Today I am back to work after my three-day paramedic refresher course. I never feel refreshed–only drained, exhausted and humiliated. It’s a very interesting experience when I am finally able to stand back from it, take a breath and look deeply into what happens to me and within the class itself.
First one must look at paramedics themselves. They are in a class of their own. In order to save lives in a short time, make split second decisions and fit into an odd wedge of the emergency system which includes fire and police–they often have particular personalities. As you can imagine, they often are filled with confidence (bordering on arrogance most days), are sharp-tongued and with a sense of humor that can be incredibly biting. And I don’t fit the stereotype, often called the ‘Paragod’.
Then there’s me. Recently I took a knock off personality test and found I was “INFJ”. I won’t go into all the details, but it stands for: introverted, intuitive, feeling and judging and 1% of the population have this personality. As you can imagine, I don’t often fit in. This is VERY true in my profession–I have never fit in. Hopefully I have never been called a Paragod or had any of the above mentioned characteristics! I march to my own beat and am very proud that I do.
Many years ago when I decided to become an EMT, it was to help people. It quickly became apparent that this wasn’t everyone’s reason. Putting red lights on cars, driving very fast, being labeled a hero, being an adrenalin junkie (I do admit to a bit of that) and knowing lots of gossip in town seems to motivate some. There is much in fighting within departments and fellow employees seem to be very unhelpful towards one another. This brings me back to my original topic.
Every two years all emergency workers are required to go to a refresher class. This is where technically one will go over any skills you may have forgotten or that have gotten stale. In the rural region where I work, this is quite possible, especially as a paramedic. Drug dosages, technical skills may never get used for years and years. We do carry protocol books and always have medical control for easy reference and constantly train throughout the year. But it’s true that we are at a great disadvantage to our busier sisters and brothers.
In a department such as mine, I am the only full-time paramedic. This is an added disadvantage because that means I rarely have another medic to bounce calls off of, or to pick their brain for information. Busier departments also often ride with two medics, so in a bad situation: two heads are better than one. Plus I have 20-25 minute transport times vs. being 5 minutes away from a big hospital in a city. While my call volume is lower, my patient contact time is higher.
I’ve chosen a job within a community such as where I work because of my aforementioned personality type. My biggest and best skills as a medic are my intuition and empathy. When assessing a patient, the first can be critical in an emergency situation. And the second is vital in a 25 minute transport. One can be the smartest medic in the world, but if you aren’t nice, the patient won’t recall a thing you did.
But none of this matters when you walk into refresher class with all the Paragods (and goddesses). Most of the classes I’ve taken over the years seem to be given in such a way as to promote the whole Paragod theory. Survival of the fittest. Everyone else be damned. People may be polite and nice at first (or not) until they start perceiving who they feel aren’t the brilliant ones. Then all bets are off and you are earmarked for teasing, extra work, being singled out (for stuff everyone else was doing) and overall humiliation. These were all things I went through over the last three days. Quite exhausting needless to say.
Going into these refreshers, with the thought any of these things might just happen, is extremely stress producing. So then of course, I create my own reality and anything I might know, quickly slips from my brain and I end up looking like the dummy. Then I go into space cadet mode as I become more and more upset, as the headache grows and my stomach turns. I drift off into the land of: I simply don’t want to do this anymore and shouldn’t be a paramedic. So in fact, instead of refreshing me, the class ends up revolting me and makes me want to vomit. Then in turn, I shut down and simply want to cry after each day. It’s a terrible cycle.
I’m not sure what the answer is really. Tried as I might to do my yoga beforehand, exercise, meditate and have friends tell me that I would be OK–an hour into class and I’m a wreck. There’s a way to opt out and take a test, but I’m terrible on the tests plus there are certain classes one needs to take anyway. Looking to the future of EMS, maybe things may change for refreshing. This time, much of the time was spent online. It saved me the classroom confrontation, but there is no interaction with an instructor. This kind of learning has its limitations.
To me it seems the real answer would be if people could just be more considerate all around. If everyone understood that we’re all in this together: paramedics from small rural settings, as well as larger city transfer agencies. Trying to understand that some may not have used the same set of skills over the years and are rusty, or nervous, learn differently or simply intimidated by someone else’s demeanor. This might make a paradigm shift in the way these classes are taught.
If we can come back to the initial reason as to why we are supposed to be coming together it is to brush up on our skills. And maybe, just maybe why we got into the career in the first place was to care for our patients. That caring should extend beyond them to our co-workers and fellow paramedics in general. Showing compassion whether it’s in the back of an ambulance or in a refresher class isn’t something that is taught in a book though. You either have it or you don’t, it’s not something you can really fake.
It takes me a few days to remind myself about my positive paramedic qualities and get back on the proverbial horse. Deep down I feel I’m a healer. I definitely know I care even if I’m not book smart or my skills aren’t always as sharp as someone else’s. But I promise anyone who gets in the back of my truck that I will always treat you like a human being no matter who you are: drug addict, homeless person, haven’t showered in 4 days, or have a million dollars. It’s all the same to me. I’m here to serve and do it to the best of my ability. So if you dial 911 in my town and I’m on duty, rest assured there won’t be a Paragod coming to save you, only a humble servant trying to do the best she can.