“Always in Service”

“Always in Service”

May 21, 2017

EMS Week 2017 is upon us and as always there are a lot of positives that need to be pointed out.  Its a time to recognize the little things that people do, and more importantly the people behind the uniform.  It is the week of the year that should be about us, because the other 51 weeks out of the year should be about the patients that we serve.  With taking all of that into consideration though, this is not going to be one of those positive posts.

Last week, there was a call for articles and posts related to the tagline “EMS Strong: Always in Service” for this week’s message to providers.  It asked for people to talk about what it means to them.  Well, here you go.

I grew up in a heavily volunteer driven community.  When I started EMS, every BLS unit on the street was staffed by people dedicating their time.  Much like myself, many went through their day to day activities with a Minitor II pager strapped to their hip, waiting to hear that rhythmic beeping that still gives me palpitations more than 20 years later.  Day or night, weekend or weekday, on school vacations or snow days, it did not matter.  I was always in service.

At the time, I was a young, naive teenage EMT.  I was happier on the ambulance than I was on the high school basketball court.  I did not care if I got home from my summer job at 2am, if the pager went off at 3, I was going.  I did not have a care in the world.  EMS was what mattered to me.  I was always in service.

In college, I sacrificed many Friday or Saturday nights where my college friends would be out drinking and partying to throw on a uniform, turn on the radio and go trucking out of my dorm to take care of the sick, vomiting, and ETOH students of Springfield College.  I cleaned vomit off of my boots.  I cared for people that I might see in my economics class come Monday morning.  I was ready to go at a second’s notice.  I was always in service.

After I graduated, I walked into a full-time job.  I spent five years on the street working a 40 hour schedule with plenty of overtime available.  When I got promoted, I was moved to a 48 hour a week schedule.  I still worked overtime.  I can say, without exaggeration, that with the exception of vacation time taken, that I never worked a 40 hour week in my 12 year AMR career.  I was always in service.

When times were tough, when I was having a bad week, or school was not going well, it was easy for me to hop on an ambulance and disconnect from the other problems in my life.  A little adrenaline and a lot of helping people in need always seemed to take edge off of my personal issues.  Almost five years ago though, when going to work meant staring almost every problem that I had in my life straight in the face, I struggled to find someplace else to turn and it took its toll on me.  Because I was always in service.

I am not without my hobbies.  I love my computers. my craft beer, and my travel.  I have my cathartic expressions on these pages you are reading right now.  I have my college basketball.  My sports.  But I also have a guitar sitting in the corner of my living room that I’ve been saying for nearly twenty years that I am going to learn how to play.  I’ve got a set of Nike golf clubs in my closet that used to get a lot of use, but I have not taken a swing with them nearly ten years.  When I work overtime, I find myself spending more time at home recovering after a busy shift than I do using that time productively.  I do that because for my entire career, I have always been in service.

I am not asking for sympathy.  I am not asking for advice.  I am just asking everyone to think about the message being delivered for a second.  I love what I do.  I would not trade my career for anything.  It is rewarding, but it should not be all that we have.  Now, 23 years after I took my first EMT test, I am on the verge of being out of debt for the first time in my life.  I have developed a great network of friends both in and out of the field.  I have a girlfriend that I love very much who supports me in everything that I do.  While I have gotten better at pulling myself away from work, I still struggle with it.  She still has to sit around on date night with friends of ours and listen to me talk about work with the colleagues that inevitably will be there.  I do it because it is all that I have known.  I am always in service.

There is something to be said for being out of service.  As paramedics and EMTs we need something to take us away from the stress of our jobs every day.  We need to not be on high alert whenever we are off the clock.  That is the message that we should be conveying during EMS week.  “Take care of yourselves.  Take care of your peers.”  There is a lot that have missed out on in life.  I am not saying that there is not a lot of good that I have done as a result, but there was plenty more that I could have done for myself in my career.  My hours worked and my almost constant dedication to the field came with a considerable and sometimes unnecessary personal sacrifice.  When I was able to pull myself away from this field, one of the few things that I have devoted my life to, I enjoyed my disconnect.  But when that time is over, I have always jumped head first back into things, racking up the overtime, and pushing myself.  I do it because I am always in service.