The Stressful Life of an Emergency Worker
Anyone that works “The Streets” will have a great deal of stories of things other than routine job related runs or emergency calls. What a lot of people do not realize is that for many that work in Public Safety, a lot of down time is spent with fellow employees. So much so, that many close relationships are formed, and it becomes more like a family than a working environment. Many departments hold functions outside the daily grind of being on-duty, and those functions allow everyone to relax and just socialize, without the worry of alarms going off and having to leave on a call.
The same goes for many interdepartmental relationships. Ambulance services, fire departments, policing agencies, and other rescue agencies all become closely related, just by the mere fact of the interactions we hold together. I think it is partly because of the time spent together, but I also believe that a large part of what forces us to become more like a family than co-workers is that after a difficult run or rescue call, we only have each other to console, and a bond forms during those stressful times.
I can recall numerous times walking out of the hospital and looking for a fellow co-worker to just sit and talk with after just dropping off a patient of some sort of tragic or stressful event. Although the families of those injured or in trouble surely endure more pain, stress, and depression than those of us rescuers go through, they will also usually have a large support group to turn to. That is not necessarily the case for the rescuer. Rescuers will usually only have each other to turn to, and to vent or cry on.
From dispatchers to Police offers, volunteer firemen to full time firemen, EMTs to Paramedics, and a Paramedic to RN, they all go through extreme stress when alarms sound and the time to react occurs. Much of the problem happens because the event usually only lasts a short time, and then the rescuers are left to wind down on his own.
In 1994 I was dispatched to a call of an auto accident. I remember stepping out of the ambulance and seeing several teenagers still in the cars, and what looked like a “staged” accident. The sun was shining, the cars looked neatly placed in the grass, and there was not yet a crowd around the scene. As I walked up, I realized that this was definitely not some staged mock scenario that we practice with. This was the real thing, and as the highest authority on the scene, children’s lives were left in my hands.
As I maneuvered around the scene to triage and do what I needed to do, I noticed something else. I was suddenly unable to swallow, my mouth had dried up, and I was near gagging, simply because my throat was so dry. I was even struggling to breath, and whether I felt like I could continue or not, I had no choice. I had to help those kids, and regardless if I were going through some sort of reaction to stress, or even a heart attack of my own, my job had to come first.
Since the accident happened only a mile from the hospital, it didn’t take long for us to have the patients as stable as possible and then delivered to the hospital. However, it also meant that in a matter of minutes, we as rescuers went from a normal work day afternoon, to such a high stress situation that medical problems began to impede even us, to having the patients at the hospital and finding ourselves lingering outside the ER doors with nothing left to do but clean up the trucks, all in a matter of about 30 minutes.
It took the rest of the afternoon before I felt like I was even thinking clearly. In fact, the accident made such an impact on all of the county rescuers involved that a stress debriefing was held a week later.
I continued to work in EMS and in other capacities of Emergency Services for many more years. I finally left the career behind me, but it would take about another two years before I could sleep a full night. I would awaken many times during the night, simply from the habit of being woken up to take runs at all hours of the night for so long. It was part of the job, and I truly loved the “Job”, but I also can reflect back now and see just how the stress of the job had impacted my life for so long.
My heart goes out to every emergency worker. Having lived, and walked in your shoes for so long, I can truly understand what an average day in your life is. I think so many Americans take emergency workers jobs for granted, and that is ok. It is what we chose to do with our lives, and it is also what helped mold us into the people we are.