All EMS professionals must face death. The need for coming to terms with death is universal; death is part of an EMT's everyday duties. These professionals must not only learn how to respond to death, but also how to react to it and integrate it into everyday life. EMS professionals employ several strategies to control the stressful effects of death. The most frequently used defense mechanisms are educational desensitization, humor, language alteration, scientific fragmentation, escape into work, and rationalization.-- Emergency Medical Technicians Forum, Encyclopedia of Death and Dying
Monday wasn't a duty night for me, I was hanging out at the station waiting for a meeting to start. I went to a quick NH call because I happened to be there, thought that was going to be it. Then we heard it.
Alert tones and two beeps.
Two beeps is a car accident, usually. It is also an invitation for our entire department to LOSE OUR FREAKING MINDS.
In twenty seconds every piece of equipment we have was screaming down the road at 80 miles an hour toward what we were told was a motorcycle accident. Helicopter was in the air, we're lurching all over the back of the ambulance pulling equipment out on the stretcher. I guess some of us were excited about the possibility of saving someone's life. I'm still new enough that I was hoping I'd be useful and not in the way. I don't know.
The first thing that I saw was a little cluster of young guys. Guys that looked like they'd been working on cars or something. Guys of the normally "I'm invincible" variety suddenly looked very young, and a little lost. They were standing a little way away from our patient/the body. Amazing how quickly he went from one to the other. We got there in time to help turn him over and watch as the paramedic attached leads to him, in time for the bright green line. We got sheets and covered him. He looked so small.
A lot of time passed, that was spent standing around waiting for the 'stuff that happens when this happens'. Painting lines. Lighting flares. Measuring. Taking pictures. People that have to come and give the official imprimatur to what we already know to be so very finally and permanently true.
I read a lot, see a lot of movies, and probably think about stuff like this more often than is any good for anyone, but standing there with someone who probably got up that morning and looked forward to riding his bike and enjoying the hell out of a beautiful day waiting for the go-ahead to put him in a bag kinda rams it home for you like nothing else does: every day we get through is a miracle and not a single one of them is guaranteed. I don't think I had real faith until I stuck my hands into how it all breaks down. Damage. Loss. Disappointments. Fatal errors in judgement. Things that happen that aren't fair. At the end of the day it comes back to a verse that just sounds better in the old King Jimmy translation: "Whatsoever ye do for the least of these my brethren: you have done it unto Me."
And that's why I'll be back tomorrow.