Gimme Shelter


Yes I am sheltering in place even though Mother Nature is about to unleash her wrath and fury upon the land where I live. I’ve received numerous worried phone calls and texts from friends and love ones of concern at my half-baked plan to stay. Their feelings that I should evacuate, or should have days ago, have been coming across loud and clear.

Agreed, it’s all a bit freaky. The worst hurricane in the Atlantic in history!! Yikes. This doesn’t leave for a good nights sleep mind you. And yet, I plan to stay and wait it out. Am I simply nuts?

Well, no, I don’t think so. Having been an emergency worker for 20 years, I wouldn’t choose to shelter in place without giving it some good hard thought and without reasons. Maybe my reasons are emotional ones: my pets and my mother, but I still feel the gamble is worth it.

Where I live is not in a flood zone and my apartment building is a cement box. I’m on the first floor and have hurricane windows on most of windows and on the ones I don’t, I put up my shutters. I have candles, canned food, batteries and will fill up lots of things with water, including my bath tub. And then I will simply wait.

Sure, we may lose power, but after being without power for 11 days in New England in the middle of winter without a wood stove, I guess I can handle it. I have a small battery charger for my phone, and if my car doesn’t get wrecked, then I can charge my phone in my car to let folks know I’m OK.

As long as my Mom, my pets and I’m OK, I really don’t care if I lose stuff. There is nothing I own that is more important to me than my ‘family’. Things can always be replaced. If it blows away or gets wet… so be it. Maybe I’ll end up in the land of Oz…

And the upside of these disasters is that it always brings out the best in humans. Maybe Mother nature does this to reminds us of our need to care about each other. My neighbors have been great. (Note: my neighbor for Canada flew BACK to be here for his Mom and just stopped by to make sure I was alright and didn’t need any help!)

So, yes, I’m staying and hopefully it won’t be a mistake. If it is, well, it won’t be my first mistake. If it’s the last, well…we all gotta go sometime.

Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

The Rolling Stones

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Out The Door!


From a really bad thing came a really good thing. Today my Mom and I decided I should quit my job. As many of my long time followers know, I was really unhappy in that job anyway. From the beginning that position has been hard for me with difficult co-workers, rude doctors, unreasonable managers and unkind people in general. Not what I wanted in a new position.

I felt that when I moved here, that one priority was to be relaxed and enjoy my place of employment. Stress from years of working in the Emergency Medical field had taken its toll and I was ready for a big break. But admittedly I took the wrong position offered to me from a couple of offers. Figuring this was somewhat within my field and giving me the opportunity to meet more people and slightly more money–I jumped at this one.

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How wrong I was! Money should never, ever guide us, and I should have known better. And while I did meet some very wonderful friends that I hope to keep, the bulk of the folks there were more of the same uncaring healthcare ‘professionals’ that would sooner spit on you than help you.

So when the opportunity arose to help my Mom get well, you didn’t have to ask me twice to walk out the door. I didn’t even give two weeks, which is not my style at all. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that in my life! But with her health, their attitudes and my degree of frustration, I was out.

To my great surprise and gratitude, my boss was very kind and understanding about it all and even said if there was anything he could do he would. If there were more words like this, maybe there would be more retention there, but sadly he is not the one to talk to most people. It happens I go to him because he’s nicer.

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Sadly it’s the loud mouths that run the place who either pretend to be nice or just plain aren’t nice or have their favorites. Of which I was not one. And I am proud not to be! I’m always glad not to be part of the crowd that played games or is too afraid to say what I feel for fear of pissing them off. Bah!

Because I know in my heart what is really important, and it’s certainly not any of those silly folks who can’t walk their talk. It’s about family, real connections and honesty. And hopefully when Mom gets better, it will be time to find a new career. But this time it will be nothing to do with human healthcare!!

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Beginning Of The End


So Monday starts the beginning of the end. Well, at least I think so. Monday is my first day of my new job at the hospital. What I suspect is, that it may be the last time that I work in this  type of job–official so to speak, a business, corporation, a career-type position. I will be 60 this year and am mostly here to be near my Mom.  When she’s not here any longer…well, who knows?

My last 20 years in the Emergency Medical field was ambiguous. It had it’s tremendously high moments as you can imagine, but it also left me–as an employee–often feeling inadequate.

There were, of course, a whole range of reasons that this was the case: the poor system of compensation, the attitude of fellow co-workers, the absolute rarity of a woman climbing any sort of ladder upward, poor management in most places, small town politics… Well, you get the picture.

I’m know I was partly to blame.

