SELF BEFORE OTHERS
In last month’s column, we spoke about how others can support their EMS brethren through hard times… this month let’s talk about SELF-CARE.
EMS providers have a burdensome responsibility to help others, to be the heroes of the hour, and to sometimes appear to perform miracles. Once the adrenaline rush quiets, the provider is nothing more than a human being. We have personal lives, we suffer our own aches and pains (both physically and emotionally), and often there is no time to prepare for the obstacles we must face.
Both career and volunteer responders face long hours in their shifts and while we might laughingly say that EMS means “Earn Money Sleeping”, it is no more than a poor joke. Even if you have time to catch a nap during a long overnight, the tones are unpredictable and it’s never a relaxed sleep. Many providers wind up working overtime to meet their financial obligations, they have personal life issues to contend with, and seeing some scenes that make the worst classroom moulage seem tame remains in the back of all our minds.
Fatigue can be compounded not only by the provider’s sense of responsibility, but also by an agency’s needs such as short staffing (During the height of the Covid pandemic, nationwide, hundreds of EMS providers died or got sick, and others reached burnout after the heaviest call volumes they had ever experienced). The repeated exposure to trauma, having wailing relatives surrounding the crew as they work on patients, the impatient demands of patients in pain, and the heart wrenching and unavoidable losses… this all adds up to restless and often sleepless nights.
None of us like to be told that if we don’t take care of ourselves FIRST, then we are of no use to the ones who call on us for help. But it isn’t easy to juggle the emotional burdens of EMS shifts, personal lives, and our own needs. Sometimes we need more help than a good night’s rest, or a solid meal, when we can manage those. Sometimes the stress, emotions, lack of sleep, and heartbreaking outcomes that we perceive as failures… sometimes it gets to be too much even for the superheroes of EMS.
“Emergency Medical Services providers play a critical role in protecting the health and safety of New Yorkers. At times, while dealing with a highly stressful and demanding job, they face difficulties in their personal lives. The Department commends The New York State Bureau of EMS Trauma Systems for the amazing work it does to ensure that EMS providers receive support and have access to quality mental health resources,“ according to Danielle De Souza, a PIO with the NYS-DOH.
The Bureau of EMS and Trauma Systems lists several First Responder specific resources to support our EMS providers on their page at https://www.health.ny.gov/professionals/ems/mental_health.htm
Among the resources listed, those in need can find Mental Health Phone and Text Support, a Suicide Prevention Lifeline, programs to help you work through your stressors, Mental Health Clinicians, and even wellness apps for your use. The page also includes programs to help agencies support their employees.