What is your worst call?
Hands down these warning signs are the most confusing thing for any long-term sufferer of PTSD. Some of the stuff emergency responders see are awful. It’s heartbreaking, violent, bloody, confusing, graphics. No wonder your mind tries to protect you. But what is often not talked about is the ‘human element.’ Not often is there mention of the sounds emanating from a mother who just found her child overdosed, or the look of terror in a wife’s eyes as you are performing compressions on her husband, or the distinctive odor caused by burnt hair and skin. Those things are truly frightening.
Home-field advantage is not everything
It’s not like I grew up on the corner of Jane and Finch, but on the other hand, I certainly did not go to prep school. I have seen my fair share of busted open heads and smashed-in front teeth. So, when I the FD hired me, I was not totally out of my element with the most graphic parts of the job. Not to mention, I was one of those lucky guys that got hired in the town I grew up in, so I always felt like I had a home field advantage. I knew all the old places the senior guys would talk about, and all the buildings that were long gone. I felt like I could not be in a more familiar area if I tried, I mean the street I grew up on was actually in my coverage area. I truly felt like I hit the lotto. How could any call ever bother me? I couldn’t have been more prepared. Or so I thought.
Fear can be a funny thing
That I soon found was the one thing that could knock me on my heels. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the gross stuff. It was the calls that involved that ‘human element.’ Calls that involved vulnerable people; the disabled, mentally handicapped, the elderly. Those bothered me. I would sometimes stand in those shitty little apartments that were always about 100 degrees and look around, as you do, waiting for the ambulance. I’d make some small talk to put them at ease but then it would start to happen.
The best is when your mind gets in on the conversation
My mind would take off and run away on me. I would start to wonder to myself “is this all that is waiting for me after 30 years of humping hose?” and “Damn, what’s the point?!?” I would start to feel sorry for them. Some of these people were around the same age as my parents, and I couldn’t imagine having my mom or dad living in a place like this. It’s dirty; not because they’re lazy, its dirty cause they merely aren’t able, or their bodies simply can’t do it anymore, and their kids couldn’t give a shit about them; at least it would seem. These poor old folks just seemed to be left here. With my inner dialogue, I would snap myself out of it. “CARL, FUCK!” I would yell at myself. “You don’t even know them, just do your thing, look at the ground, and do your job. Whatever you do stop looking in their goddamn eyes!!” I would have that very same fight in my head at every single one of these calls. Now that is truly a frightening experience.
But I ask, whats the big deal with bad calls?
Even though it bothered me at the time, I would forget about everything once my boots hit the apparatus floor. I never really seemed to give it much thought after that. So as far as I was concerned these experiences I was having were simply information in, information out. They never seemed to bother me long term, and I did not feel the need to talk about it.
May I always a suggest second opinion on your PTSD
But as we all know, these things have a way of piling up. So when I first went to my family doctor to get his take on this PTSD thing, he kept asking me what specific incident I was troubling me. I was confused. “Like just one?” I asked. He then went on to describe in perfect textbook detail as if he were reciting from it directly, that PTSD is the result of one major incident that affects your day-to- day life. Oh, and also that I had nothing to worry about because only soldiers can have PTSD. That is no lie! He said that. So as far as he was concerned, and in return, myself also, is that if I didn’t have just one major incident messing with my brain, I there was no need to worry. I, therefore, did not have PTSD, end of story. It was at this point in my search that began to worry that I was losing my mind. And that was frightening!
Know your role in PTSD
The burden does not fall on you to diagnose yourself with PTSD. That is not your job. However, if you feel that you may be suffering from this, it is your responsibility to seek help. Yes, the sooner, the better, but it is never too late. Don’t be a fuck-stick like I was and just throw in the towel, sit back and think ‘well this is it.’ Know your role in all this. If there is one thing you must understand about PTSD; it doesn’t matter how you get it. It could result from one call or twenty calls, in a moment or over a long period. Thankfully there is now legislation that outlines all of that for you. And it is important to understand that just because there is a defined list of signs and symptoms that outline what PTSD may or may not entail, does not mean you must fit into that definition exactly. The specifics were not important, what is important are the actions of the individual. Keep an eye on each other, have each other’s backs. After all, you are all in this together.
Sometimes PTSD is the better path
Besides, think about all of the things that you see and do throughout the course of your career. It would be strange if these things didn’t upset you at some point. After all, some psychologists believe that if you don’t have some form of PTSD, to some degree, at some point in your career working in the first responder field, that you are a sociopath. And that would indicate that you have much bigger problems than PTSD. And that is a direct quote.
Always keep on eye on the stuff that does do not scare you
So you may not be ‘afraid’ of anything. Heights don’t bother you. Confined spaces are a piece of cake, the sight of blood and broken bones, a walk in the park. You will even run into a burning building without hesitation. But sometimes it’s the stuff your not scared of that gets you.