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When I first came to the field, I was very naive and hopeful. My aim was to help people and save lives. It became quickly apparent that this golden ring was almost a pipe-dream, and only grasped by paying the piper. Bitterness of many others I met along the way turned my attitude sour as well and the grinding days of low pay, long hours and patients without real emergencies took its inevitable toll. I simply became one of the caustic, crabby paramedics just doing a job.

When I had moments of clarity and was able to stand back and look at myself, I was saddened and ashamed of what I had become. It was not what I had ever intended. Never did I want to become impatient with those ‘frequent flyers’ or gossipy at work and angry with fellow co-workers. But the years ground me down into a person I did not like anymore.

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It is partly why I have stepped away and decided to retire. Believe me, it was a very hard choice to make. Becoming a paramedic was not easy for me and giving it up I do with a heavy heart. But I always said when I could no longer do it with joy every day, then it was time. And so it is….

So now I have a chance to recreate myself in a new job. See if I can be a better co-worker, an employee that my company embraces as much as I will embrace it. As I step through the doors Monday, I have many, many years of knowing what not to do for sure–and surely there were some things I did right too.

Hopefully now I can get it mostly right and enjoy each day that my alarm clock goes off telling me a new work week has begun!

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Last Day


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Eight years ago I began a job in a fire department in a small New England town. Today was my last day. Oddly it  could very well be my last day as paramedic altogether. I have not decided yet, but it’s likely I might  try something different.

More like 20 years I’ve been in the emergency services. It’s been a long and interesting path, with many potholes along the way. But the road also took me down some beautiful roads where I learned to become someone I didn’t know was inside me.

I’ve met many strangers who became dear friends and had friends turn their backs on me. But helping to heal the sick is a blessing that I have been fortunate enough to experience.

So maybe this life guard will no longer be on duty. And the day now may be done on this career. But my patients and my service will always be deep in my heart.

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Being On My Game


A weird thing happened to me on Friday on the ambulance. I’ve been an emergency worker for almost 20 years and can say that only one other time have I been hurt by a patient.

We were called to meet the police for a patient. Anything that involves the police is usually never good and this certainly was the case for this call. The patient was face down in a driveway surrounded by way too many police officers.

On closer inspection and after hearing the story, we came to find out he had been assaulted with a baseball bat and was extremely drunk. Over the years I’ve dealt with many intoxicated patients and they are usually happy or angry. This guy was the latter. Pissed off and very aggressive.

This should have been my first clue we should have brought PD with us. My partner was quick enough to realize that I shouldn’t be in the back alone with this guy, but luckily extra people were showing up because it was change of shift. Unfortunately, the wrong person ended up in the back with me.

It’s our job, no matter what, to try to keep a situation under control and to try to remain professional and under control ourselves. Sometimes this can be extremely difficult given the harsh conditions we are expected to perform under and the unpredictable patients. This was one of the cases.

The partner I ended up with in the back that night has also been under his own stress and personally does not have a high tolerance for abusive patients. So this was a volatile situation waiting to happen. I suppose I should have realized it.

From the get go the patient was mouthy and rude, swearing and pushing all the buttons he could with both of us. It becomes very hard to feel the compassion and sensitivity to help a person when they are calling you every name in the book! But try we must and realize that it’s maybe the alcohol, personal pain or some other reason that makes the person act the way they do. It’s never our job to judge. But still….it’s not easy!

So the situation became more ramped up and the patient kept demanding us to move him, and the more we explained what we were trying to do, the more angry he got. My partner ended up moving him (because he got angry and upset himself) a bit rougher than he would have normally.

The patient immediately knew what was going on, and that’s when he just flipped out. His swearing escalated and his anger soared. He ripped off the collar we had put around his neck to protect his spine and flung it. It hit me square in the face! I was stunned and it hurt.

But now all bets were off. I knew this guy meant business and while my partner wasn’t right, we were potentially in danger in this little box. So I rapidly drew up some medications to calm the guy down and some pain medications too (which I planned anyway). It was explained they were to help him and he willingly received them.  And everything finally became in control.

Police were waiting when we arrived. The patient apologized to me (although he was still angry at my partner), but I explained to him what he had done to me was uncalled for because I had done nothing but try to help him. And I told the police he assaulted me.

After the call, I did talk to my partner and explain that I felt what he had done was unprofessional. He hadn’t realized what he had done or how upset he had become. We are all only human after all. He felt this guy kept screaming that he was choking and wasn’t listening, so he ‘rapidly’ moved him.

It was a good lesson to us both to be more diligent. We should have brought the police from the beginning. My instincts had kicked in long before he hit me that I should give him something to calm him down. Sometimes verbal reasoning is futile as in this case. Substances blur all reason.

