Fall 1999 brought what I knew about myself and my life thus far to a screeching halt. A lunch break drive forever changed my direction, my goals and who I am. As I rounded the curve on a busy six lane road, I saw a car parked in an odd place on the road, and I slowed down to pass. As I did, I looked in my rearview mirror and briefly saw a flash of red. I looked again and could see a woman in a red dress standing over a man on the ground.
I had a small first aid kit in my car, so I immediately pulled over. I quickly made my way to the woman and the injured man. As I got closer, I was able to piece together, based on the damage to the car, that this man had been hit by the car.
“I am trained in first aid, can I help?”
Those nine words set in motion a life long love of learning all things medical and craving more knowledge than I ever thought possible.
As I watched the professional rescuers who arrived on scene, I felt out of place and wanted to leave, I just couldn’t. I stood watching in awe, trying to soak up everything they did and said as they completed a patient assessment and began treating this man and his multiple severe injuries. My role had been simple, hold his head. Simple, but important I would learn later.
Twenty-one years later I have progressed from EMT-Basic, to EMT-Intermediate, to Advanced EMT and now I am headed to Paramedic School at one of the best programs in my state. I have taken classes, taught classes and created classes for all levels in the emergency medical field. I have been ACLS and PALS certified for many years.
During my first ACLS class I was overwhelmed; so many things to remember, algorithms, medications, and skills. I never thought I would make it, BUT I did! It took hard work, determination, flash cards, a dictionary for terms I didn’t know and perseverance.
The first time I was asked to do CPR on a real person, I was a brand new EMT-Basic working for a local ambulance company and the elderly man had collapsed right before our eyes. I was not prepared for how physically demanding it would be in addition to the fact that no one had ever told me breaking ribs was part of it. I was mortified, to hear crack, crack, crack, but I didn’t stop. All the way to the hospital, alone in the back of an ambulance just doing CPR. It was not easy, but it was all I could do. My AED kept telling me “No Shock Advised” and I kept doing CPR.
Looking back there was so much more that I could have done to be ready for that first time. Now as an EMT instructor, I make sure I help my students be better prepared for that scenario. We practice over and over. We make flash cards of the medications and we have quizzes on them. We practice team dynamics and work together constantly.
I am grateful that the ACLS algorithms are step by step. It definitely makes it easier to see the path and perhaps to see where things went wrong. When you are in the heat of the moment, and your adrenalin is pulsating through your veins, your fine motor skills sometimes go out the window. BUT your muscles will remember what you have taught them, IF you practice. Your brain will fall back on that step by step, what comes next. But if your body isn’t physically prepared, you won’t be as effective for your patient. I feel a physical fitness regimen focusing on my upper body and my core would have helped me tremendously. I make sure my students know the benefits to true physical fitness now.
One thing we need to remember is that each and every person you treat is someone’s Mother, Father, Son or Daughter, Brother or Sister, Grandma or Grandpa and every person matters to someone. If you don’t prepare physical and mentally for you, prepare for them. Memorize those algorithms, the cardiac rhythms, the medications, the next steps, so that you can perform your best for their loved one.
In the end it’s not about us anyway is it. It’s about the people that we are lucky enough to meet through our job, that are relying on us to do our best, to be our best and to “fix” what we can. They depend on us, we can’t let them down by being lazy in our training can we?
One day you will walk in to someone’s house and they will say “Oh I am so glad you are here!” I promise that is the best feeling in the world, are you ready to back that up with your knowledge and skills? Are you ready to give that call everything you have so that they get one more day with their loved one? I know I am.