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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Cactus


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I heard two sad things today.  One was that a 31 year old fire fighter in a town that I used to serve as a paramedic back where I used to live, was killed in a freak accident. He was driving his truck when a strong gust of wind blew a tree on it and killed him.

The other was about one of our 36 year old patients today in surgery. He was going in for what was expected to be diverticulitis because of pain and some bleeding. They put him under anesthesia and opened him up only to find massive amounts of cancer everywhere. He will wake with a colostomy bag, much less of his insides and about a year and a half to live.

I reflect on these stories and share them to remind myself and us all that things may be tough: our jobs, not enough money, someone is annoying us, the kids on our nerves or some other thing making us crazy.

But when we get true perspective on what is important, and we suddenly see how others are dealing with real hardship — somehow our load seems lighter.

So instead of feeling sorry for ourselves,  let’s instead send our thoughts, prayers and all the energy we use being upset, and use it instead to care about those who really need caring.

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Because, like a cactus, even beauty can come from pain.

Everything Happens For A Reason


This is something we hear a lot: every time something good may happen, but especially if something bad happens it seems–someone will say to us: well, it must have happened for a reason. Or we may find some hidden chain of events within whatever occurrence befell us that don’t appear to be random. We want to think that are reasons that things happens to us and not much may be chance.

On this past Monday, a dear friend and fellow paramedic had their family’s house burn. Luckily, everyone got out, including all the pets. In this case, it was a series of events that made this statement seem true. And after the fire, there were more interesting things that happened that makes one wonder why things happen the way they do.

My friend normally does her usual 24 hour shift on Monday, but this week a co-worker wanted a swap. So she planned to be home with her toddler and husband (who owns the local barber shop in town). They all decided to take this unusual opportunity to go to a local kid’s farm and see all the animals since it was supposed to be a lovely New England day. But as Monday rolled around, her husband wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to stay home (thank goodness). My friend’s parents also live in the downstairs apartment, and are almost always home, but this day, they were out on a trip. So the house might just have been empty if my friend’s husband hadn’t of been feeling poorly.

As the morning progressed and my friend had gone with the child, her husband smelled smoke. He quickly realized something was wrong and went outside. A passerby saw the smoke coming from the top of the house. His phone had died so the passerby called it in on his phone. He then used the phone to call my friend. Meanwhile, we are being toned to the town (which is next door) for a first alarm. It quickly progressed to a second alarm.

Part of our system is that we get pages to our phones with the call information, so my friend was paged on her phone,  she discovered it was the wrong address–and the one they gave was completely on the opposite side of town! She immediately called dispatch (who gave her a bit of a hard time until she said she was the homeowner) and they re-toned it with the correct information.

Thank goodness because should the trucks have gone to the wrong address, the house would have burned to the ground. But instead, they got there quickly and were able to suppress the fire. Of course the house sustained major water damage.

After the fire was out and the trucks had left, or so we thought, my pager went off for a paramedic intercept to meet their ambulance at our fire station. I immediately thought that my friend or one of her family members needed assistance–that something had happened to them. My partner for the day had to calm my nerves as we waited outside our station (my drug boxes in hand) for them to arrive.

As they came whirling around the corner, lights and siren, and I stepped onto their rig–I immediately saw it was my friend sitting on the crew bench caring for one of HER fire fighters who was in a very dangerous cardiac rhythm! Because of the fire, she couldn’t find the keys to her drug box and needed me and my drugs. Plus it was helpful to have me there for morale support given what she had just gone through herself!

So in analyzing this whole situation there are so many factors that we can look back (and did) and say: everything happens for a reason. My friend swapped her shift that day and was home when normally she is not; her husband was feeling ill that day and didn’t go on the family outing when he really wanted to go; the passerby happened to be there with his phone; even though dispatch got the wrong address, my friend noticed it was and called them to correct it; while the fire fighter ended up ending up needing some serious care that day, he fought a fire at a paramedic’s house and someone he’s known for years who ended up saving his life!

Yes this day, while many tragic things happened, some good too came of the day! No lives were lost, I wasn’t on another call so I was there to help, the FF made it just fine, they will re-build and life will go on.

