Not on my shift . . .

I collapse to the ground and lean back against the trig-point atop the small hill of Brunt Knott.  My body is awash with sweat from the short walk up.  Working in London has certainly taken its toll on my fitness.

Sitting back, I take in the majestic views of the Kentmere valley and the surrounding Lake District.  The sun beats brightly above me.  A gentle breeze blows across my face, and Skylarks singing above mark the only break in the mountain silence.

I breath in deeply.  The air is fresh and clean.

Sitting in this joyous solitude I can feel tears rolling freely down my cheeks.  Another memory has broken the peace of my mind.  I close my eyes, and the black canvas of my eyelids acts as the perfect projector screen to enhance the images I recall . . .

My patient’s eyes pleaded with me, their pupils wide with fear. 

“Am I going to die?!”

“Not on my shift!”

I quipped back, striking my standard mockingly heroic pose.  The security guards standing over my patient chuckled out loud.  Success! This seemed to break tension and I smiled down at my patient expecting the same back. 

I’ve used this phrase so many times now, together with the ridiculous pose, it’s become my trademark.  It would instantly bring calm to a situation and allow my patient to see that everything was under control and not as serious as they first perceived.  After all, a large part of being a paramedic is bringing an image of calmness that convinces the patient, and those around, that everything is going to be fine.

My patient had been out shopping when they’d collapsed outside a busy shopping centre.  I was working as a solo paramedic at the time, and as such, was first on scene. 

My patient stared back at me, pupils growing wider, their colour draining. The Lifepak15 started blinking different colours at me and making funny sounds

Within seconds of uttering my life saving mantra, my patient had become unresponsive.  Then they stopped breathing.  Then they went into cardiac arrest. 

Then they died.

And nothing I, nor anyone else did, changed that outcome.

This job however, was not a particularly “bad job” in the grand scheme of being a Paramedic.  This sort of thing happens all the time – of sorts.  But it was affecting me.

I was having increasing flash backs of every job where I was questioning my decisions, and it was changing my life.  I would constantly go over and over a job trying to change the images of what had happened, to change it to something that should have happened.  Over and over it would go, round and round in my mind. And I couldn’t shake it. Ever. And I would always lose. I would always end up back at the conclusion that I’d fucked up. And it was getting worse.

I was also having nightmares more and more, going over the same decisions again and again.  But in my dreams the images and scenarios were accentuated and often exaggerated. And this would always happen as I was just drifting off.

I was becoming short tempered.  I was drinking more.  I would even randomly burst into tears in public places!  I was losing interest in all the activities I loved – like climbing and walking. My concentration on simple matters was waning and as such, perpetuating the mistakes I would make at work.  And as such, the whole thing repeated again and again.

I didn’t realise at the time, but something was clearly wrong.  Apparently, we hardly ever realise it at the time.  We just get on with it and convince ourselves it’s all just “part of the job”. 

However, I’m not as strong as my fellow colleagues, who have seen and done a lot more than me, and I couldn’t stop this cascading process collapsing on and around me. So, two years ago, I made the difficult decision to leave London and move Up North.  And, ironically, it was only once I left that I started realising and accepting that something was wrong. 

I eventually left full time Ambulance work and am currently Bank staff. I maintained my LAS Bank contract for a while but only worked the minimum required. And even then, every time I was due to work it would feel ten times worse than the feeling I’d get when going back to school. So, eventually, I dropped the LAS Bank contract and am just Bank up here now – doing Paramedic “Practitioner” type work in Walk In Centres and Urgent Care Centres to keep the money up.

However, as time has slowly crept by, the longer I have lived here, the more I have felt the dark heavy shackles, the dirt and the grime, and the anger and the guilt, gradually fall away . . .

. . .

I open my eyes again.  The tears have long stopped and dried. 

The sun still beats down and the Skylarks continue to sing.  The air is still fresh.

The images and memory are now gone, and I smile.  The mountains have rescued my mind once again.

I slowly and stiffly stand up, take a deep breath, and begin the long late afternoon walk back down.

I have lived here for two years now and the bad memories are coming back less often now.  And I no longer seem to have nightmares.  My mind is more and more focussed, and I can feel my strength and happiness of yesteryear returning.

More importantly, I feel the increasing desire to return to work as a front-line Paramedic. 

I suspect my story is not uncommon. However, I have been fortunate to end up living where we do. The Lakes has provided a magical mountain therapy for me.   And the more I spend in the mountains the stronger I become.  

It’s taken over a year to be able to write this and I apologise for that. I really haven’t been sure on how to approach this subject. I have been nothing but a mediocre Paramedic in London and never thought I would have any of these issues. I was always cautious of the problems that can arise. But clearly somewhere along the way I missed the signs. No matter what I admit to, I still feel some shame and embarrassment and can’t help that. My colleagues in the service have done and seen far more than I could ever.

I will continue to write this blog – but as usual, I will wait on timings and inspiration. Thank you.

20 thoughts on “Not on my shift . . .

  1. A very moving and heartfelt blog, which I’m sure a lot of people will relate to. I’m also sure a lot of people will get a great deal of help in reading how you’ve been affected by life in the LAS and by how you are dealing with it.

    It’s a big step you’ve taken in sharing this with everyone and I’m sure it will be a big part of your healing process.

