It was a dark and stormy night…
Actually, it wasn’t. Not at all. I’ve just always wanted to write that.
I had just graduated high school. I was 19 years old, having grown up in a mostly ideal home in an affluent area in the Silicon Valley. My parent’s had adopted three kids, and we were all growing up into successful and capable humans. I always struggled in school though, mostly because I was bored. I realize now that’s a lame excuse, but I was rarely captivated by any subject, but the ones that I did, I excelled in.
Like most young kids, I had zero idea what to do when I “grew up” and needed to choose a career. There are always the outliers, like a good friend of mine who wanted to be an officer in the Marine Corps since the day I met him in sixth grade. That was not me. I was floating, and had no ideas or direction. Having played soccer and lacrosse in high school, I had spent a fair bit of time with our athletic trainers, and after graduation, the trainer was allowing me to hang out with her and learn basic treatments and therapies. This was great, because it was awakening in me a further desire to do something helping people, something tactile, and something out of a traditional office setting. I loved the anatomy and physiology she was teaching me. I decided to investigate this further, and realized it would be a lot of schooling. Knowing that I would have to pay for the vast majority of college, the trainer made a passing suggestion that changed my life.
“You know, Tim, you should take an EMT course. It’s a good job, the hours would fit around an academic schedule, and its always good to know how to do CPR.”
“EMT? I have no idea what this is. Oh… A quarter of college to get my basic level certification, and then I could work in the hospital or on an ambulance? That sounds fun. Wait. I’ll have to be social? I’m super shy though. Yes. You’re right, if I want to work with athletes and people as a trainer or PT, then I guess I have to learn some time.”
Fast forward almost a year: I had just gotten off of my normal 10-hour shift. I was doing BLS hospital transfers at the time, as there were no EMT basics on the 911 ambulances. One of the paramedic crews that worked out
of the same station had been asking me for a couple weeks if I wanted to do a ride along with them. I had been dodging this for a while, because again, that would have meant meeting more people and talking with more people. As I was heading out to my car, they were getting toned out on a call and asked again if I wanted to join them. I said no, and they basically said, “HEY! Get in the back of the ambulance!” I guess their command presence worked on new kids as well as once scene. I hopped in quickly, and we were off.
I will never forget that moment. The gate to the station opened, and I was watching the sunset, and the lights starting to reflect off the building in front of us. I remember hearing the piercing of the siren, the first time I’d heard it from inside a moving ambulance. I still can hear the dispatcher advising us of the specifics of the call. “324, Code 3 (lights and siren) for a stabbing at the corner of Second and Reed, scene not secure.” My heart rate must have jumped through the roof, and I remember thinking, “I can’t believe I am actually doing this!”
We got to the scene and it was chaos. Police officers were shouting and running trying to set up a perimeter, and the suspect had possibly been spotted. Firefighters were stressed, as the patient was screaming and was in a lot of pain, but also very sick. He had been stable multiple times in the left upper chest, and was having progressive difficulty breathing. The two paramedics I was with grabbed the gurney, and the small bag used for rapid treatment of trauma patients. We walked into the fray, and from that moment on, everything else was a blur. They evaluated the patient, rarely speaking to each other, years of working together allowing for anticipation and slow, smooth, steady flow. People fed off of their energy. The patient became more calm, listening to their strong, steady words, describing what would happen and how. The firefighters stress level decreased, knowing that these guys were so good at what they did, and soon this patient would be on their way to the hospital.
They asked me to go spike two 1000cc IV bags, which I did completely wrong, because I was so overwhelmed. This wasn’t school anymore. I could smell the blood and alcohol, mixing together in a unique scent that I would become so well acquainted with over the years. I just ended up sitting behind the patient, thinking over and over, “I’ve never seen anything like this before! And I have no idea what just happened or how it happened, but I want to do what they did and be that good at it.”
That simple thought fueled me over the next twenty years. That hour, watching those two guys respond to, manage the scene, treat the patient, provide amazing care, and deliver the patient to the awaiting trauma team was one of those “before:after” moments in my life.
Before this, I was lost, floating and unsure of myself. After that moment, I felt I found my calling, my purpose in life. I had no idea what that would actually mean, what I would learn, and what it would cost me. I am so thankful for those paramedics, who became friends and mentors, and the opportunities this profession has offered me.