The Struggles at Home

The Struggles at Home

Apr 6, 2015

In almost fifteen years in this field I have seen a lot of people come and go, and that does not just go for coworkers but also spouses and significant others.  I don’t know what it is but so many of us in this field are so self-destructive when it comes to our interpersonal relationships, myself included, and I cannot help but search internally for an answer.  I have yet to find one.

This job is difficult.  This career is difficult.  The level of depression, substance abuse, and suicide that we see in emergency responders is way too high.  It goes without saying that one occurrence is too many, but we are so far beyond that and the numbers just keep climbing.  I have seen far too many broken homes through the years and it makes me sad.  I just do not know what we can do to make that better.  Do we need an orientation class for spouses when their loved one gets hired into this field?  Should we be sending take home information with our new EMTs and paramedics to share with their families to help them understand the signs and symptoms of depression, and to guide them in better handling all of that time away that they might have to deal with at special times of the year?

Or maybe we just need to do a better job of including our work force’s families.  If your service caters Christmas dinner for the staff, why not extend an open invite to your employee’s families to thank them for the sacrifices they have made over the past year?  On top of that, if you are an EMS manager and you are not strapping on an apron and serving your people on holidays I question your commitment to them.  I realize that people have made sacrifices over the years and “paid their dues” but if you run a department and you are not willing to make the same sacrifices as the front line staff makes then that will make you into a “boss” and not a “leader.”

A few of us used to have a very quiet and not so funny inside joke that when somebody came into this field in a relationship they would be out of it within six months and probably dating somebody from the field a few months after that.  We saw it happen more times than I can count.  It takes a special person to make the kind of commitment that is needed to be married to somebody in this field.  That commitment goes far beyond “in sickness and in health.”  The vows should extend to “through missed holidays and abbreviated vacations.”  Long shifts inevitably get longer because of mandated overtime or holdovers.  When the support for this job does not come from home, and even sometimes when it does, those of us in EMS tend to lean on each other.  Nights get later as we decompress.  Text messages sometimes come at all hours of the night.  An after shift beer turns into two beers which turns into a later night and a more upset spouse.  It is a vicious circle that never seems to end until there is an end for that relationship.

The burden of understanding does not fall solely on those on the outside of this field looking in.  We all need to make sure that our loved ones understand how much we appreciate their support.  We cannot look at them and say “why can’t you just get it?”  Or “Don’t you understand that I have to work?”  The burden is just as much on us to make things work.  Take that extra shift off to spend some time with those closest to you.  Be willing to turn down that lucrative overtime shift in favor of a day trip to the beach.  I realize as much as anybody that this can be hard to do sometimes.  We can all use the money in some sense of the concept or another, and who knows if that overtime is going to be there tomorrow or next week?  But sometimes sacrificing that is just worth it.

To those special men and women who support their loved ones in EMS, I want to say thank you.  To those of you who tried and could not make it work, I understand.  Its not for everyone.  That person in your life has taken it upon themselves to help others who are not as fortunate or capable to solve their particular problem of the day.  That is quite the burden to carry.

  • Carl V

    There are so many factors that could possibly contribute to this issue, some directly related to the job and some that seem more related to the people who choose to do it. All emergency service jobs attract a certain “type,” meaning the thrill-seeking, adrenaline junkie. This type seems more likely to fulfill those desires both at work and “off the clock.” From the years at your former job, you certainly understand the quotation marks.
    I also think that significant others do not see that because their other half signed up for a stressful job with an irregular schedule, they did too. The employee may have known what to expect and be prepared for it, but the significant other who works a 9 to 5 certainly did not sign up for it. The schedule that can be challenging enough for the personality type I spoke of earlier can be downright untenable for someone who does not fit that profile.
    I will also add a bit of controversy to this topic (shocking, I know), but behavior that would not be allowed or that would go against the prevailing culture is allowed and almost embraced in EMS. Other workplaces do not readily, or at least openly, accept widespread “inbreeding.” In a certain former workplace, this was a common part of the culture and included those who already had a significant other outside of work or that even may have been in a position of authority. With this behavior ingrained into workplace culture, this entire situation becomes exponentially worse. If anything should be stressed with new hires (not officially in this case, but I have personally said this to newer employees who have significant others) it is “don’t dip your pen in the company ink.” Some have learned this lesson the hard way and it should be “taught” to newcomers as part of the cautionary words of wisdom that are always shared.