I have no idea what this guy is like normally. Honestly, I have no desire TO know. But we were lucky this time. I could have been hurt much worse. But it scared me. And I know who to be in the back with now in the case of a dangerous patient. We have to trust our partners with our lives in my business. And we always have to be on our game. Because we never know: we can save a life, or lose ours.

Stayin’ Alive!


One part of my job that is really different from the normal routine, and is actually enjoyable, is teaching CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation). This is one of links in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) “chain of survival”. This includes use of the AED (automated external defibrillator).

While I teach: right place, right time–with more and more people hearing about CPR and actually taking classes, it actually may become more likely to save a life in the field. And I certainly seem to be teaching classes almost weekly now. While I have only had two CPR saves in my 18 years as an emergency medical technician, my hope is that with lay people learning CPR, there will be more saves as we keep educating.

With all the advances on the ambulance, with Advanced Cardiac Life Support, better CPR techniques and then the care received in specialized hospitals, patients are walking out of these facilities more frequently and leading normal lives. And it is my great joy to teach classes–especially to lay people.

Most people who come to my classes have had some class in the past–sometimes 20 years ago. But much has changed. Students are often surprised by how things have changed, but are always willing to listen and learn. In the old days a teacher could pretty much wing a class and teach based on their own knowledge. But now, AHA is fairly strict and everything is video based.

This is understandable, with all the liability now, and wanting to create a uniform program taught the same way for everyone. Of course every teacher brings their own personality to the class, and this is where I hope I excel.

Classes can vary in their own personalities also, coming from church groups, teachers, bus drivers, factory workers to stay at home moms. The groups may vary in ages from teens to elderly people. This can make teaching a bunch sometimes challenging. Some groups are happy to be there and do so willingly and some are being made by work. So it’s my job to make it fun for everyone.

The AHA video is really pretty decent given the content, but it is, after all, a CPR video! I try to spruce it up by stopping frequently with my own interjections, stories and allowing students to participate in discussions. My classes are very interactive, so the students won’t fall asleep. There is huge redundancy also which can become monotonous and boring, just like the compression metronome, so getting them up and moving every so often is critical.

When I’m testing them, I make each scenario personal to them, trying to make them laugh. I also make each class a teaching moment for other things like cardiac disease, obesity, the 911 system, the EMS protocol system for cardiac arrest, DNR’s (Do Not Resuscitate) and such. So it makes for very interesting discussions. While they are there to learn about CPR, I hope they come away with a lot more.

We also talk about the realistic part of what may happen in a cardiac arrest. The messy part that isn’t mentioned on the video, so they can really be prepared for real life. And we talk a lot about children and infants, because that’s the CPR no-one ever wants to do. I try to instill in them a sense of confidence and calmness. All this while trying to have some fun. Part of that fun is that they learn that the compressions are done to the beat of the old song from the movie “Saturday Night Fever”–Stayin’ Alive. They love that part and I actually sing it! Some of them do too.

Finally we also learn about how to help adults, children and infants who are choking. Now this is truly a life saving tool! I have saved my own daughter’s life by doing abdominal thrusts. Everyone should know how to do this properly! You never know when you may be called upon to do it: at a restaurant, a neighbor’s house, a movie theater, your family member! It’s simple and works!

So when my students complete this class, I’m hoping they leave with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Many hope they will never have to perform CPR on anyone, but know if they had to, they could. And with this new skill, they can be out in the world knowing they may actually save someone’s life.

Consider taking a class if you haven’t already–or renewing that old card of yours! Remember: it’s all different now. You never know who’s life you might save! Altogether now: Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive…Ah Ah Ah Ah….Stayin’ Alive!

Giving Up


For years I’ve been a competitive athlete, especially if you consider my years playing soccer in high school. The thought of giving up rarely occurred to me during these years, except maybe during one of my grueling events. And that was during it, in the midst of my pain and exhaustion usually hours into some ultra type running relay, triathlon or other crazy thing.

Well, I am now faced with a similar decision. But now it’s a career decision that I’ve been at for almost 20 years. I’m feeling the same pain and exhaustion. I’ve hit the wall, exhausted all my resources and see no other resources but to stop in my tracks and say enough.

We all come to a point in our lives where we are at a great cross roads. Where we know we aren’t the person we were 20 years ago, and the decisions we made to do something then just doesn’t fit in with who we are now.

For many years I’ve been on this crash course with the emergency medical field. The passion I first had when I started has slowly been draining from my veins and it has been become nothing more than a burdensome job, that more often than not gives me heartache.

