Expired 


Yesterday was my last day as a licensed paramedic. It’s with great melancholy that I let it lapse. But all things need to come to their logical end, and so it was time for me to step off the bus.

For all my ups and downs, it really was a great run. I had the great honor to be with people at some of the worst times in their lives and with them as they took their last breath. They invited me into their homes, even when they may have felt ashamed, because they knew I came only carrying oxygen, not judgement. There were many neighbors I helped, and some I couldn’t, but I cared about them all. It didn’t matter who you were, why you called me, how much you had to drink, how many times you called that week, if you woke me up in the middle of the night or I had to come in a raging blizzard, I came because I really did like being a paramedic. Sure, maybe we complained a bit about the hours or the pay, but really, there wasn’t any better job than that one.

Where else do you get someone say to you: thanks for saving my wife’s life? Or making a kid with a broken arm feel less pain…or even being with someone when they take they stop breathing  knowing that you helped make their journey easier. 

So, I have no regrets except maybe I didn’t find it when I was younger. I’m gratful for the lives that I helped save, but even more grateful that I never made any mistakes that hurt anyone. 

Thanks to all those emergency workers out there still busting their butts for us all–stay safe and we are truly lucky to have you. 

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Everybody Hurts


Everybody hurts. Bullies are often bullies because they are hurting. I found that out at work today.

A young gal is out for some time at work. She always struck me as rather dark…and I heard rumors. I never pushed because it’s none of my business. But my assessment skills are pretty strong from years in the emergency business, so I guessed she had a difficult personal life.

When she didn’t show up for work two days in a row, then 3 months of her shifts got posted…I guess I knew there definitely was a lot going on. But no-one is really talking. That’s not exactly true: as some of the rougher crowd surely complained about her just cutting out of work like that…I mean how could she!? Doesn’t she have any compassion for her co-workers? How bad could it really be after all???

That’s when I spoke personally to one of the folks I consider a bit of a bully. She told me she just can’t really understand people with issues ‘like that’…considering herself a ‘very happy person’. Ha, I thought! A happy person? Someone who goes around making fun of everyone in the joint, talking behind people’s back at every opportunity, being unfriendly to many and nice to others, pretending to be nice after saying mean things…??? No, that’s definitely not a happy person in my book. She just can’t admit it.


But as she spoke to me, she told me that her mother was just like that young girl out of work. The mother checked out on her children (namely this happy person) when she was young and she always hated it. Determined not to be like her mother, she appears to be a wonderful mom, talking about her kids all the time and is very devoted to them.

Yet in her heart, the hurt and anger still lurk deep within.That’s obvious. These things, when they fester, always leak out. So instead of dealing with them head on, they become like stones in one’s soul making it hard to empathize or show compassion to others. Anyone who may remind her the pain her mother caused her, or who may put her in a situation where she is comprised, she then lashes out. And to keep ahead of the pain, she stays a step before it by making fun of others to build herself up.

It’s a fairly typical scenario. I just saw the root of it today, so now she’s easier to understand. Sad really. She sees herself as nice and friendly because I believe that’s how she wants to be. But like anyone she was caught in the web of circumstance. It’s blurry embrace gripped her and made her be something of which she is unaware.

So then, it is my job to be kinder and more aware of the situation. To try not to engage and get frustrated and angry back. It’s not easy when a bully is on the prowl. Maybe now that I know what she needs is maternal love and attention, I can somehow discreetly send those vibes her way.

Maybe this then will help to fill the gap and help her toward some true happiness instead.

Lest We Never Forget


On this September 11th, as I am remembering that day now so long ago, it feels rather odd to no longer be a part of the ‘family’ of emergency workers. It was a part of my life for so many years, and when that day ripped the world apart, it hit me personally, when so many of my brothers and sisters  were there in the chaos. It could have been me….


Now, I am so blessed, as I am settling in to my new home, to be living a different life. Not that it isn’t without its stresses. But in this new place, it somehow seems more tidy and peaceful, even when the world is now full of such unrest. For me, it seemed like it really started on the awful day. That’s when it ramped up. Yes, there was always hate, prejudice, injustice. Oh yeah…don’t get me wrong.

What we’ve done in this very country for hundreds of years has been disgraceful. The inequity of people based on color, gender, disabilities or anything different for that matter, has always been an issue here. But the hate now seems so palpable. And no, I don’t think it’s just that we hear about it more through media. There is just more of it!

As I walk through my new community, one that is neat and friendly, I feel it is easy to become insulated. I want to become insulated some days. It’s exhausting listening day after day to the killing, the terror, the devastation of the planet and the hatred. One just wonders what happened to simply winding one’s life down and beginning to relax?

At work I sit and hear people talk. The constant whining, complaining, the mocking tones and downright meanness. What came first? Were people always like this or has our country turned sour because of all that’s hurting our world and therefore our souls? Maybe it’s simply decomposing us from the inside.

I ask every day in my daily meditation for peace: in my life and for the world. Trying to touch each person I meet with a sense of peace. How can I have a ripple effect?

