scars that are ragged and ugly.

Death scars us all, no matter how tough you are.

Paramedics are a collection of scars. Cherish them all, they once were a life and will continue to live on through you.


Epijunky said...

You nailed it.

I haven't been doing this nearly as long as you have, but I can say that the most painful scar I wear came from working a six week old baby while the parents watched from a distance. I'll never forget the sounds.

I take some measure of comfort in knowing that we all have our scars. We're a collection of them as you said. Thank you.

medic7103 said...

I've often said that every patient you come into contact with leaves a little mark on your soul, good or bad. Whether it's a significant mark or just blip they are there.

I spent 20 years in EMS and I never realized how true it was until after I left the industry. In the years since, I have had the pleasure and many times the displeasure of reviewing these marks. I relive them in my sleep and at odd times when something reminds me of a particular call I'd thought I'd long forgotten.

Such is the burden of dedicating yourself to helping others. I've come to accept it as a "Badge of Honor". Wear it with pride my friend.

Steve said...

great post! I myself am a crimescene cleaner. I blog abotu how it feels to work with the families of someone who has lost a loved one. I'm sure it's not as intense as being an EMT, someone who can SAVE a life... but everytime i work with a family who has lost.. say.. a child... it's a pretty harrowing experience. At least I can try to make them feel better, and can do my best to eliminate any visual memory of the incident that killed thier loved one.

Anyway, my e-mail is Drop me a line, I'd love to talk to you about sharing soem links or creating a blog ring. Thanks! Again, Great blog!


Devon said...

I couldn't find a place to e-mail you. I'd like to comment regarding your other blog, which is older. It's about the run in with volunteer fire fighters and getting yelled at. Let me say as a former volunteer myself for fire, I can tell you that most of those guys sit at the bar drinking, and then respond to their calls drunk. That's my experience anyway. They loving shouting and yelling at people to make themselves look bigger than they really are. When we're at the bar, they all make bets on whose going to be the next hero and how it will happen. Trust me, many of these guys are over exzemplafied by the media and they're anything but heroes! In fact, many of them are simply jerks. I recently quit the department because I grew tired of them yelling at EMT's on the scene of accidents and police too. They should all be working together to benefit those in need. Instead, most of them are trying to get themselves into the lime light and be more popular than the next. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for your service!

ems said...

Cool Website