  2. Reading this made me quite emotional …
    If you were here I’d hug you xx
    I think a lot of us can relate to everything you say …… I’d love to see you come back full time 🙂

  3. I have always admired paramedics, they have a very tough job at times, often 1st to a scene of sometimes devastation, I personally have been THE Patient many times and I have nothing but respect for their pacience and compassion, even when they were just about to go off shift and my call came in. Thank you to each and everyone of you for your humour, soft spoken calm voices, and the odd hand on my shoulder as reassurance. I’m sorry you have been so affected but if you didn’t care so much about saving each and everyone of us you wouldn’t be able to show us your compassion and care. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I hope you continue to heal xx much love Mel xx

  4. How weird is that stigmatised self talk that we do to our selves!!! And so typical that we describe ourselves as mediocre knowing full well that our impact throughout our careers has been nothing short of ‘lifechanging’. You’re a good lad mate, thanks for sharing

  5. Think we have all experianced this one way or another ….thats good therapy it works go to the moutains or countryside enable us to rest our brain matter and our souls
    Agree peace and quiet best medicine for all medics of any sort (and u not even a nurse ) best pill anyone can take and it all free . Good to talk to someone as well open up look after our own as well as the public c u soon

  6. I’ve missed your updates Binder, unfortunately the post notification slipped into my spam folder so i’d Missed it!

    Great to see an entry from you and hopefully those demons don’t rear their ugly head again.

    I wish you every success in whatever you decide to do next, but please, I know it’s your job, but remember to TALK!

    Adam x

    • Thanks Adam. Was chatting to a friend last night about these issues. He came up with a valid point. He reckons there could be a direct link to the reduction of time spent in a mess room talking with peers to the increase in mental health issues.
      I think there could be something in that

  7. Pull your self together and stop blubbing you big girl! 😉

    I jest of course, this is coming from a middle aged guy who just had to take a month off work for stress reasons (i think they call it burn out these days), unfortunately the tragedies of life never cease to vex us. Life doesn’t get any easier as we age, maybe you should consider following your passions like climbing, walking and making that pay rather that working like a dawg, to much of that line of work (just like the armed forces) can lead to some dark places, PTSD anybody?

    I have the utmost respect for anyone who can handle this line of work, most peoples jobs are futile and insignificant (well mine is anyhow), just think of all the peoples lives you have touched and many you have likely saved, you cant save everyone. Even if you are a Hero 😉

    If you are ever down Brighton way pop in and see us, I did not even know you had moved away from London, thought you were just getting the holidays in from following your FB noise 😉

    Looking forward to seeing you again , remember if it ever gets to much and you feel like doing something stupid, come and see us, or talk to someone closer, you are never alone in this world mate, and I have seen enough suicide for one life so don’t be getting any silly ideas Binder. Your loved by many people and there ain’t nothing mediocre about you!

  8. You have no idea how happy I was when I saw that you had posted again! It suddenly occurred to me about a week ago that I used to love reading a blog written by a paramedic, so I searched for ages to find it-turns out it was yours and I now remember so well. I noticed you hadn’t posted in a while and thought I’d come back tonight to reread some older entries, so it’s great to see you back! I’m so so sorry you have struggled the way that you have, but please never run yourself down as someone else’s idea of a good job could be your worst job on the planet. You all have so much respect from so many people, and however you choose to progress with your career now just remember that you can speak up, and that your hard and unforgiving work is beyond appreciated. Thankyou for being so honest-I’m an aspiring paramedic and I will continue to read your blog posts as and when. Also, well done for posting this as opening up is tough but you have nothing to be embarrassed about. All the best x

  9. I stumbled across your blog some years ago and have enjoyed your humour and stories.
    I only volunteer in this world of blood, gore and ill people, and rarely get to see the death and such that those who do this for a living do, but after 15 years of it I recognise and empathise.
    I’m no hero but have nursed two family members as they died, and dealt with the countless small injuries of strangers. Without the support of my mates (and the counselling service offered by my organisation) I doubt I would be here. I too ran from London but I went to warmer climes haha (Dorset) where I get to stare at the sea and spend time with my horse. I still volunteer…
    Keep talking and things will improve.
    Be kind to yourself – you did/do/will do again a great thing.

  10. I googled paramedic blogs and found this, currently on sick due to anxiety stemming from a job over a year ago. What you have described is how I am currently. Again, wasn’t particularly a bad job but for me, came away feeling like I lost the plot and wasnt a good enough paramedic that day and now live in fear that will happen again.

    I have been open & honest about it but no one can help. Know what I have to do but doesnt happen overnight does it, I keep trying to figure out a plan B option (alternative work) but at a loss.

    Glad you are finding peace, gives me hope.

  11. Hero’s were called it makes me laugh
    To think of the people who think this of us
    Never so scared with tears in my eyes
    So far from being a hero on this road side

    I look and all I see is mess
    To make some sense I have to address
    What do I do, what do I fix
    A hero would know no need to assess

    A hero is bold a hero is true
    A hero would know what he’s to do
    A hero would fix and make it all well
    A hero would not get lost in the swell

    I’m just a person no different from you
    My hearts just as soft my emotions too
    I laugh and I cry I feel others pain
    But nothing like my own as I stand in the rain

    The sun shines for others just not for me
    Alone and afraid is how I feel
    Can I be fixed will this pain go
    My heart says yes my head says no….

    From another colleague in green, who like you had to give up and go bank.
    What I can say Binder is something you already know every day gets a little brighter, thanks for all your wise words and humour, you’ve helped more people just with this blog than you will ever realise. J

  12. I think you have ended up exactly where you should be… the great outdoors!! You were never a mediocre paramedic.. you were always a great one with a great sense of humour and the ability to bring humour to the dark things we saw. I have also left the green Homerton family and spend my days looking after dogs not people . They give me much less trouble!! Take care and be happy.

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