My simple, small and quiet apartment is my sanctuary. It’s easy now to feel like I never want to go outside.  But there are good reasons to do it… Pushing against the beast of lurking depression, caused by bombardment of the seeming global demise–I do my best to remain positive. This home is my recharge point where I plug-in to be able to go out into a world that drains me of resources.

So, lest we never forget: that day September 11, 2001, changed the world. It tore us apart and we haven’t figured out since then how to come back together. The only way to honor those lost that day, and those who are still suffering, like the rescuers who continue to lose their lives because of the toxins they took in from 9/11–is to learn how to love again. To love each other, the earth, the animals, the trees, the air, the water….
And no walls, either outside or in, will help. Only learning to understand each other on the deepest level. And truly caring for our fellow human like we are one family.

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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It’s Pouring!


Oh my goodness–where to begin! All I can think of is clichés:

When it rains it pours!

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The biblical saying: My cup runneth over!

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I feel simply overwhelmed and like some magical hand is guiding my steps. Again something amazing and fateful has happened, and may (I say may) lead me down yet another job direction.

As of yet, I still have not heard the final approval from the hospital where I went and did all the tests. It’s odd because I could have sworn the HR woman told me I would hear by the end of last week?? I even went so far as to call HR, and they said it could take up to 5 days…which would be about today, but still: crickets. Hmmm?

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Now I rather doubt I flunked the pee test. I haven’t been near any illegal drugs since I was in my 20’s (some 40 years ago)–but maybe it’s something else? Or maybe I heard wrong and they aren’t getting ahold of me. Maybe I just show up January 4th for Orientation?

Anyway, today I had decided to email to find out. I literally had my hand poised over the keyboard to compose that email, when my phone rang. It was yet another hospital about a job I had applied to like 26 days ago! The HR woman was checking about my cover letter, and if what I said in there was true. It seemed like fate again guiding me.

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You see, I kind of went out on a limb. For once I threw caution to the wind and came right out and said I knew I was over-qualified and that I didn’t want to be a paramedic any longer. I also said money wasn’t everything, only being happy at what you did every day. And yes, this IS actually true for me. All of the stuff I said.

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This position is a patient liaison in an emergency room in a hospital one mile from my apartment! It’s less money and 12 hour shifts x 3 days per week (compared to 8 hour shift x 5 days), but with patient contact, unlike the other one. Apparently the head nurse did not believe that I truly wanted this position and believed I would get into it and then apply as a medic. But I said no, I was retired as a paramedic. So the HR woman called the RN and told her.

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So I now have an interview for this position! The question will be–IF they offer it–which do I take and will it all fall into place? The timing is all very close!

Of course there are positive and negative points with both. My heart, for sure, is with the new position: with the patient contact, in the ER where my ‘home’ has been for 20 years. But they are both great jobs. I would be happy with either.

I honestly can’t believe how lucky I am. Everyone should have problems like this I suppose…

So stay tuned for the updates. Let me know what you think? The Universe may just well decide for me anyway…

Let’s just hope I end up with one of them at least!!

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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.

Ghost


I saw a ghost on my way into work this morning.  It was a pretty good day–it was ‘stay at home and work out’ morning. This involves doing my yoga and walking dogs and whatever else I decide to do now that it’s getting colder. Usually I leave really early and swim my mile after walking dogs. But I’ve decided four days a week of swimming is plenty and I wanted a change in routine. So now I break up my week with Wednesday being my home workout day.

So I was feeling all yoga’d out–mellow and serene. It was cool, but bright and crisp. I was listening to a quiet CD when I looked up at a car coming towards me when I saw a ghost driving a car! Let me explain.

Last year I lost a very dear friend to breast cancer. I’ve written about her here numerous times. She was one of my first EMT mentors, a mother of 11 children, humble, lovely, kind, quiet and competent. When she received her diagnosis she had just started nursing school. She didn’t tell people in her ambulance service until she began her treatments and it became obvious. And she courageously fought and finished her degree, but never practiced.

Needless to say she would have been an amazing nurse. The kind we rarely see these days. Partly because she was a natural caregiver, but also because she had life experience and she truly wanted to help. It was in her soul to be kind.

And I’m driving down the road and there’s my friend, behind the wheel: smiling the same unassuming smile she always had, hair parted and behind her ears like we had in the 70’s, with the sun beaming down on her face! My heart just jumped!

To top it off, today I was planning to teach CPR to the nurse from our local factory. She also is a lovely and gentle woman. Soft spoken and helpful, always there on the calls for service when we come to help. I called her house to set up the time for her CPR recert, but her husband told me she wasn’t home because she was getting radiation. I was stunned! He told me they had discovered breast cancer.

When I spoke to her, she informed me that in March she went for a routine mammo and they found two lumps. They were both removed and she was lucky. She only needed radiation and no chemo. But still…is that really lucky? Compared to what? But thank goodness she went for her routine one!

Was my friend trying to tell me something? Was she just telling me not to forget? Her? Exams? To enjoy life? I just walked a race in her honor. I never will forget her. In the Jewish religion they say every time you speak a dead person’s name then they are still alive. Well if you see them, then I guess they still are too!

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!