We all have those calls that push us to our breaking point.It might not be one type of call, but we will all find that one specific call that gets to us and sticks with us.
Last Fall, I was working a busy Friday night.While listening to the police radio, I heard a “shots fired” call come in.This is not anything uncommon for the city I work in, but I noticed the street name was a street where a friend of mine lived.A few minutes later, I heard an officer who is normally very calm, cool and collected, come over the radio screaming (literally) for an ambulance on that street, and stating that they need to expedite.
I started down that way, racking my brain for the entire 5 minute ride for my friend’s house number, but I couldn’t remember it.When I pulled up, there were five or six police cars already on scene, their blue light bars lighting up the street.I went up the steps and turned the corner to find my friend, who incidentally is a PA Student and EMT, doing CPR on a 16 year old girl with a gunshot wound to the head.She was kneeling in a pool of this girl’s blood, and had probably ruined her sweatshirt as well already.
We found at that point that this girl still had a pulse, so when my ambulance got there a minute or two later, we loaded her up and sent them on their way.At that point, the focus of my care turned to my EMT friend.
“Are you okay?”I asked her, as we stood on her front porch, across the street from what had now become a crime scene.
“Yeah, I’m good.”She told me, and then relayed the story of what had happened.She was studying for a pretty big test, and had heard the gunshots come from across the street, followed by the girl’s mother screaming that her daughter had been shot.She waited impatiently for the appearance of a police car, and when the first one arrived, she grabbed her bag and headed across the street with little regard for her own safety.
I listened to what she had to tell me and replied, “I know that you’re good now, but when you are ready, you give me a call.”She was running on pure adrenaline, and was going to crash at some point.
Saturday, they family decided to take the 16 year old girl off life support.The whole dispute had been over a TV that her boyfriend had allegedly stolen from the shooter.He walked to the front of their house, and opened fire through the living room window with little regard for anyone inside.
Tuesday afternoon, my phone rang.It was her.“Can we meet up and grab some coffee?” She asked.I headed out to Panera Bread to sit and have a chat with her.It turns out that she had crashed . . . hard.She told me how she had barely slept in the four days since the shooting.She hadn’t been home either, and had been staying at a friend’s house.She had barely eaten, and was worried about her Thursday exam, which she hadn’t been able to study for.
I listened to her, and offered the best advice that I could: talk to her professor, and explain the situation, and then let me give her number to our local Critical Incident Stress Debriefing coordinator so we could get her setup with someone else who was able to listen to her and help her cope with what she was feeling.
She agreed, and we finished our coffee.The next day, she spent two hours of her day away from her PA classes getting everything off her chest.Our CISM team was able to give her some great advice and point her in the direction she needed to go to feel better.Her professor gave her an extension on her test, and she eventually passed it with flying colors.
We all do this job because we love it.People inEMShave this knack for distancing themselves from stressful situations that they get put in.They build up walls.We develop coping mechanisms, some of which are healthy, like hobbies, family time, and vacation, and some unhealthy, such as drinking, drugs, and acting out.Be mindful of some signs and symptoms, both in yourself, and in those around you that might suggest that maybe its time to talk to someone, and get some help:
- Loss of appetite
- Anxiety Attacks
- Generalized excessive nervousness
- Inability to focus
These are just a few examples of some pretty big warning signs.Ultimately just keep in mind that we are all only human.Remember, these feelings are perfectly natural, and your reactions are what would be expected from a “normal” person.Although they might not always admit it, everyone around you has gone through the same thing at some point in their career.If there is one lesson to be learned from this post, it is that there is going to come that time when we are all pushed to that breaking point.We just need to recognize it and know where to go to for help.
I am happy to report that now, almost 10 months later, my friend is back to her normal smiling, energetic, motivated self.She had a rough night, and had to deal with an experience that hit close to home.Literally.Fortunately for her though, she was able to take care of the most important person who was on the call that night: herself.
For more information about Critical Incident Stress Management, and a more complete list of signs and symptoms to look for, a great place to start your search is the website of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation at http://www.icisf.org.