Extra Lives

Long weekends don’t bring out the best in people.

My rotation has gone something like: verbally abusive patient, traumatic MVC, public CPR, premature active labor with complications (on a 2 hour code 4 transfer), diabetic emergency, suicide attempt, staging for weapons on scene, repeatedly getting lost inner-city, cranky nursing staff, developing heart block,…etc. And it ain’t over yet.

But we are not complaining (which is why medics so weird and special.)

Ok maybe I complained a little about the sleep deprivation. (Your judging face can bite me! 😀 )

Across the continent my preceptor’s service is having a lot less fun. Due to a series of highly disturbing traumatic calls, workers are out on stress leave (some probably permanently), meaning already exhausted medics are understaffed. We’ve been chatting recently about a certain type of paranoia that plagues EMS workers during periods of unalleviated and recurring stress. I have experienced this feeling myself and thought it was reserved for paramedic students and newbies- but now realize it can be triggered at any time, by anything.

The jist: you develop an intense fear that the call that is going to f*ck us up for life is right around the corner. A part of you becomes convinced that the “thing” that is going to push you over the edge, is imminent. Our stomachs start sinking as we speed towards ominous calls, certain that something really terrible is about to happen to us, our psyche, our ability to keep working. It is an unpleasant way to earn a living, and can lead to a whole host of health problems.

It is hard to stand witness to tragedy repeatedly. It’s also difficult to watch our coworkers struggle, PTSD is not pretty, and rubbing shoulders with it reminds us of our own fragility. It is even hard to help each other when we are fighting the same demons. We start to question how DO we deal with the things we see? Have we become heartless, made of stone? Or is it just an elaborate façade to hide our fatal cracks? Our emotional bottling program can start to catch up with us, rocket propeller included.

Anyways, my point is, my partner and I got flowers at work this week. The family of a patient we cared for hand delivered them.



It also gained me 15 metaphorical points.

That’s right- we all have ways of dealing with the stress we endure and the sh*t we wade around in. My strategy has been to really appreciate appreciation. Sounds redundant I know. But it is very affirming and a personal system of positive reinforcement. And I do it video game style.

5 points for Hutterite cookies. https://vanessajunkin.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/helping-hutterites/

3 points for a hug from a stranger. https://vanessajunkin.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/hugging-it-out/

15 points for flowers.

4 points when my patient asks if I can stay with them at the hospital.

Various points for words of appreciations (based on depth and sincerity of exchange).

Theoretically enough points will add up to a “free life”. It’s my secret weapon against spirit-killer calls. This guarantees that a terrible call (messy, botched, sad or otherwise) will be balanced by past victories. Reflecting on the people we did help reminds us why we do our job- even if we can’t help everyone the way we’d like. It’s a practice of not taking anything for granted. It is a collective reminder that many people do appreciate good care. And I’m hoping it staves off ever becoming completely jaded by humanity.

If I do run out of “life”, I have other lines of defense in place- talking it out with my hubby, calling my Mom, exercise, never taking anything personally (ever!), my doggy friends at the SPCA, some good solid crying, my coworkers shoulders. And hope that it’s enough.

Stopping to smell my flowers-




2 thoughts on “Extra Lives

  1. I’m jealous of the calls you got. I’ve never seen anything where I think I could have been traumatized. I’ve had some of my best sleeps after seeing some gorey shit. But I’m also a child of the Internet so nothing really visually surprises me anymore.

    • Clearly you go in the “heart of stone” category. Hehe- just kidding Cam 😉 You have many years in this career to encounter something that keeps you up at night (and it won’t necessarily be the gore), don’t rush it. That was my mentor’s advice to me anyways.

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