The Ghosts started floating their way back into my life
When I made the choice to leave paramedicine, I thought distancing myself from the profession would help my healing. I thought it would help me forget without my constantly being exposed to it. I thought it would ease my triggers. I thought, it would in theory, turn a switch off in my head that meant “your healed”! Boy, was I wrong. I lived in the place I worked. Still do. What people don’t realize, is that every street I turn down when I drive, I see a ghost. Not the actual physical being, but the memories. I can easily recall which house, or which tree, or which light post I did every single call at. I remember all the faces. The scenes. Their sounds. The last moments. The Injuries. Their pleading eyes. Their shoes. I didn’t know, that the ghosts would start to make appearances when I closed my eyes at night, when I smelled alcohol on my husband or friends breath, when I turned the tv on, when I drove over snow, when my child got sick or hurt, and when a funeral would hold an open casket. I didn’t know that I would open up very visceral wounds that I didn’t know had formed. I didn’t know, that shoes of all things would be something that always stayed with me. I just didn’t know.
It was my second call ever as a student. It would be the first time I did CPR. It was on a man that had dropped dead after telling a joke at his doctors office. He didn’t know. When he got up that morning, he put his shoes on to go to his appointment. He didn’t know. He didn’t know that would be the last time he put those sneakers on. I remember this is what went through my head as I was compressing down on his chest, with sweat pouring down, feeling his ribs break with each compression. I remember his shoes. I kept staring at his shoes. Non descript, white running shoes. Those damn shoes. Come on live I remember thinking. You have to tie your shoes again tomorrow and finish off that joke. Come on man! It didn’t matter. He was gone. As I stepped off the stool in the ER after the doctor called time of death. I looked at the clock , and then I looked at his shoes. He didn’t know I thought. I didn’t know either, that shoes would be the thing that I would start to notice with every passing death I saw. Shoes tell you a lot about a persons personality. It was my way of understanding a small piece of who these people were. I didn’t want to see their families face, or the patients face as we worked on them to save their lives, so I always looked at their shoes. My goal was to get them up and walking again in those shoes. I just had too. There were so many shoes over the course of my career, and it took me a few years before I realized that I didn’t have any control over getting those people back in their shoes. It was never my choice. I didn’t know that. I wish I had known, it would have saved me a lot of agonizing heart break, fear, wondering and second guessing . If I could have done more, or could have done things differently, would they have tied those laces up again? I didn’t know. It haunted me. No one ever taught me I wasn’t in charge. You are trained and made to feel that you can save, and will save. You have the passion and desire to save everyone. That’s the belief TV puts in you. Three compressions in, the actors sit up and are talking to everyone. Relief. Thats not reality. 30 mins in, 60 mins in. The doctor often calls time of death. I didn’t know.
I started taking calls to heart, and feeling responsible and guilty for them if I couldn’t save them. I started agonizing over every minute of every call. I poured over call reports, and our recorded times of events. I read and re read protocols. I practiced and re practiced procedures like airway maneuvers and ECG readings. I started crying. Believing I was responsible for outcomes. I was crying more. I felt fear like never before. I talked to everyone I could, and everyone thought I was insane for feeling like I was responsible for anything. If anything I was told I did TOO Much. I tried TOO much to save people. We developed a protocol where we could pronounce people on scene, and I remember thinking that even though my patient fit the criteria I just had to give him more of a chance. I called for an advanced paramedic back up, who could run more procedures than I could. I didn’t want to be the one to call it. I couldn’t. That wasn’t my job in my head. I didn’t want that responsibility of ending things. I also developed a huge fear of REALLY hurting someone. A fear of giving the wrong meds, or missing a diagnosis, or just screwing up. The thought that I could screw up on a kid was what really shook me to my core. I knew that I would never overcome that. Ever. By that time I found out I was pregnant, something switched inside me. That’s when I knew that what I loved doing, was chipping away at my mental state. I had lost all my confidence in myself. Darkness was starting to take hold of me, and I had a little baby growing. I felt trapped behind this dark vail. I felt overwhelmed by the reminder ticking in my head every five seconds of my fear. TICK TICK TICK FEAR. ALL DAY LONG. I couldn’t escape the thoughts. I had to fix this. I couldn’t allow this to happen when my baby was here. I needed to be there for them. How could be there for another being if I didn’t know what was going on in my head? I didn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t understand that how I went from this confident medic to a small shell afraid to do anything. That one call where I was afraid to pronounce death and follow a written protocol for doing so, was the trigger for ending my career. It was the trigger for PTSD. It started me down a dark hole. It triggered another call for me. And then another. I was down a dark hole that I never thought I would climb out of. Family didn’t understand it. It didn’t matter how many times people validated that I was a good medic, that I did the right things, that nothing was wrong. Negativity took over. Yet as dark as that was, what I didn’t know at the time, and never could possibly know was that this event would actually save me. I didn’t know that PTSD would actually protect me from a lifetime of damage that would have happened if I had stayed. I was damaged, and always will be damaged. But I stopped it before it got worse. I didn’t know.
I needed help
Part 3 to be continued…..