My outlook on life has always been that people make their own story in life and to get anywhere you must work hard for it, nothing is free. I still standby the working hard and nothing is free motto however I have witnessed events that change lives, lives of people that had no control over the event.
I am a paramedic and while at work my interaction with people is normally when they are in the middle of crises. Most people that go into health care or any type of first responder job do it with the thought of helping others.
Those of us who chose pre hospital emergency care believe that we will be saving lives with every call to 911. The reality of that is that most 911 calls are not life threats if they need a emergency room at all or just some routine primary care doctor type care.
These non-emergency 911 calls are what cause burn out on a lot of pre hospital emergency employees.
The results of burn out are losing compassion for those you are called to help, hating your job and dreading workdays. It makes it difficult to get up and get dressed for work and can lead to severe depression if not handled.
You go into this job with the expectation of saving lives and can easily get frustrated with those that “waste your time”. I used to feel this way until I met a gentleman we will call Mr. John.
Mr. John was a homeless man that hung out in the area that I was assigned to work.
Mr. John called 911 at least two or three times a week with some vague complaint but nothing was serious. Mr. John appeared to be using the system for a hot meal and a place to sleep for the night. The amount of times he called increased to almost daily during the winter when it was cold and rainy outside.
Mr. John appeared to be in his late sixties with wrinkled skin that appeared thick and wrinkly, he had a raspy voice, wore layers of dirty torn clothing and the smell that came with him was almost unbearable. Mr. John was an alcoholic but never appeared to be into the illegal drug scene I’m guessing the alcohol and the tough living conditions was what made him appear twenty years older than he really was.
I recognized that I was showing the signs of burn out and struggled daily with trying to not let this bleed over into my patient care. It was tough not to be short tempered and be nice to the people like Mr. John.
On a cold night in December just before Christmas I was dispatched to a suicidal male standing outside the bus station. We arrived to see Mr. John standing there, now at this point I had been transporting him to the local hospital for various reasons for a good eight our more years.
I rolled the drivers window of the ambulance down and just told him to get in. I was angry with him for calling us out in the rain and cold for no reason. I felt like there was no way he was suicidal that if he really were he would have done something about it a long time ago.
On this particular night I was failing at controlling myself and showing the compassion that my patients deserved. As I got into the back of the ambulance with Mr. John he immediately ask me if I was ok and if I had a tough night. I was still short with him on my replies and was just sticking to the questions I needed him to answer to get him to the hospital and out of my truck.
Mr. John sat and looked at me for a few minutes and did not respond to any of my questions. He then in a quiet voice that I could barely hear as me “what is your story?” I looked at him confused and just replied with “What”. He then went on to tell me that everyone has a story that got them to where they are currently at in life, some have better stories than others but we all have one.
He then told me that over the years I was one of the few that was always nice to him even though he is aware that he smells and that he calls us because he has no one else to talk to, he wanted to know what had made my story change. He added that my smile was sometimes the only smile he saw for days and just having someone smile and speak to him nicely was what kept him from actually committing suicide.
As I processed this information and his question I realized that I had made my story change. I had lost my compassion and forgot that everyone who calls for my help has an emergency, it may not be what you or I would consider an emergency but to them whatever they called about is an emergency. It took a homeless man to notice that I had lost my compassion to open my eyes and take a good look at myself.
That night I was just kind of quiet the rest of the ride but was much nicer to Mr. John on our way to the emergency room, he had give me a lot to think about and work on.
Several nights later I saw Mr. John again this time it was actually my partners turn to be with the patient and I was to drive. I asked my partner to switch with me and I got in to talk with Mr. John. The first thing I did was tell him thank you for opening my eyes to my change in attitude and loss of compassion to others, told him I was working on fixing this and ask him if he would share his story with me.
With tears in his eyes I was told that Mr. John was a successful businessman who owned his own company that he inherited from his dad. It was a small mom and pop type business but it was more than enough to provide for his family. Then one day while at his job waiting on his wife to arrive after picking his children up from school and day care he was surprised by a visit from the local police instead, this is the night Mr. Johns story changed. Mr. John was informed that his family was involved in a car crash.
Mr. John’s wife and infant son was killed immediately on impact with his seven-year-old daughter and three year old daughter being air lifted to a pediatric trauma hospital. Mr. John closed his business and allowed the police officer to drive him to the hospital to check on his children, later that night his entire family was deceased.
Mr. John eventually started depending on alcohol to numb his feelings; this led to him losing his business and then his home. Yes he has other family a couple brothers who are married and have children, they all tried to help him but he just cannot handle being around any one that has a family.
Does he choose to be homeless at this point in his life? Probably so, but that is his choice to make. He remains part of the homeless population and will probably never overcome his grief. Mr. John doesn’t share his story often and I wish he would accept help from others but that is not my decision to make for him.
What he did accomplish is changing my story. I know look at each and everyone one of my patients different. I may not know their story and it may not be as tragic as Mr. John but that is not the important part. Mr. John made me see that everyone’s story is important if you know the story or not.
He also brought back my compassion and desire to help others. He made me aware of how my actions and attitude can change someone’s day. Mr. John was responsible for returning the smile to my face and hopefully my acts of kindness will continue to help someone everyday.
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