Sunday, December 13, 2009

EMT perspectives

I've concluded, based on what I've learned so far about the EMT experience, that one of the greatest road blocks to good patient care is an inability to empathize with the sick and injured. Undoubtedly, this shortcoming can result from any of several circumstances, be it complete burnout from dealing with horrible situations on a daily basis, skewed motivations for being a medic in the first place, or inexperience with the feelings of terror associated with the receiving end of a true emergency.

In short, if you can't empathize as an EMT, you're either sick of your job, too full of yourself to express concern, or simply can't conceptualize what it feels like to think you're about to die.

Inherent in this line of work is a tendency to feel excited about being involved in true emergencies, which carries with it a double-edged sword: In order to take part in a true emergency, somebody needs to be truly hurt. We hear medics -- both career and those in training -- excitedly tell stories about the latest mayhem as if they're comparing gleeful war stories. Does this mean these medics inadvertently enjoy seeing people in pain? Or do they just enjoy the rush of helping people get through that pain? Obviously, this career includes a hero aspect that, combined with the chemical reactions of high-pressure situations, can affect your mind like a drug.

I'll tell you one thing: The patient in crisis would be surprised to learn that his or her traumatic experience is just another exciting story for the medics. Then again, maybe the thrill of a call is what keeps people in this career sane long enough to retire.

I'm approaching this from the view of somebody who has yet to go out on a call or be exposed to an overly traumatic emergency situation. But I find myself getting eager about the prospect of seeing these things, and I wonder whether this is the right perspective to take. When it comes time for me to decide what kind of medic I'm going to be, I think I have to find a balance between my motivation to help people in a professional, skilled and empathic manner, and my urge to experience the adrenaline associated with crazy and gruesome situations. I imagine that if you lean too much one way or the other, you ultimately become an ineffective emergency provider.


Gormanite said...


Aaron said...

If I'm bleeding by the side of the road, the EMT I want showing up is the one who's way into his job. If that means he geeks out on it, I'm all for it. That said, I don't want to see or hear him geeking out on it as he's helping me. That would feel weird and be really un-professional.