By Justin Koper, MA, MTSP-C, FP-C
Safety Officer, HealthNet Aeromedical Services
This marks my twelfth year in EMS. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on how far I’ve come in my career and where it will continue to go. (You’re probably still confused about the title and looking for bank robbery tips. It will all be explained in due time.)
Over the years, there have been pranks on co-workers, friendships made, thousands
of lives impacted and I even met my wife on the job. But, there has also been heartbreak, tragic events, nightmare-inducing calls, uncertainty about the future and constant concern about the effects of this career on my long-term health. My story is not unique in this industry and is far less complicated than many others in EMS. However, it still begs the question: How do we cope with the ups and downs of a life spent serving others?
This is where the bank reference comes in (sorry, but you won’t find any tips on safe cracking here).
I liken our ability to cope with stress to the amount of money that a bank has in its vault. Positive events or positive stresses (called eustress) deposit more money into the vault. Conversely, negative events or negative stresses (called distress) take money out. The whole goal is to maintain an equilibrium of deposits and withdrawls. When we struggle
to identify the positives, we are left constantly making withdrawls. Each of these withdrawls chip away at our ability to cope with further stresses. Eventually, we get to a point that we are operating so far in the negative that we have lost the ability to cope with simple things such as a busy shift, a stressful call or busy family schedules. At this
point, the robbers have entered the bank only to find an empty bank vault that owes everyone else money. Any bank operating like this would just shut down and cease to be.
Those providers that we call “burned out,” insensitive or impersonal may just be at a point where the stress of a normal day is just too much to cope with. So, how do we help those individuals and how do we prevent getting to that point in the first place? First, we as an industry need to abolish the stigma surrounding counseling and therapy.
EMS providers consistently see the worst society has to offer, and we also see things that would be considered too graphic for even the goriest of horror films. It is absurd to think that we can see other humans in such situations without needing to decompress after the event. The “suck it up” mindset just needs to go away. Each person has their own backstory, so events will trigger emotional responses differently amongst EMS practitioners. Second, you need to acknowledge that things may not get better on their own. Lastly, you need to know where to go for help. Check with your company’s Human Resources Department to see what programs and resources may be available to you through your organization.
The “Code Green Campaign” is a first responder-oriented mental health advocacy and education organization with help and resources available on its website http://www.codegreencampaign.org.
If you need immediate help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline