Tagging Out

As EMS providers, we deal with tragedy every day.  We see people at their worst and are expected to put on a stern, professional face and take control of each and every scene, but what happens when the person that you are dealing with is one of your own?  Emotions run high, and while the expectation should remain that we put those feelings aside we are, after all, human.

Throughout my career, I have had to care for colleagues who have had medical emergencies.  I had to do CPR on a past fire chief from the town I grew up in.  I’ve transported an old crew chief of mine when his heart rate was 40 and he was on his way to get himself a pacemaker.  Tragedy can strike at any time, and although we look at ourselves as impermeable to it, we are just as mortal as everyone else.

What it comes back to is knowing our own limitations.  When it is in the best interest of our patient, there is nothing wrong with “tagging out” and letting someone else take control of a call that has a clearer head than you might at that moment.  It takes a clear mind to properly care for a patient and we need to remember that as paramedics and EMTs, we need help sometimes too, and we just need to be humble enough to ask for it.

There is a lot of pressure on prehospital providers, and I do not think that many people in the public safety and medical communities realize and accept that.  Often, an EMT or paramedic is expected to deal with a patient on a one-on-one basis.  Take, for instance, a STEMI patient.  Quite often, a single paramedic is expected to obtain baseline vital signs, perform and correctly interpret a 12-lead EKG, give medications, start an IV, reevaluate the patient, and make the proper notifications to the emergency room.

If that same patient walked into an ER, the tech would perform the EKG.  One nurse would administer meds and start that IV while another one charted.  The secretary would make the notifications to the cath lab, and the resident or attending physician would call all of the shots.  That is five people and five sets of hands.  A paramedic is one person with just their own two hands.

The message for this post is to keep in mind that you are just one person.  Sometimes we all get overwhelmed whether we are a two month paramedic or have twenty years of experience under our belts.

Keep in mind that asking for help, while difficult, does not make you less of a paramedic than anyone else.  Being overwhelmed in a situation does not mean that you do not know how to handle yourself.  We are all human and we all have our limits.  Truth be told, for the first time in as long as I can remember I cried after a call last week.  It happens, and although I feel like I lost my cool to some extent, it does not make me any less of a person or paramedic.

Just because there is an “I” in paramedic and a “me” that does not mean that you are alone.  We are a community, and we are a team.  If you need backup, ask for it.  If someone asks for it, be there for them.