Thursday, 3 June 2010

Suit of Armour

Armies, thousands of years ago, would wear them as they invaded another land.

King Arthur's knights donned them before battle.

Modern-day soldiers protect themselves in modern-day versions.

And we, as Emergency Services workers, have our very own models too.

There's no other way to explain why we do what we do, whilst knowing that what we do is sometimes a little bit crazy.


It's the sort of news that makes people in the UK mutter about becoming too much like America. Random shootings, killing sprees, mass murder and then suicide. The horrendous events in Cumbria, in the north of England, sent shock waves not only through the usually quiet villages and towns where the killings took place, but all the way through the land.

It's happened here before. Dunblane, in Scotland, was the site of one such atrocity in 1996, where the victims were young school children and their teacher. Hungerford, in 1987, was the other infamous occasion where firearms, legally held, were used for such appalling, random, senseless killings. But look at the dates. One is more than 10 years ago, the other more than 20.

Crime is an everyday occurrence, wherever you are. There is violence on the streets, robberies, muggings, murders.

These sorts of crimes, the mass murders, however, are rare, which makes them, if that's at all possible, all that more traumatic for those involved.

The dust hasn't yet even started to settle on this story. The families of those killed and injured are still asking questions to which there are, at least for now, and possibly for ever, no answers. The grieving has started, the injured are being cared for, friends and relatives supporting each other, helping each other through a process that will take many many months, even years. From afar, I feel for them, I'm shocked with them, I try to hold them in my thoughts and prayers.


And then, there are the others. The unseen. Those involved who will not be given a second thought. They won't be part of the grieving process or the recovery. They won't make the news talking about their experiences and feelings. Because they are the professionals. They're one step removed, and they can cope. Those members of the Emergency Services, police, ambulance crews, air-ambulance staff, fire-brigade. The front line. Front-line, yet hidden from view. Exposed to sights that should never be seen. Shouldn't be seen ever, yet we are exposed to them on a regular, if not daily basis.


I believe that when we get ready for work, one of the things we do, is put on what all those armies and Knights of Yore used to do.

We don our Suit of Armour.

We put on our uniform, and become someone else.

The mindset is different.

The thought processes are different.

The coping mechanisms are different.

The Suit protects us from what Chris over at Life Under the Lights called "Splashed Sadness". Briefly (and not as eloquently as Chris - you MUST go read his post), Splashed Sadness refers to the exposure we all have to emotions on a regular basis, and how we each cope with them. How a family standing in front of us will be grieving the loss of a loved one, and how we'll be sympathetic, empathetic, sometimes look on the call as a "good job", and then without pause for thought, discuss what we're going to have for lunch.

In truth, however, every Suit of Armour has a chink. And each of us is vulnerable to it. We'll cope on scene, because we have to. We'll not even give it a second thought sometimes. But every so often, there'll be the call that gets through that chink.

It may not be an immediate breach of the defences.

It may not be a total loss of the coping mechanism.

It may not even cause any sort of diversion from the normal flow of our thought processes.

Sometimes you just need a break, someone to talk to over a cup of coffee.

It might just be your co-workers on base, it could be your nearest and dearest, sometimes, even if rarely, it may well need to be a professional. We need to know when each of those times is.


We don our Suit, and face a world of sadness. A world of illness, of grief, of trauma.

We don our Suit, and become rescuers, therapists, saviours, even heroes to some.

We don our Suit, yet underneath we are the same as everyone else.

At the end of our shift, when we go home, we take off the Armour and are no different from anyone else.

We are partners, husbands, wives, parents, children.

We are human.

With a very special Suit of Armour.


ViatorT said...

True sadness seemed to dampen the uk spirit today...touching writing!
I hope all those who have been affected find peace...


paul said...

Paramedics brave and strong
Up before the break of dawn
Putting poker faces on
Broken bodies all day long
The neighbors heard a fight
Someone had a knife
It must have have been the wife
Husband's lost a lot of blood
He wakes up screaming, "Oh my God
Am I going to die?
Am I going to die?"
As they strapped his arms down to his sides
At times like these they'd been taught to lie
"Buddy, just calm down, you'll be all right"

Eileen said...

Far be it from me to praise certain media moguls and in fact it's nothing to do with him personally - but the front men on Sky News have mentioned a few times about the professionals in Cumbria (all of them) who have been involved in the incidents last week and this and how they will deal with the aftermath. I personally find it difficult to understand how someone in any of the emergency services (and the NHS in general) is able to cope longterm unless their family members are either in the same line of work themselves or they have absolutely amazing empathy and/or debriefing skills - they have to be able to get it, including the NHS-style humour which is incomprehensible to most MOPs.

Anonymous said...

great writing.. you are truly talented.. always makes me think.

InsomniacMedic said...

Thank you all for your comments...

-Viator - I second your sentiments. A tough day of struggling with unknown feelings.

-Paul - I have no more to add. Sometimes a lie is the only possible truth.

-Eileen - as I was half way through writing this - I saw the same report on said news channel. I was duly impressed.
I am very lucky that I have several sounding boards, from friends to family to blogs... I can only hope that all my colleagues are that lucky and that they know where and when to turn when necessary...

- Rochelle - thank you muchly! And I'm glad I can make people thing too.

Anonymous said...

Some things will break the armour. Like a 6 month old in cardiac arrest. And performing an IO using a cook needle.

It's days like that I am glad to have friends.

(Yes, that is a job I went on yesterday. First paed cardiac arrest. Will never forget it)

What was worse was when later that same day I was sent on a job given as "6 year old, cardiac arrest". It wasn't. But it totally wiped me out.

I have no idea how paeds nurses deal with this sort of thin on a daily basis.