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.

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Bleeding Hearts


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This week is National EMS Week (Emergency Medical Services). I’ve been an EMT/Paramedic for close to 20 years now. It’s been quite a ride, one where I may soon be stepping off of the proverbial bus as we like to call the ambulance.

We are called ‘ambulance drivers’, much to our displeasure–after all, we are much more than that really. Taking countless hours of classes to hopefully be able to perform some life saving procedure on anyone from  a neonate to  the elderly; waking up in the middle of the night during any kind of weather, even it’s just to comfort someone who is scared; dealing with every bodily fluid known to humankind; getting yelled at by your patient even when they were the one calling 911; and getting up again right after that tragic call you just went on and barely tucked away in the crevices of your bleeding heart.

Yes, we are ambulance drivers, but we are sometimes merely taxi drivers. We have been called heroes, we are furniture movers, we are psychologists, comedians, the grim reaper, teachers, advisors, friends, healers, weight lifters, engineers, actors, drug counselors and more. But what we are not is God.

We do what we can and it’s our job to help, but often people wait too long to call and expect miracles. These we can’t provide. And then we are only human, there to hold a hand, listen or cry right along.

For in the end, your emergency becomes our emergency, but we must remain calm. You must never know if we feel fear for you would lose hope. So we tuck our fear, our sadness and our insecurities away for another day, so when the call comes, we answer and give it all we’ve got.

So here’s to all the EMT’s out there! Thanks for all you do, your courage, devotion and hard work. It can be a thankless job, but we love it none-the-less. We love it for those tiny moments where someone looks you in the eye and says: thanks for helping me, or where you know you really made a difference in someone’s life. That’s the true payback.

Here is a poem I wrote today for my colleagues:

We may not all always get along

And we may not always see eye to eye

But when the tires hit the road

And our patients are in need

We put it all aside

Pool our knowledge

Use our skills

And do our best to heal

It can be a thankless job

Or it can be the greatest gift

We are never alone

Our partners have our backs

When we need it most

So when you’re tired and beat

Discouraged and sad

Just remember:

Tomorrow is another day

The day when you will help a crying baby

Sooth a son after the death of his Mom

Help someone breathe a little easier

Actually save a life

Because that’s what we do

Together

Day and night

Sister and brothers

In the back of our special bus

The Class


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.

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.

Celebration Of Life


Today we celebrated the life of my friend and Fire Captain. There is much pomp and ceremony that goes into services of fire fighters. We marched down the very street we march every summer for our balloonfest parade. But there were stark differences today: this time were all freezing cold, our engine was draped with funeral buntings, and our heads were  hung in sorrow… There were no crowds to wave and cheer for their small town heroes on this frigid winter day. Only a lonely parade of mournful fire fighters, saddened by the loss of one of their own.

But today was supposed to be a day of remembering all the good about him. Our Chief recalled stories about him. There were some great pictures, old and new. Drinks toasted. And tears were still shed. When the bag pipes played and the last alarm sounded. There was no stopping the sobs when we all really realized he was truly gone.

And I guess this is what it is about death: the finality. The thought that we will simply never, ever see that person again, never laugh with them, work with them, argue with them, love them. And did we tell them everything we wanted to tell them? Did they know how much we cared? Did my Captain know how important he was to me? He was one of my few allies in that department. One of the guys I could truly trust with my soul. They are hard to come by in the fire service.

He knew this was coming for a long time. He even sat right in my office and told me he didn’t want to be one of the ones to linger, to be pressing a morphine button, to have others watch him deteriorate. And yet, he did. It broke my heart. And made me angry. Angry at the system that allows humans less dignity than we give our animals when it comes to dying.

I saw him close to the end. I’m not sure if he saw me. I hope the spirit within him knew I was there. One thing I do know is that his spirit will walk our fire station now. He was there for over 25 years. He’s part of that place and death won’t change that… He wanted his ashes to be kept there (because that’s just how he was). So some of them are now in a fire memorabilia lamp at the station. I’m pretty sure he’ll use that lamp to play tricks on us, but that’s OK too. That way we’ll know he’s still around.

I love you Captain. I will miss you greatly. Thank you for all you gave me, both professionally and personally. Watch over us now and help keep us safe.  PS No, you can’t have a fire permit where you went.

Poem: Taken


You took another friend today

He’s gone

And I’m alone

No more hearing him joke

Or changing his voice on the phone

Pretending he’s someone else

You took my friend today

The one that everyone liked

He always came late

To meetings

But it was OK

It was just him

You took my friend today

With his New Jersey accent

The one that never goes away

When he would say youse guys

We didn’t care

Because he was the best

My friend is gone now

He died today

And our huge family

Usually full of testosterone

Is quiet and wet-eyed

It’s taken a part of us too

Because he was the one

In at all hours

There when you needed him

The first one when you were new

To make you laugh

Steal your peanuts

Make fun of your hair

Have your back

Give you a hug

Eat ice cubes

Be the best

But you took him anyway

Like you took my other friend

And neither were ready

Too young

So here’s to you my friend

I love you

I miss you

The fire station’s not the same

Without you…