Working as an emergency medical technician sometimes gives me pause, and causes me to consider how easily misfortune can become the great equalizer. And how, despite our income, where we live, how we vote or what we drive, we will, at one time or another in our lives, be in need of the compassion of strangers.
A 22-year old man shot in the abdomen is a son, a brother, a friend. He is a person in pain, who regardless of the actions that have brought him to this point, doesn’t want to die. He pleads with his eyes, unable to speak because of the mask that delivers oxygen to his dying organs. He becomes more than just a “a member of black gang,” more than a police statistic meriting only a brief blurb in the morning news.
An elderly woman, unable to get out of her bathtub, needs the dignity of a bathrobe almost as much as she the needs strong arms to lift her out. At this moment her fear of her failing body is as potent as is her embarrassment.
The fatal victims of a high-speed motor vehicle crash, forever captured in the moment of their death, with limbs slung out of the car windows, and bodies slumped against the seat, look as though resting, are remembered by how they died. Not peacefully in their beds, nor surrounded by loved ones, but violently, in tombs of metal surrounded by beer cans. Thankfully, their families will not see this. But it will be forever burned in my mind.
These are individuals who in an instant become defined by their actions or circumstances. None of them chooses to become a victim. And regardless of how we came to need the help of strangers, we are due the dignity and compassion that being human should afford us. When we hear the news reports, or read them in the morning paper, we probably don’t pay attention to the humanity involved. But some of us are reminded of this daily, and hopefully, we avoid becoming overwhelmed by the need, or jaded by our inability to fulfill it.
There are times, particularly if I’m having a bad day, I think to myself, well, how stupid can you get? But then I am reminded that sometimes people just get caught with their pants down, as it were, without their helmets, without their seat belts, life vests, or their gun safety on. That sometimes, we all do stupid things, but that a lot of the time, the fates have decided to smile upon us.
What I have learned from these people, the unfortunate ones who have crossed the fates, is that what will count in the end is not how much money I have made, nor what title I had, but what I have left behind with the people I encounter in my role as an emergency medicine provider. It is more than a job, more than good karma. It is a vivid and often poignant reminder. “Pay attention!” this career says to me. Value each day, be thankful for each breath as the body will eventually fail. It brings to me a sense of how fragile and random life is.
Be safe — I hope I never get the opportunity to meet you on the job.
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