Full Disclosure

During our careers, we all make mistakes. We’re human. It happens. What really matters is what you do with the lessons that you learn. The only thing that is more difficult than accepting that you made a mistake is admitting that you made one, so I thought I would share one here.

I started out my EMS career working the weekend overnights. Every Friday and Saturday night, I spent my time flying around the city while everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves. Well, thankfully, I was enjoying myself too. I looked forward to going in every night. I had a great partner, and a great group of coworkers who I became very close with. Everyone had everyone else’s back, and as afar as an EMS environment goes, it was exactly how I hoped it would be.

Every Saturday morning, the core of the group (about 6 or 8 of us) would head out for breakfast and drinks together at our local watering hole. We’d swap stories and talk about the experiences we had the night before, and then head to bed to ready ourselves for the Saturday night that was ahead of us. Occasionally, we would repeat this ritual on Sunday mornings. Sadly, our usual spot was closed on Sundays, so we would randomly pick another breakfast nook somewhere in the city.

The Saturday night before the morning in question was a particularly busy one. We hadn’t seen much of each other, so a little quality time with the group was welcomed by all of us. As we sat waiting for our breakfast, the topic of conversation turned to two patients that we had encountered the night before. One had called us three times, the other twice. This was not an uncommon occurrence for either of these individuals. The three time caller, we’ll call him Fred, was our most notorious of frequent fliers. He was a lonely alcoholic who would take trips to the ER just to have someone to spend time with. On this night though, the ER didn’t want anything to do with him, so each hospital discharged him quickly, put him in a cab, and sent him home.

The other patient, we’ll call her Sally, again, was a lonely alcoholic. The fact that we only had to deal with her twice was amazing to all of us. Visits to Sally’s house occurred multiple times a day. She never wanted to go, and when you would get there, she would throw you out of her apartment, or sick her dog on you. Some said that when she was sober, she was a very nice person, but not many of us encountered her when she wasn’t a liter or two into her day.

As we discussed our run ins with Sally and Fred, we began sharing some of our more memorable, amusing encounters with these two. They weren’t bad people, and there were many laughs shared, not only at their expense, but with them. The six of us sat there, unwinding, and chuckling over our conversation, without a care in the world. What we didn’t realize was that we were not the only ones that were listening in on our stories. A man a table over got up and came over to us.

“Excuse me,” he said, “Where do you all work?”

My partner piped up, “We work on the Ambulance here in the city, sir, why?”
“Is this the way you talk about the people you take care of? I can’t believe this. You’re here to help people.”

The table fell silent. None of us knew how to answer the man. My partner was the only one who could speak. She was always the diplomat of the group. “We’re very sorry, sir. We didn’t mean to offend anyone.”

“Well, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” The man turned around and rejoined his party.

Our breakfast arrived, and we ate it, in silence. Our encounter with the man had clearly effected all of us. The next week, while at post, the topic of Sunday’s breakfast came up. We all agreed that we needed to be more mindful and aware of how we talk about our patients, whether it be Sally and Fred or anyone else. In my entire EMS career, I have never been as embarrassed or ashamed as I was that morning. It was a horrible feeling, and it resonated in all of us.

We have a unique sense of humor in EMS. We encounter people at some of their lowest and most embarrassing moments and they trust us with their well being. We bare witness to many, many things, and while its not inappropriate to discuss them with our colleagues, we need to also be mindful of what is going on around us when we do talk about it.

Next time you want to share that funny war story, or talk about that gory accident that you did the night before, stop before you do. Know where you are, and who is around you. Learn from my mistake, and don’t make your own.

  • crispy

    I agree that you should probably look around for civilians before telling war stories. However, I don't think you have anything to be ashamed of. That person that became upset just doesn't get it. It's an EMS thing.
    Personally I think civilians need a reality attack every once in a while. Like dental work, it's not pleasant, but it is good for them.

  • Brad

    Thank you for the advice, I'm a new EMT and my crew and I usually go to a local diner and sometimes we end up decompressing, I work for a service that covers several very small towns where everyone knows one another… We've gotten a few looks. I know I'll watch what I say from here on out.

    ~Brad
    @EMTGoose

  • Anonymous

    Eff that guy. If he really cared about people the way we do, he'd be out there with us.

  • MedicSK

    Anonymous – I think you're way off base there. There's a public perception of what we do and the people who do it, and perception is reality. This guy had an image and expectation of who would walk through the door when he called 911, and maybe he had it happen once or twice. Regardless, either he saw us as being bad people, or saw those who HAD responded to his home as phony/fake people. Either way, its his opinion, and he's right.

    Now, as I said, there's a time and a place for everything. You can have the conversations and yuck it up all you want, just check out your surroundings and know who might be listening, thats all I'm saying.. We NEED that decompression sometimes, and maybe getting it out in public where everyone can see/hear us isnt quite the right place.

  • Indeed we’ve all been there. The important thing is realizing the oversight and correcting the behavior. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pingback: Podcast Episode 15: The Website, Nashville, and Nurses - EMS in the New Decade()