Last week, I responded to calls for assistance that did not have a good outcome. The first was a cardiac arrest which we worked by the numbers, our patient fought valiantly to stay with us, but in the end he passed away. As a lieutenant, my job is to go back into the house to make sure we left no equipment behind, as well as get additional information about the patient that I would relay to the crew who left for the hospital. Not knowing the family dynamics, I asked a woman what her relationship to the patient was. She replied that he was her husband of close to 5 decades, and she fell in love with him when she was a young teenager.
Now I have had to ask this question numerous times in over 21 years on the job, but her response struck an emotional chord with me. As I returned alone to the firehouse, I reflected on how this couple made an extraordinary commitment of a lifetime that was about to conclude its earthly existence. It weakened me to know that all of us humans will face this same scenario, and it is something we can never truly prepare for. My heart sank for this couple on that very night.
The second call which came the following shift, involved an industrial accident. The patient was alert and oriented x 3, and talking with us the entire time. He did have obvious traumatic injuries that seemed more benign at the time. Once again, we worked this call by the numbers. As the ambulance crew arrived at the hospital, he began to decompensate. The hospital continued our care, and searched for the answers to this puzzle. A few hours later, the patient died. This call kept me awake for half the night trying to make sense out of this incident.
In the days that followed I could feel my stress rising, but not to the point of a PTSD level. This was confirmed during my next Nutrition Response Testing appointment when I found out that my adrenals and frontal brain area were weakened and needed additional nutritional supplementation. However, it wasn’t until Tuesday’s yoga class, where the practice involved a kriya to relieve elementary stress- that the sense of peace and calm I have become so accustomed to had returned. It was then that I learned a most important lesson.
Thoughts in my head echoed the words of Matt Olson when he said “As long as we are doing this job, the hits are going to keep on coming. What’s important is how we deal with them once we become aware of the effects on our psyche”. Sage words of advice from someone who has been there, and done that. The lesson I learned was this: We are going to respond to calls that may result in the death of a patient as it is part of the package deal that comes along with the oath we took. Additionally, these types of calls may bring us down, but we must reconcile the fact that we did the best we could at the time on behalf of the patient. After that, all we can do is offer a moment of silence, prayer, or reflection (based on your own personal belief system) that grants them safe passage to wherever their final destination may be.
Just remember, it is not wrong or a sign of weakness to express emotion over the loss of another being, as this shows that you care. However, don’t let these types of calls stack up to the point you are overwhelmed, and unable to function on or off the job. Reach out for help, as this is why the ILFFPS exists as an entity. After all, we are only human.
Until next time,
Take care and stay safe,