Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Are you Pre-Med and trying to decide if medical school is for you? Are you considering other fields of healthcare? If so, this SheMD series if for you! We are bringing you stories from #WomenInHealthcare to make you aware of the options out there and to help you decide which field may be the best for you.
I grew up pseudo-normally as a painfully Type A, perfectionist, overly-empathetic child in a loving family. I’m a quirky, fun-loving, analytical person who has always found beauty in emotions and in humans; I’ve been fascinated by the interconnected nature of the universe. In about 2009, this finally manifested as a desire to become a doctor; go figure. Since then, I have been fixated on this plan, one that seemed more like a vocation than a dream. I went 800 miles away to college. I fought through a series of challenges, particularly in 2014. On a road trip with some friends, a man randomly shot our car on the highway. Everyone was okay, but we were understandably uneasy. A month later, our sorority house caught on fire two rooms away from mine. Again, everyone was okay, but our world was flipped. There was smoke damage, some of my friends lost almost everything, and we were homeless. My support was 800 miles away. It was starting to feel like the world didn’t want me around. I became very anxious and afraid. I didn’t tell anyone because I knew everyone else was dealing with their own emotions about the fire, so I just shut it all in. I didn’t have time to focus on wanting to be a doctor; I was too busy trying to keep myself functioning day to day. I became a shell of myself. School became hard because I wouldn’t allow myself to think about the light at the end of the tunnel…mostly because I was pretty convinced it would never come. Friends suggested PA school to get hands-on patient time quicker. Maybe my patients could snap me out of it. I did my work. I enjoyed helping make some elderly patients’ lives a little easier, but it wasn’t sustainable during classes. My energy was fading. My attitude was growing bitter. I thought about quitting, but luckily, I hit auto-pilot and life somehow kept moving around me.
The one thing I did successfully decide to do, though, was to take a chance and enroll in an EMT class for the summer of 2015. Learning how to save lives saved my own. I don’t say that lightly. Every day I put on those (oh, so flattering) pants and boots, I felt purpose. Now, I was not a natural by any means. I was awkward and had to unlearn some things and learn a hell of a lot more, but I was doing it. It was intoxicating. I met some of my most influential professors and role models. Then, I strolled through my last semester and enrolled in the paramedic class that began two weeks after my last undergraduate class. During my 800 hours in the classroom, 300 hours in hospital clinicals, and 300 hours in ambulance ride-alongs, that initial drive I had for the white cot came back, this time in the form of a “paramedic” patch on my shirt. I battled burnout and stress and people saying I was too peppy or not strong enough, and something amazing happened: I put myself first. I realized if I wasn’t preserved, I couldn’t help anyone else. I found a therapist. I found a gym. I found that fire within me that apparently never went out. I realized just how strong I’ve always been.
But why has my salvation come in the form of an ambulance bouncing down the road? You see, there is something so beautifully raw about EMS. We typically see you at your worst and have a unique front row seat to your humanity. Your home. Your pets. Your family. Your favorite blanket. Your stories. We get that. And it’s rich and beautiful, and to be perfectly honest, no measly words I could type here could ever do it justice. It’s also something we don’t always allow ourselves to see because when you are just a patient, you are a protocol. You are Annie the training dummy who hypothetically stopped breathing, but when you’re a person, you can hurt us. You linger in our heads. You make us wonder what happens to you when we hand you off to the ER or leave you tucked in bed at home, maybe having just given you your last car ride. We think about whether you remember us, whether we did the right thing, said the right thing. So, often we don’t talk about it. We joke with our signature dark humor, we grumble about dispatch, we try to move on to the next thing because our hearts hold a certain capacity for souls. Mine, however, seems to be insatiable.
I carry the dad who watched me pound on his 15-year-old son’s chest while he cheered him on as if he was on the football field rather than our cold table. I remember my tears beginning to fall on his sternum and having to count louder to drown out dad’s words. I remember wiping sweat from my face when we had to explain that we exhausted our efforts. And most of all, I remember walking away and aching. I carry the 35-year-old man who talked himself down from a rope around his neck because he thought of his children. I remember telling him just exactly how brave he was for seeking help. I carry the 97-year-old woman who spent the whole ride asking about my life and my dreams because “medicine needs more badass women”. I remember the look she gave me when we dropped her off and she said, “you inspire me”. I remember feeling that same way about her. I carry the 43-year-old disabled woman who requires ambulance rides to her appointments who is as “abso-positively” sassy as she is joyful. I remember her insisting I meet her dog and look out her favorite window. I carry these people because they carry me. A true care-giver is also a care-receiver, and the greatest gift I have been granted is the ability to be there for the patients who are always there for me in return.
Becoming a paramedic has harnessed a remarkably powerful feeling of knowing that I am now the person who can run towards the fire, who responds to distress calls when I once was almost crippled by my own. I have learned so much more than intubation skills or cardiac rhythms; my experience has cultivated a level of resilience that I previously did not know I had in me. I have learned how to effectively assess a situation, prioritize tasks, and most importantly, know when to call for backup.