These veteran EMS clinicians share why they joined the profession, what they’ve learned and how things have changed
Ada County Paramedics Boise, Idaho
Years in EMS: 35
Q: Why did you become a paramedic?
A: I got into EMS purely by accident. I had an established career with an international electronics distributorship and EMS was never on my radar
as a possible career path change. Then one day, a friend and I had pulled into the church parking lot and the pastor came out and told my friend that her aunt was inside not doing well. As we went inside, indeed she wasn’t. Parishioners were holding her up in a chair; she was unconscious, with what I later found out to be agonal breathing. So there I stood, just like everyone else, not knowing what to do. After a few minutes that felt like an eternity, the first responding fire engine showed up, moved her to the ground and began CPR. The medic unit showed up next and defibrillated, intubated, established an IV and gave medications. They obtained [a pulse] and transported her to the hospital. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being utterly useless in an emergency and guilty that I provided no help. So I went to the local college and took CPR, First Aid and EMT-Basic. Not to change my career, but just for general knowledge and because I enjoy learning new things. Once in the EMT-Basic course, I found even the minimal anatomy and physiology presented to be fascinating and exciting. I applied for a part-time position at a local private provider. Once on the ambulance, I found it to be my passion and it continues to be–35 years later.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started in EMS?
A: I wish I knew how much fun it is and what a fulfilling experience it is to work in EMS. If I had known then what I know now, I would have started in EMS long before.
Q: What are some of the interesting things you’ve done in EMS?
A: I worked about six years for a flight service with both rotor-wing and fixed-wing aircraft. Flying was fun and challenging and I enjoyed it immensely. However, I lost two good friends in a helicopter crash: a paramedic and a nurse, flying for our service. They were two of the most wonderful and caring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. I decided to stop flying shortly after that.
Q: What’s the worst part about EMS?
A: How can anyone not be severely emotionally taxed when we encounter the horrible, grief-ridden cries and screams of agony of a suffering parent
at the unexpected loss of a child. To this day, I can’t imagine what they are going through and the level of grief they must feel. While we like to say, pretend—or even believe—that we are impervious to such things, we are not…ever…nor should we be. We are human, after all. These are the most difficult calls for me to recover from. They hurt…a lot.
Q: What’s the best part?
A: We are afforded the rare opportunity to touch the lives of so many people in such a relevant way as to improve their current circumstance. When we are involved in this manner, we leave our respective fingerprint on the lives of our patients. The calls that we go on today will not be remembered by us tomorrow. But what we have to remember always is that the people we help today, as well as families and bystanders, will remember us; our compassion, our care and our professionalism for the rest of their lives. What an amazing privilege we have in that we can touch so many lives in a positive way.
City of New Orleans Emergency Medical Services
New Orleans, Louisiana Years in EMS: 35
Q: Why did you become an EMT almost 36 years ago?
A: The answer to that question is kind of tragic, actually. I was working as a lab technician in a hospital biology lab. I have a degree in biology and I thought that was my career path. Then one day, there was a house fire in my neighborhood. I was the one who called the fire department. This was a horrible fire with injuries and fatalities and I felt so useless watching the scene. If I had known how to help, I could have saved people. I even talked to the EMTs on site and asked if this was something I could do. One guy was a volunteer firefighter and had gone to EMT school. He told me right then and there that it’s something that required a lot of dedication. I ended up going to my college biology professor who told me about schools in the area and I enrolled.
Q: What do you know now that you didn’t realize when you started?
A: I knew that I was going to help people. That’s why I did it in the fi rst place. But I never realized the magnitude of injury and illness I would see. I never realized how many lives I would change. I honestly feel like God has gotten me into this, like He has gotten me to do this job.
Q: What was Katrina like and how did it impact your career?
A: We had no idea about the magnitude of the storm and the effects on the city. We couldn’t have imagined; there was no way to fathom what happened. The day of the storm, our service was completely depleted. The city was underwater and we were trapped in our building with most of our equipment and supplies ruined and no way to get to anyone. After the National Guard came in boats, we traveled around and tried to help people. People were just walking around homeless—just devastated. They were literally dying for help. We would stop the boats and help where we could—a woman in labor, a diabetic out of insulin, a man who just had a heart attack, extremity injuries. In the meantime, I had my family scattered around the state. I was worried about them and they were worried about me so there was also that personal impact that was really wearing on me. We ended up setting up a sort of MASH hospital in the city and operated there as best we could. After Katrina, with the help of the federal government, we were eventually able to rebuild our service, rebuild our building and salvage some of our equipment or replace what we had to. Definitely a career changer.
Q: What do you want people to know about you?
A: How much I care about my job. That I’m a passionate person who really cares about patients’ well being.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of EMS?
A: I would have to say it’s the lack of resources, although that’s an issue that challenges all fi rst responders around the country. It’s tough to not have things that you need readily available. It’s not the administration’s fault. They are doing the best they can. It’s just about money and budgets. Every-thing is a process and that can be a challenge when your needs are so immediate. Lack of personnel is also an issue, and again, you hear that across the country. It’s related and it’s been an issue for as long as I’ve been on the job. People often ask me what’s the worst call I have ever been on and I can’t even answer that question. I might have a call that’s very memorable but then the next year there’s something far worse. I hate to see children injured or children that have been traumatized. I would say I have a special compassion for children. It just feels so hopeless when a young life slips away. They haven’t even had a chance.
Q: What’s been the best part of your career?
A: I like it when someone comes up to me on the street or at an event and thanks me for helping them or a family member. I can’t always remember them, but strangers remembering me and thanking me—that’s rewarding. One woman came up to me a while ago and said, “Do you remember me? You delivered my son. He’s 26 years old.”
Q: Have you delivered a lot of babies?
A: 72 of them, including breech and twins and limb presentations. I think I’ve seen every OB emergency! They are interesting calls. You know, you can go from laughter to crying to laughter again all in the same day. It’s New Orleans so sometimes our patients started out having a fun night out on the town and we can have a hilarious time laughing and joking with them, and then the next call can be to-tally devastating, something that absolutely brings tears to my eyes.