“Just” an EMT.


My husband is an EMT as well as beginning his firefighter training. As such, a lot of our friends are now EMTs simply because that’s the circle that he runs in.  I’ve seen a lot of facebook posts recently about how there is no such thing as “just” an EMT. I’ve also seen and heard nurses call them just ambulance drivers.

I would like to go on a more personal explanation of why EMTs are not a “just” anything. They have the capability to make a bad situation either bearable or a horrible event that will stick with you the rest of your life.  Because I took care of both my parents, I had a lot of interaction with EMS and sometimes it wasn’t a great interaction, but sometimes it was all that kept me from having a panic attack in the middle of a crisis. They’ve been both my lifeline and the person I wanted to slap.

Let me start with what was by far my worst experience, because I want to get it out of the way as I think the good interactions far outweigh the bad.

My mom had a stroke in 2008. My dad came to my room and woke me up saying simply that something was wrong. I get to their room and Mom is laying on her back staring at the ceiling, not quite able to focus on either of us. The side of her mouth had a noticeable droop as did her eyelid. She was unable to move the right side of her body, and all she could say was no. She literally could get no other word to come out. We immediately called 911. Mind you, we live in the middle of nowhere so we knew it would take time for EMS to respond. 

One of us started calling my brothers and sisters, though I honestly don’t know who. 

I will forever remember feeling desperately helpless, and then when the EMTs finally got there they sat outside and worked on paperwork before they came in, and then when they came in they looked at my mother and said, “Well, we don’t see any signs of a stroke, but we’ll transport if you want us to.” 

Looking back on this, I wish I had the understanding that I do now. I wish I had remembered names. My mother was laying there unable to move one entire side of her body, saying a very slurred no over and over with the side of her face drooping, and yet they saw no signs of a stroke. It terrifies me what could have happened had we listened to them and not pressed to have her taken to the hospital. We ended up having only about a year and a half with her after that, how much shorter could that have been? How much longer if she’d been able to get to a hospital quick enough to get the proper medicine?

This was the one and only time I ever can remember a truly horrid experience with the EMTs and first responders who seemed to become a part of our lives. There was a time before Mom’s stroke that Dad and I had went to town to get groceries. We came home to find mom passed out, laying half over the kitchen table with the phone off the hook by her feet and sick-up all over the floor. Mom never remembered this so she couldn’t tell us if she was trying to call for help. We called 911 and I think they must have grown wings because it’s the fastest I ever remember them getting to our house. The feeling of relief when they came in and took over the situation was indescribable. They administered oral glucose to bring Mom’s blood sugar back up and then we were off to the ER. (That one turned into an adventure which led to a stay in Roanoke.)

There was the time I had an allergic reaction to a medicine I was prescribed by accident and my face swelled up along with all the muscles randomly spasming and almost biting my tongue off. The EMTs spotted the rash on the side of my throat quicker that even my mom.

There have been many instances where EMS became involved in our lives, not just emergency situations either. After Mom’s stroke, it was the three times a week trips to the dialysis center. It was Mom calling and canceling her appointments and the EMTs who normally worked her calls calling back or showing up anyways and talking her into going. It was her usual team getting her a little surprise for Christmas that made her day. When she was hospitalized (because she often refused her treatments), they would call and check on her or if they saw me out they’d stop and ask how she was doing.

It’s because of this that we have never thought of the EMTs in our life as “just” anything. This continues even more now that my husband has made this his career. I’ve seen him jump from a moving vehicle to get over a bank to someone who wrecked. I’ve seen him go days without sleep while he runs calls. Going out anywhere with him is going out with the knowledge that he’s an EMT first and foremost and that if we run into any situation, he will pull over and do what he can to help. It’s being in church and knowing if his pager goes off, he will answer. It’s who an EMT is. Their first instinct is to do whatever they can to help anyone in their path. There is no such thing as “just” an EMT. It’s not “just” a job to them. It is so very much an integral part of who they are.