You didn’t know, How could you?
I didn’t go into the paramedic field blind. I was in my late 20’s when I had finally figured out what I was passionate about; helping people. The moment I figured it out, I hit the ground running and did whatever I could to get myself into the program and to get myself a job. After a lot of sweat, tears, and intense training, I landed my dream job. I was now a paramedic. This is a picture of me on my first day as a paramedic. “I didn’t know”.
What do I see in this picture?
I see a young girl. Trying hard to be serious for the picture, but underneath I was grinning from ear to ear. The excitement, the fear, and the sheer joy of knowing that I was embarking on my journey was almost too much to handle. I see determination. I see power and strength. Yet, I also see naiveness. That girl felt invincible to the forces of PTSD. Trauma excited her. The more horrible the call sounded over the dispatchers radio, the more excited I became. I was a ‘black cloud’ ( a term medics use to indicate a paramedic who gets a lot of bad calls daily). Bad calls were drawn to me and I was drawn to them. I recognized that a patient was on the other end, but at the time when I was beginning my career, they just represented experience for me and the chance to save someone. “ I didn’t know”.
Before passing judgement( for those not in the field of first response), one thing that you have to understand is that we have to enter survival mode everyday when we begin our shifts. What that means is that we shut down our emotions. We get in, do what we have to do, and move on to the next call. You have to view patients without any emotions. You could go from one bad call to the next, and you’re just supposed to lock it away and not think about it. Patients can’t seem human, or you won’t survive. At the time when I began as a paramedic, they didn’t have many support systems in place. It was an old school mentality. You did your job, you didn’t show others if something bothered you. No one talked about PTSD. You just coped. One way of coping is that many first responders develop a bit of a ‘sick’ sense of humour. Gallows humours some many call it. Humour is a way that makes the trauma of what you are experiencing ‘appear’ to not have an impact. If you can joke about it, it wasn’t too bad. I remember joking about a call with family members and realizing with wide eyed horror that they didn’t always find what I said funny. I realized then, that first responders were a bit of a different breed. You had to be. If you wanted to survive. “I didn’t know”.
I entered survival mode and thrived for many years. I was constantly amazed at what I could see day after day, and it never seemed to bother me. I was proud of that. I felt strong. I felt like ” wow, I am a great medic”. Friends and family stood amazed at my resilience. Many shook their heads in wonder at HOW I could see those things day in and day out. Somewhere along the way, I learned the healthy ways of dealing with things. As soon as I clocked out for the day, I let go of the calls. I worked out, I played sports, I ate healthy, I didn’t drink or do drugs. I coped with the natural high of knowing that I had done my best to help everyone. I thought I had a system that couldn’t be penetrated. However, what I didn’t know at the time, was that the black cloud that always hovered around me, was going to be pulling me into it soon. The darkness inside, became a place that I would struggle and linger in, wondering how I could ever live in a world without the darkness again. “I didn’t know”.
The darkness came to visit me about 5-6 years into being a Paramedic. It came with such a force it knocked me completely off my feet. One day I was fine, the next I was huddled up on the couch cradling a phone, while crying to my mom. It consumed me. It invaded every thought, every second of every day. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t get away from it. I couldn’t understand it. It took over my existence. All at once I experienced, grief, immense guilt, fear, and panic. What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t just one paramedic call that triggered. It became 2. A paramedic call that I had swept under the rug years ago, came back to haunt me. One call triggered two calls. What was that? All of the sudden, I developed an immense fear of hurting someone. One of my old calls that triggered me involved a child fatality. Out of nowhere, I developed a sense of fear of running over someone. Winter became one of my biggest triggers. The sound of snow crunching under my tires triggered me every time. Still does. I used to have to stop the car and run around and check under each tire to make sure it was just the sound of snow, and not the sound of running someone over. It didn’t matter how careful I was driving. It didn’t matter if I knew that it wasn’t possible to have anyone under my car. I would get out every single time and check. Sometimes driving multiple times around that block to make sure no one was hurt. Hypervigilance. That became my new norm. I felt like I was crazy. I could rationalize that I didn’t do anything, but the PTSD didn’t settle until I checked over and over and could relax. What was going on with me? I had nothing to do with the call but trying to save that child’s life. Why was I now feeling like I was unraveling? Why was I worried about hurting someone, when all I ever did was try to save people? I started reliving details of that call, and the other call that triggered me. I would dissect, relive, dissect, relive. And then all the other ghost started floating their way into my life. I started seeing them everywhere. I didn’t know.
Living with ghosts
To be continued……….