We don’t always feel that everything happens for a reason, or at least when we are smack dab in the middle of something awful we may not understand the reason. When we receive the diagnosis of cancer, or we lose a loved one, or we are rolling over and over in the car down the side of an embankment or someone walks out on us–but sometimes, after time…in the quiet of our own thoughts and in looking back, maybe we can see things, changes or aspects of why those things happened. It may take days or sometimes it takes years. But having faith in the natural beat of our lives and staying positive and hopeful, then you can truly believe that everything does happen for a reason.

Photo: The Last Alarm


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There is much sadness in my heart today for the Boston fire fighters who lost their lives and the ones injured in yesterday’s blaze. They made the ultimate sacrifice doing their job so others may be safe. I’ve seen the face of fire and I’ve had my brother’s back. Today I mourn for two who went in but are now following a different light. It’s a close family, but it will never bring them back to their kids, wife, mothers, fathers and the rest. We can only hold them in our hearts and souls and be ever grateful for what they do and where they go when others won’t. Rest in peace my brothers!

The Playground


So I’m taking this class–I’ve been in for three days and have three to go. It’s a refresher class for my paramedic. Normally it’s pretty relaxing and I don’t mind doing it, but this year it’s been stressful and pretty awful. Most of the other people in the class know each other and are from the same department. And sadly, they are very clicky and not mature enough to know how to blend in with others in a group.

Have you ever been in a situation with a bunch of adults where you can tell what kind of kids they were when they were in school? Which ones bullied other kids, which ones followed the bullies just to fit in, which ones had to be funny all the time and have all the attention focused on them, which ones sat quietly with the click but were part of it non-the-less, the young ones lapping at the heels and all the rest that would just follow the leaders in the group?

Well the guys in my class (because they are all men) are pretty much the above mentioned group. And they make sure no-one else squeezes into their circle, even if you try to be nice. It confounds me that adults continue to act like children in these situations. And the interesting thing is that the teachers of this class get sucked right in and play along. The male teacher just wants to fit in with ‘the boys’ and stands around joking with them and pretty much ignores the few of us that aren’t a part of this group. The female teacher giggles and goofs around with these guys as though they are the funniest people she’s ever heard. It’s pretty nauseating.

Meanwhile, they make sure the rest of us are uncomfortable, don’t get a word in edgewise, look bad, make mistakes, get distracted while they are talking during class and generally disrupt things. It’s lovely. You can almost picture them lurking the hallways of seventh grade….

Anyway, only three more days next week and I’ll be done. And I hope this is the last time I ever have to do this if I have my way. Unfortunately, I feel it’s people like these that give my profession a bad name. People call them heroes, but when you get up close and personal, all I see is children.

Fallen Hero: Fragility of Life


I am reminded of the fragility of life today as I am preparing for the funeral of a local Fire Chief. He suffered a heart attack while in the line of duty. It happens all the time to fire fighters. We think they die in fires, but this usually is not the case. More often than not they die of massive heart attacks or responding to calls.

In my careers, both as a paramedic and in the past as a medical examiner, I’ve been touched so often by how quickly our lives can change. In an instant everything is different. The truck that is just around the corner coming at you, that blood vessel in your brain ready to burst, that last bit of plaque ready to lodge in your heart vessel. And your life forever changed–yours and your family.

Did they say they loved you? Were they mad in the morning before you left? Did they kiss you and did you kiss the kids? This is what they will be thinking if you never come home. I’ve seen it in their eyes as we roll the stretcher into the hospital doing CPR. Or have to go to the home once they know their loved one has really died: that look. The ultimate sadness, the shock, the disbelief that this person is truly gone. And they never got to say goodbye, or I”m sorry, or I love you one more time.

I’ve had to tell them: yes, they are dead. Yes, it was quick and painless. Yes, we did everything we could. No it wasn’t your fault. I’ve had to hug them or just leave them alone. I’ve seen young ones leave their parents behind and adult children who have cared for their elderly parents. It doesn’t matter. It’s painful for the ones left behind no matter what. Babies are the worst though. And children. Parents should never bury their children. But they do. And then they try to go on.

So is it really worth getting upset that you can’t find your keys? Or that it’s raining again? Or that we had a bad winter? Or that you don’t have the TV you want? Or even that your house burned down if you all got out safe and sound? It’s really about who you love and making sure that every day you let them know. Because you never know when you might not be able to say it ever again.

And thanks to all our heroes who purposely chase that fateful moment every day.