"Is it really possible to have a career in EMS and be emotionally unaffected by the things we see?"
This is the question I posed on Twitter a few days ago. Many seemed to think that it's an impossible task, that, after all, we're human too. However, there were some who seemed to think it possible. To work through a career and remain untouched. Unharmed.
It seems I have joined an ambulance service where macho-ism, for all its pros and cons, appears paramount, or at the very least, a lot more visible. Whereas in my previous place of work the male-female ratio was split almost straight down the middle, my new place of work is staffed mainly by males. Perhaps that lends itself to a culture of bravado. Perhaps having more females around allows for everyone to be braver with their emotions, whereas having fewer means that those left must be impressed. Perhaps I'm imagining it or over-analysing it. Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it's just me.
Other thoughts have taken root. Paramedic burnout seems faster here. Turnaround is high. New paramedics are qualifying all the time, only to find that their best career options lie elsewhere, away from the front line and away from patients. Patient empathy seems less common and the emotional toll seems negligible. Maybe that's the answer. Ignore the reality around you, and treat every shift as another day on the production floor. No emotional involvement. All the while, I'm still taking calls home with me.
Questions still run through my mind. Are the hardened souls really that hardened, or do they hide their torment better than I can? Are the tougher types really that tough, their souls numb to the humanity we witness every day, or have they just learnt to compartmentalise better than I can? Are they just burnt out, their hearts and minds numbed after seeing so much, too much? Or perhaps, as I'm beginning to suspect, it's just me.
Perhaps it's a cultural issue? Perhaps I'm not quite as "at home" as I think I am? Perhaps I'm just being ridiculous?
PTSD amongst EMS staff is well documented, if not well recognised or well accepted. At least not well enough. There's too much stigma still attached. Those affected are seen as weak, not "man enough" for the job. Not strong enough. Too attached. Too emotional. Too ridiculous.
I don't think I'm any of them. I don't think that anyone who carries these feelings with them is any of them. I think that perhaps they, we, just have a different way of connecting with our patients. Some see their patients as the latest gadget on a production line. Some see their patients as their next challenge. And some see their patients, imagining them as their very own parent, or grandparent, or child, or best friend. Not every patient, but enough of them. Enough to make the emotion raw enough, real enough, for it to affect them in the longer term.
I'm not sure whether that's a healthy thing, but I strongly believe it makes me a better paramedic.
But perhaps it's just me.