Sunday, October 18, 2009

My journey begins

I was reflecting the other day to a friend that life can be equated to a series of significant events that, once experienced, can never be relived the same way ever again. I listed off some examples from the top of my head: first sleepover, first kiss, first time driving, first graduation day, first marriage day, first birth, first night living away from home.

Most optimists would say that the challenge is to make all the insignificant events that happen in between -- what you're doing here, now, at this moment -- matter for something. Unfortunately, this root beer I'm drinking will never taste quite like the first time I ever tried root beer. But it's still sweet, and it still bubbles in my mouth, and I can still remember the first time.

If I had a book of significant events in my life, I would include an entry for the first day of my first Emergency Medical Services class. It wasn't as much what I learned as what I didn't learn.

I would love to say that I had some cosmic epiphany during this first class about the deeper meaning of dedicating my life and well-being to people who will meet me in their worst possible circumstances. I would be humbled to report that I was so inspired by the instructor's words that I found the underlying reason for my desire to be slapped by the harsh palm of reality. At the very least, it would be nice if I could deliver a significant explanation for this journey on which I've embarked -- to be a paramedic.

I can do none of those things.

Maybe it's because I don't need an explanation. Maybe my drive for logical reasons for everything that happens in my life has broken down. I feel so overwhelmed by the weight of this journey that I can't breathe. I ache at the notion that I'm making the wrong decision.

Then I remember that day last term in my biology class when I discovered the meaning of my path. I saw a girl collapse out of her chair, and I didn't think; I reacted. Here's another one for that book of significant events: First emergency. I was at her side in a blink, and I watched her open her eyes as I was bending down to check her breathing and pulse. I looked at her, and she looked at me, and we shared a moment of panic. That moment affected me deeply. She's OK, I thought to myself. Or did I say it out loud? Then, the rush of chemicals, the dizzy feeling in my head, and that internal knowledge that I was experiencing a deep, human feeling with her: the fear of the unknown.

I was still kneeling. I looked down at my arm; it was still clutching her shoulder. I'd put it there to gently shake her when she was momentarily unconscious. My mouth was dry. My vision was clear and focused. I asked if she was OK. She looked confused. Finally, she nodded.

The exhilarating panic was replaced with relief. She was breathing, and I didn't have to crack her ribs. When I looked around the room, I was shocked. I was the only one there.

I felt something that day that I'd never experienced before, and it's not something you read in a book. It's not something that an instructor can dictate to you on the first day of your first EMS class. It was facing the unexpected with confidence and accepting the fear. It was exciting. It was frightening. It was beautiful.