I guess I’ve always cared as long as I can remember…or at least was told I did. As a little kid I could never watch the show Lassie because I found it too disturbing, or even read the book Bambi. That’s probably why I’ve been a vegetarian for 35 or so years. My Mother tells me a story of when I was very young and we still lived in New York City. One day I was playing on our balcony and I spotted a nest of baby pigeons. Rats with feathers my Mom called them. But to me, they were baby birds. Their Mom was gone and I was horrified! They needed to be saved and I would not be consoled until they were somewhere safe. I begged my Mother to do something and wouldn’t let up until she called some avian shelter and they got them (or something). I found this out years later! She also informed me that the next time she found a nest filled with baby pigeons, she just tossed them out before I saw them! Thanks Mom.
But this was indicative of my nature from an early age. Just as was the time I was three years old and she came home from work and leaned down to give me a hug. I inadvertently bumped her in the eye and scratched her cornea. She had to wear a patch over her eye for quite some time so it could heal. My Aunt saw me fretting one day over this fact and told me not to worry, that my Mom would be OK. I looked up at her and in my three-year old voice said, “But I want to worry.” This was a famous family story told to me for years.
I continued to be a worrier long into adulthood and still care about needy animals and adults alike. This nature of mine has brought me to adopt a cat with no tail, a 9-year-old emaciated blue tick hound, an abused neighbor cat–and, the list goes on. And even brought me to foster kids and eventually adopt our daughter.
Sometimes this empathy that I have, though, is hard to carry. And the need to help is overwhelming. If often leaves me with a feeling of inadequacy: that I’m not doing enough. As I drove to work this morning listening to NPR, I heard the story of the Syrian refugees and their plight. How children are dying of the cold in camps as no items are allowed to come to them. Children! I cried, at 6 am, driving in my car. This happens almost every day now. I feel constantly helpless.
And in my work as a paramedic I thought I would help more I suppose. Save lives all the time, but this is not nearly the case. We hardly ever save lives. In fact we rarely do. What we do is much more routine than that usually, or most days amounts to paperwork or sitting around. The label of hero almost embarrasses me.
There were times in my life that I thought I would do something great. Make huge differences, news making differences. But with passing days, those moments seem to float by. And I wonder: do I make a difference? Does my caring and this person I’ve been my whole life mean anything in the grand scheme of the world?
Today I got an answer. I’ve worked in my fire department for five years. My Fire Chief was once my EMT partner on the ambulance and then got promoted. He has a different nature than me and wasn’t particularly thrilled with me getting the job at first. I wasn’t a fire fighter and I was a woman. He tolerated me at best and was annoyed with me most days. I was very different from him. But over the years, after sharing a front seat with him in the rig, being on emotional calls with him, talking about our lives together, and just getting older–we’ve both grown.
We joke a lot and he teases me greatly. So when he came to me today and said: I just met your birth parents today, I looked at him suspiciously and figured he had some smart remark to make. But he said, “No, seriously, I mean it–this couple could be your parents, because they were the nicest people I ever met.” And you know, he meant it! I nearly dropped. And I realized that after five years, he got it. He finally understood who I was and appreciated it and that I had changed him. And we went on to have this very amazing conversation. It was a pivotal moment.
Yesterday another co-worker, and someone in paramedic school, came to me for advice because she wants to emulate my style of paramedicine. It’s about caring. Caring about my patients. That’s what my Chief finally gets: that I really care. He said today to one of our Officers, “There is one person on this department that is here because she truly cares.” And he meant me.
So, no, I probably won’t make the news because I’m Mother Teresa or anyone like that, but if I can touch lives, even for 20 minutes at a time in the back of my ambulance, then I guess I’ve done something. I may not technically be saving their life, but maybe I can make it a little easier for those minutes. And I know for some of my patients, they feel no-one cares. But when they step on my truck, they can rest assured that someone truly does. In the grand scheme of things…I hope this counts.