Mid-Atlantic Rescue Systems, Inc.

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There are six major stresses cited for an EMS provider, one of them is “Any incident involving a friend, relative, or coworker.” Normally when we arrive at an emergency call, people generally see us “swooping in to save the day” and, especially for folks relatively new to the field, we begin to feel a bit like super-heroes. Then… there’s that battle you can’t win, the patient you lose, and you hear the sobbing of family and friends behind you. What if the patient you lost was one of your own?

Long before I joined EMS, my job place offered to teach us CPR —they didn’t even bring in mannequins to practice on, but I did learn the basics. So, when we visited an older relative and heard her sudden gasp, I knew she needed help. I did my best and the Paramedics who finally arrived did say that I kept her viable enough for them to still be able to try… she was pronounced a little while later. That scene haunted me, I supposedly was taught a life saving skill and yet I could not even save my own family member.

The first code that I ran in EMS on an ambulance, after certifying as a NYS EMT, was a save. I should have been elated, and I was thrilled we were able to help our patient, but that night I cried. The loss of my relative, my very first patient loss, still haunted me. Having to treat one of your own is hard, even when, hopefully, it is not a loss. You try to separate yourself feeling both a responsibility as a trained provider and the fear that you might lose someone you love. In the physician’s code of ethics, the doctor is NOT supposed to treat their own family member unless of course there is no one else to do it. Whether you are at home with your loved one when they take sick or show up at the scene of an MVA and find your own inside the car, there often is no one else to treat the patient. Even if you’ve called for an ambulance, you’re not going to sit idle while you wait for their arrival.

Whether you have to treat your own family member, a close friend or coworker, a fellow provider, or that terminal patient you’ve transported for treatment multiple times, having a personal connection can take a toll on your emotional health. In our EMT classes we were all taught to treat every patient as if they were our own family and to work at the highest standard of care possible. Treating your own though can be fraught with doubts, your emotions may cloud your professional judgement, you worry even more that you’ll make a mistake. Treating someone that you are so familiar with might be uncomfortable, it’s easy to assume that you know how your patient is normally, you might unknowingly miss something important. Being too familiar with a patient, whether or not they are related by blood, can change your judgement, especially when things seem more serious than you originally thought. Suddenly treating someone close to you has the added weight of your own emotions.

Learn to recognize the signs of stress in yourself. These can include (any or all) anxiety, irritability, nausea, guilt, isolation, and loss of concentration, appetite, and interest in life. Don’t chastise yourself for feeling this strain. ask for help, participate in programs your agency may offer either in groups or individual counseling. Sometimes working out in a gym will help or talking with a trusted friend — don’t turn to crutches like drugs or other substances. Don’t be hesitant to ask for help, participate in programs your agency may offer either in groups or individual counseling. Being an EMS provider is always stressful but being both a provider and a worried family member adds more emotions to the mix. Take care of yourself.

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