I‘ll never forget my first day as a student on the ambulance. As we zipped through traffic with lights flashing and sirens wailing on the way to save a life, I remember being on the edge of my seat with adrenaline rushing through my veins. I knew right then and there that I had made the right decision to switch career paths.
As a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, I had previously worked in the adventure tourism industry. I got my thrills from ski instructing, guiding sea kayak excursions and multi-day hiking trips.
In 2003, I became ill and spent a number of months in the hospital. That summer I had the first of what would later be five surgeries over the next few years. Watching the health care professionals ignited something in me. It was the comforting conversation from a busy nurse, the encouraging smile from a passing paramedic, or the extra half an hour a doctor spent answering my questions that made my hospital stay more bearable. I felt I had to give something back and decided that pursuing a career in paramedicine would cover both bases: my need for adrenaline and returning the same patient care that I had received.
A day in the life…
As a new primary care paramedic, I was waiting to get my chance to be the hero. I was ready to pull a patient from a wrecked car, or deliver a baby in a panicked mother’s living room. I quickly learned that this job is nothing like what we see on television, partly because there is no music playing in the background as we run in slow motion into people’s homes.
Not every patient we treat is actively dying or profusely bleeding with broken bones. In fact, I would say that the majority of our emergency calls are non-traumatic but are for a medical issue, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
A lot of calls that are dispatched as critical emergencies turn out to be non-emergent. People call 911 for things like stubbed toes or falls because – to them – it is an emergency. Even though this may not be a cause for panic, it might be the scariest thing that has ever happened in the patient’s life.
In addition to responding to emergency medical situations, paramedics also transport non-ambulatory patients for diagnostic imaging procedures, dialysis treatments and other appointments. These routine patients are not acutely ill, but they do require our care and compassion and we work very hard each day to give it to them, and every other patient we help.
There is a saying, “It’s not that I want you to get hurt, but I just want to be there if you do!” Recently, I decided to further my training by completing the Advanced Care Paramedic (ACP) program, which provides me the ability to administer more medications and additional skills that offer my patients a higher standard of care.
One of the things I find very frustrating is that many people still see paramedics as just ambulance drivers.
Is a firefighter just a fire truck driver?
I am a skilled, educated professional who is an integral part of the emergency team and to patient’s care, and so are my coworkers.
As paramedics, we face many challenges as part of our regular work day. We don’t always have the luxury of clean work environments as we respond to the scene, be it a ditch or a cramped room; we have no team of nurses to assist us; we carry people up and down stairs; contend with aggressive family pets; and help support distraught families. We also provide around the clock care working nights and holidays.
Despite the challenges, I can honestly say I love my job because I know that what I do makes a difference in people’s lives and there is nothing more rewarding than that.
I am happy to report that the adrenaline is still there and that makes all the daily struggles well worth it. ■
This story was written by Karen Spurvey, advanced care paramedic with the paramedicine and medical transport division of Eastern Health.