Sadly, it’s not usually the job itself that pains me, but the co-workers, management and all the circumstances that surround the field itself. Many people come into it at first for noble reasons, but often find themselves with too many responsibilities that are beyond their training. There is burn-out, low pay, high stress, the co-mingling of so many different personalities with no real guidance of how to blend everyone together. It’s a blue print for disaster.

And so everywhere I’ve been is misery. EMT’s are unhappy, crabby and often have no sense of long-term teamwork. It’s very sad given we are all in a help profession. Quite the hypocrisy.

I’m trying very hard to be in a peaceful place. When I first started I enjoyed the adrenalin the job created, but now I can easily live without it. Honestly, I don’t even run much anymore–I’ve even given up those endorphins for the most part!

Of course it’s scary to step outside my comfort zone, especially in this economy. But I know my physical and mental health are at stake now. Life is way too short to be dealing with this kind of stress any longer. It’s simply not worth it. I’m going into this decision knowing full well I may lose my house, but I don’t even care anymore. In fact, it would probably be for the best. I’ve been staying in this job for so long because of bills. And I shouldn’t have done it.

So it’s time to move on in a big way. That huge, gigantic leap of faith. I know there are many that will be grateful that I go. But I also know there will be many of my patients, town’s people, co-workers that won’t be. And there’s a great sadness in me too.

I remember my first call and the enthusiasm and pride I had to call myself an EMT. And then a paramedic. It’s a shame, but I know now this is the right thing for my life now. I’ve outgrown this job and it’s no longer a fit. And I always said when I felt like this I would leave. So it’s time to give up and move on and let the new heroes have their day.

As Long As You Have Your Health


Today I walked in a race in honor of my friend who died this year of breast cancer. She was an amazing and wonderful person, a little younger than me (in her 50’s). She had 11 children, had been an EMT for many, many years and had just signed up to become a RN when she got her diagnosis. But she pressed on anyway and graduated just before her death, never to practice. My friend would have been an incredible nurse as she had the gift to heal. Just her presence calmed a patient. Her gentle demeanor and quiet tone always defused any scene that had started to unravel. I’m sure if she was watching today’s festivities in her honor she would have been annoyed that we all had made such a fuss, because that was her humble nature. She was loved and is missed constantly.

I learned today that another EMT recently turned paramedic just learned she has stage 4 colon cancer! This woman too is in her 50’s and was in my first EMT class. My heart sank. This is has been such a bad year for that service and for all of us. I lost my Fire Captain to liver cancer, found out my cousin has breast cancer and two dear friends have breast cancer.

While I teach CPR classes all the time and catch every class with the question: What’s the number one killer of women in this country. The answer I get all the time is: breast and ovarian or uterine cancer. I have to correct them saying that no, rather it’s cardiovascular disease. But it’s hard to believe with what I’ve experienced recently.

On this amazingly lovely Autumn New England day, as I walked along the paths of the ski trails, I thought of all the people I know struck by this mysterious disease. I think about all the technologic advances we make all the time! Some are mind boggling. And yet, and yet….we can’t figure this cancer thing out. Not really.

Sure there have been some good changes. I had my yearly mammo this year and they used the ‘new’ machine on me (as well as the old). It’s suppose to detect to a greater degree any abnormalities. What I couldn’t believe was that insurance didn’t cover it! If I wanted the ‘better’ scan, I had to pay for it myself! Wow. Surely I did it, but that doesn’t seem right.

So I guess we will all just have to keep walking, running or whatever it is that we do to continue to raise money to figure out what this disease is and why it kills people. Sometimes there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Which reminded me again: be grateful. Be grateful for each day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t worry, be happy. Say you love people before you leave them for the day. Fill your bucket list. Follow your bliss. All the clichés plus the one I made up: peace, love and granola.

My wonderful Jewish Granny used to say (with the NY Jewish accent): As long as you have your health….   Ain’t that the truth!

Letting Go


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It’s almost autumn and the leaves are beginning to turn. I’ve started to see birds bunching and thought I heard some geese honking. The animals are generally restless and I am beginning to feel my usual pull. But this year I feel a bit differently than in years past.

I usually hit this cooling time of year anxious and feeling ready to flee myself. It often feels like a time that I should be migrating, whether somewhere else, or deep inside myself. But somehow this year, being so much more at peace with myself, I’m feeling no such longings.

Instead I am hitting the approaching winter with a solid calm, knowing I have a new pellet stove, my yoga and my deep sense of self. All these things give me a great sense that I can face this New England winter–come what may.

