The late-night calls were starting to get to me.
We were toned out for a call in the early hours of the morning for an unconscious unresponsive male. We dressed quickly and headed to the ambulance, and we responded with lights and siren.
We followed the directions into the rural property, and we were met at the door by a lady, almost in hysterics. She had gotten up for some reason or other and found her father down on the floor beside his chair. He had never made it to bed the night before.
I asked where, and she pointed but would not move out of the doorway. In the end I pushed through and moved around her while Tammy stayed with her. I can still him lying on his back. I knew before even beginning my assessment that he was gone.
I did my assessment regardless, knowing that there was nothing I could do, that he was gone.
I ran a strip on the cardiac monitor, which showed flatline, checked his eyes, which were fixed and dilated. He had obvious lividity setting in.
I collected my gear. I went back to the kitchen where my partner was still with the daughter. I said I was sorry, that there was nothing we could do, and we would have to pass the call on to the R.C.M.P. and the funeral home. I then left and headed back out to the ambulance.
I met the R.C.M.P. out by the ambulance while I was doing my paperwork and told them what was going on. They went in, and my partner came out a short time later.
We returned to quarters just as the winter sun was starting to peek over the horizon.
Another death in a narrow period of time. I was supposed to be on the job helping people, but lately it didn’t feel that that was happening at all. We were getting called to clean up the mess, not to actually help.
In the fall before I left the ambulance, I responded to three deaths. Normally all three stations in our service didn’t see that in six months, but here we were. A third death that hung over me like a cloud.
Again, I stuffed the emotions and went back to work. Little did I know that within the next six months I would reach my breaking point.
A couple weeks after my last fatality, my partner and I were dispatched to a burn patient at an industrial site. I was driving again, and we responded.
I honestly don’t know which call bothered me more, the death or the burns. The patient had nearly 50 per cent second degree burns to his body. Needless to say, he hurt. What really sucked being on a Basic Life Support car is that outside of Entonox, we have nothing we can give for pain, and even with Entonox, the patient has to be able to self-administer it by holding the mask up to their face. With the burns affecting his hands and his front from the neck down he was not able to grasp onto the mask, and therefore unable to use the gasp. Since the Industrial site was a ways out of town, he had an uncomfortable ride.
Most calls I was able to drop the patient off at hospital and walk away, content that I did my job. I’m not sure if it was because these calls were starting to chip away at the wall I had built around myself by this point, but this pair of calls are ones I think of often.
I think of how I had to push past the family member of someone who was long past help so I could get my strip, do my assessments and confirm that their loved one had indeed reached the end of the line.
I think of how helpless I felt attending the burn patient who was in a significant amount of discomfort and know there was nothing I could do about it because we just didn’t have the training or the equipment. I know he got transferred out of the rural community to the city for treatment, but I have no idea how he made out.
That’s the thing with EMS. We show up, we stabilize, and we take to the hospital, and after that it’s on to the next call.
It’s only when we fuck up, usually spectacularly, where we are able to find out how a patient made out, and at that point it’s generally not a positive outcome, and we are on the firing line.
I loved working EMS. It was a job like no other.
In time the enormity of the job began to weigh on me heavily, and I was scared. I began to get a knot in my throat every time the tones dropped. I wasn’t pushing myself to get into calls un less we were called in. I lost my edge, and began making stupid, stupid mistakes.
After the burn call things began to slide significantly for me. My ability to cope evaporated slowly. I began having a harder time than normal communicating with my partners or connecting with people in general. I started having nightmares. My mental health smouldered for six months until I had a breakdown at work and was relieved of duty.
My mental health crashed down. I focused on therapy and health for the next few months. I began volunteering at the hospital doing patient assessments, and things seemed like they were settling out.
I returned to work in October of 2013, and my world came crashing down again. I just couldn’t handle the stress. I fell hard. I fell fast. I lasted under 72 hours of a 96-hour work tour. I couldn’t handle the job I loved anymore.
I fell into a major depression after my last tour of work. I started self-harming again, and I went suicidal. I didn’t actually attempt at this point, however I ended up in hospital for a week, then another nearly five after being home for four days. I had hit bottom.