About four-and-a-half years ago now, I nervously sat on the smooth, gray bench seat. The smell of Cavi-wipes and plastic saturated the stuffy air. Our pediatric patient slept comfortably in his car seat while Mom dabbed tears away with a washcloth my preceptor had fished out of our linen cabinet. He consoled her throughout this 90-minute trip, reassuring her that all would be well. And I sat there, almost too stunned and nervous to speak. My brain was a mash of nervousness, empathy, and excitement. I was finally riding along on my very first ambulance ride—and I was hooked.
Not too long ago, I sprawled out on that smooth, gray bench seat. The air hung heavy with the metallic smell of blood. The patient was forced into a dreamless sleep with medications, and I wondered if he would ever wake up. Having nothing else left to do on this 90-minute ride, I dabbed a moistened washcloth at the dried blood and vomit at the corners of his mouth. The paramedic and I chatted quietly, discussing the patient’s health, vital signs, medication dosing, ventilator settings…and what places might be open for a quick bite at this hour. My mind buzzed with hunger, fatigue, and a curiosity about our unfortunate patient. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but I was on my last call as a full-fledged member of this department.
I found myself in the backs of those trucks. I knew so little then…about medicine, about my future, about life, about myself. I worked alongside some of the most incredible firefighters, EMT’s, paramedics, and human beings. I made some amazing friends. Sure, I’ve cried, considered throwing in the towel, and been angry with coworkers, with this department, with this profession. But I always came back for more. I truly felt at home in that brick building, in that red truck. Those people I worked with? Broke bread with, laughed with, argued with, cried with, goofed off with, learned with, grew with? They’re my family. God, or whatever is out there, did not see fit to provide me with any biological male siblings. But I was blessed with 40 brothers, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
And yet…it feels like I am.
Within the past month or so, I have accepted a position as an ER nurse. The job hunt for new grad nurses is excruciating in my corner of the world. To be offered any job—especially an ER job—was completely mind-blowing. So, even though it was far away from home, I had to take it. I packed up my few belongings and moved out of my parents’ house for the first time. I found myself in an apartment in the heart of a small town in a different state. I know nothing and nobody for an hour in any direction. I work a full-time job, with a bigger paycheck that has chunks removed from it for important and adult sounding things like “403b.” I wear scrubs in styles and colors of my choosing, and I don’t have to put on those God awful white clogs anymore.
But my new rotating schedule forbids me to work my regular nights in that ambulance that I grew up in. It is getting harder and harder for me to justify spending so much time and money to drive all the way back home to work on an ambulance for a day, and then drive all the way back to my apartment.
“We knew this day was coming,” A lieutenant told me. “Why don’t we bump you down to per diem status?”
And it was in that statement that I realized that no, I can’t have it all. I am slowly being peeled away from the department and field I loved so much. Going to per diem status may not seem like much. But it means giving up my regular schedule. It means giving up my time with those people I love, doing what I love.
Suddenly, I find myself asking, “Is this really what you want to do?” The decision is somewhat already made for me…I am an ER nurse now. I live in another state. I have been doggedly pursuing this for years. I worked so hard for this. Yet I find myself missing the confidence of being in a truck. I miss the synchronization of working with a good partner. I miss EMS, and the home and family that taught me so much.
“We really are a family,” The weathered nurses tell me at the nurses’ station. I smile and nod while my heart breaks a little. They very well may be a family…but my EMS family is going to be pretty hard to compete with.