And with Autumn, comes a time of change: the leaves turn, birds leave, people leave for Florida and close up their lake homes. Only the hardy stay around these here parts. And those of us that choose to stay have learned to be strong. Strong to face the cold and snow, the slippery roads, the roofs covered with ice, and the power outages.

We have learned to let go–of our fears and weaknesses. New Englanders are mostly very independent, and don’t ask for much help. But they will be there for you in a crisis. Or if your neighbor sees you need their help. We pull together.

I have always been very independent. And very stubborn too. I don’t ask much for help. And sometimes I’ve had a hard time letting go–letting go of things that have hurt me. But today, on a beautiful almost autumn day, I let go of something I’ve been holding onto for many years.

Today I went to an EMS training in a nearby town. About six years ago, I was the paramedic for this town on their fire department. I was their first paramedic and held that position for five years.  I was very devoted, working long hours and going on almost every call for them, whether it was a paramedic level call or not.

Sadly, we had a falling out, and my relationship with the department ended on a bad note and I left. It was sort of mutual, but they left me in a bad position with no job. I was a single mom at the time and it was very painful for me and I was pretty bitter. A friend of mine on the department had left me in that position, so that made it harder for me.

Today, the Chief and that friend were at this training. I’ve seen them over the years and have always been polite. The department has been in the paper recently and has gotten some very bad press. Their head paramedic has been stealing narcotics and a fire fighter just got caught lighting fires while people were still in the houses. In a sense, I could feel it was karma for them, but honestly, I felt it was pretty sad.

My friend, who is actually the Deputy Chief of EMS, came up to me and we began to talk. It was a nice and honest talk. Then the Chief came up to me and said: Here’s the person who saved my life. That was because I had taken him in years ago when he had his heart attack. He had never thanked me….until today. And my Deputy said: and you are actually the one that day that started us doing transfers because that was our first one.

And with those two statements…all my bitterness just went away! Just like that that…whoosh. It was gone. I let go of it. It was so easy. It was simply time to be done with it. I felt like they had enough troubles and what good was it doing me anymore to hang onto it? And honestly, I felt like they were saying sorry the best way they knew how.

So with the Autumn comes change. We all change as the seasons change. We shed our bitterness, we let go of our old stuff and drop it to the ground to have it become fertile soil for new growth. We will tuck in for the winter and hibernate and then burst forth again next spring to sprout new joy and surprises next summer.

So How Do You Like Me Now?


As many of my readers know, I’ve been a paramedic for over 13 years. I’ve had my ups and downs with my career. Some days I couldn’t be more proud to say I’m a medic and totally love going to my job. But more and more it has become a grind. Many feel it’s a burn out job due to the high stress of the ‘blood and guts’, but they are very wrong about that being the reason.

It has recently hit the local news that a nearby Fire Station had one of their ‘premiere’ paramedics caught diverting narcotics for his own use. This actually isn’t very hard to do and sadly, in our business, happens more than it should. This particular medic was the lead guy, so had even more control than most, so got away with it for a long time.

Since EMS (emergency medical services) in my state is such a small community, many of us knew what was going on long before he got arrested and it showed up on the news. I worked at that fire station years ago, and in fact, was their first paramedic. I parted ways with them because they didn’t feel I complied with their rules well enough when I wouldn’t remove a tiny nose ring that I had worn previously for five years. This was after a long list of harassing things they had done to chase me away because I wasn’t a ‘yes’ person.

This particular department moved on to medics they deemed bigger and better. To them that meant slicker, smarter, fancier talking. The guy that was arrested was just the guy they were looking for to put in place a program to bring them lots of new money with a non-emergent transfer program. What they didn’t see at the time was that it also positioned him in the perfect place to support his habit.

But sadly in this business in these small towns, they look no farther than either the all mighty dollar or the big city talk. They look no further than surface. But sometimes karma gets them in the end! And so it did with this department.

When I was there, I put in countless hours on calls that weren’t only paramedic calls because no-one else would go. I had close to 600 calls under my belt. While I always do the skills I need to do, my style has always been more about being kind. Holding a hand if I need to, or talking to someone, hugging someone or giving a kiss! I have even given someone money for taking a taxi home from the hospital. But somehow many places I’ve worked never could see these as positive attributes because they aren’t financially measurable. It would take a special manager to see their worth! And most ‘Chiefs’ aren’t much for real managers.

It is so tempting to march into that ambulance service now and say: that’s right dudes, I work with a nose ring, and I wouldn’t kiss your butts all the time! Those things are true for sure! But I never stole narcotics or smeared your name in the news and I’ve always been kind to my patients. So how do you like me now?