That Awkward Moment When…

Ever have one of those awkward moments where you really wish you hadn’t said/done that? Me too. More than most people, it seems. Anyway, here’s a “Aren’t you glad you weren’t her?” moment a relative emailed me about.

I dropped by the gas station on my way home, as I sometimes do. I’m about to go in to buy myself a soda, when I see this guy struggling with some bags. (For the record, I also thought it was weird that ANYONE buys BAGS of stuff from convenience stores, but, okay.) So, being the awesome and caring person that I am, I instinctively go to help him. And I say, “Would you like a hand?”

And I’m not even joking….turns out the guy was an AMPUTEE. He was actually missing a HAND. 

He stared at me like I was the world’s biggest asshole, ever.

Here’s to hoping your day is better than mine.

Celiac Disease and Dining Out

And now, for something completely different…

The concept of celiac disease shouldn’t be that hard to grasp. And yet, people interpret it in the weirdest ways. Hell, you don’t even need to know the nitty gritty and all the science behind it. I’ll over-simplify it for you. “I have an allergy to gluten.” And because most people kind of furrow their brows and go, “Huh? What’s a gluten?”, I usually follow that up with a list of things I can’t eat…wheat, barley, rye, oats, modified food starch, etc.

Now, when someone says, “I have a peanut allergy,” people go way out of their way to make sure there are no peanuts anywhere near that person or the food that person will eat. In elementary school, one of my classmates had a peanut allergy. Our class had to eat at tables in the hallway outside of the cafeteria so there’d be no risk of her getting a whiff from some kid enjoying a PB&J. None of us were allowed to eat peanut products in the hallway. If we had a peanut-y lunch, we had to go in the cafeteria to eat it, and wash our hands and brush our teeth when lunch was done before we returned to the classroom.

I don’t expect that level of avoidance or safety with my celiac disease. But my point is, people go out of their way to make sure the allergy-sufferer is safe. If someone added peanut butter to a slice of bread with a knife, most people would think twice before using that same knife to prepare food for a person with peanut allergies. People get that. Whether or not they realize it, they understand the concept of “cross contamination.”

So when I say, “I have a severe allergy to gluten. Which means I can’t have croutons in my salad. They will make me very sick. In fact, you can’t even pick the croutons out. It will still make me sick,” I expect a server–particularly one in the food serving/preparation business–to say, “Hm. She’s severely allergic. She specifically emphasized ‘no croutons’. I shouldn’t put croutons on her salad.” I would hope that most people would realize that it wouldn’t be okay to pick the croutons out of the salad afterwards, but I tend to explain that as well. You know, just to clarify. Which I don’t mind doing, especially because it is going to keep me safe.

So when I find a crouton like half-deep into my salad, yes, I’m going to be pretty annoyed. And when you tell me, “Oh, I forgot to pick that one out,” I’m going to be even more annoyed.

And I’m met with a shrug of the shoulders, and, “Oh well.” Because my diet is much harder to stick to than most other allergies, does that make it less severe? Does that mean it’s okay to be less stringent? I just don’t get it. No, I won’t go into anaphylaxis, but judging by how ignorant these people are about gluten allergies and celiac disease, they don’t realize that. Even if they did know that, I can guarantee you that being very very sick for a week or more isn’t much fun either.

What makes it so different?? Why is this such a difficult concept???

Lessons From The Other Side Of The Stretcher

As soon as I heard the dispatch information, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. An hour later, I would be walking into the ER in my uniform…not as an EMT, but as family.

I hate this. The discomfort, the hurt, the helplessness doesn’t sit well with me.  I hardly have time to digest one lesson, one emotion, one bit of information; before new lessons, emotions, and questions are thrown at me. I’m learning and discovering things I never wished to discover, and it’s all happening so quickly.

For one thing, I’m learning how unaware we as healthcare providers can be about our actions and statements. Our hospital is a small community facility where everyone know each other. I sat in a chair holding my grandma’s hand in the trauma bay, trying to absorb all the information given to me. One nurse stood entering information into a computer-on-wheels. Suddenly, another nurse (who, truthfully, I was never particularly fond of) threw the door and curtain open and stormed across the room, cursing and grumbling about how Pyxis had locked up, and now she had to go get flushes out of the trauma room cabinets. I looked over at her, somewhat incredulously. She caught my expression and snapped, “What?” Before storming out of the room, flushes in hand. It felt as though the gravity of the situation didn’t matter at all. It felt like a bit of a smack in the face. Of course I know my grandma wasn’t the only thing on any of the nurses’ minds. But when your world starts to cave in, you unintentionally expect everyone else’s to cave in too.

Speaking of caving in, I felt so incredibly alone. At the time, we couldn’t get in touch with any of the rest of my family. So it was me and my very sick family member alone in the room, along with a nurse or two. The conversations that were held were mainly to obtain consent to perform procedures that could help or end my loved one’s life. I wanted a pause button that I knew wouldn’t appear. I wanted to get rid of all the emotions swirling around inside me. I wanted to abandon the fear I had, and the terrified thought that cycled through my brain, “I’m 20…I can’t be making decisions of this magnitude.” The cup of water and box of tissues the nurses (who I work with and respect greatly) gave me just wasn’t enough. I wanted someone else to be there with me. I wanted to talk to someone about what was going on, that didn’t involve snap decisions and courses of action.  I wanted a hug. I just didn’t want to be alone.

I learned that the EMT’s and paramedics I’ve worked with are like a family to me. Some of my coworkers came up to check on me. I cried when I saw them, and received loving, warm hugs, which they knew was exactly what I needed. All the times I’ve said, “I’d trust these guys with my loved one’s lives” finally came to fruition. And I’m proud to report they did not let me down. Both the 911 call and interfacility transfer were run with proficiency, smoothness, and compassion. And I cannot thank them enough for that.

I’ve also learned that I fear I might not have spent enough time with my grandma, and that maybe I didn’t value the time I did have as much as I should have. Regret, sorrow, and remorse pull at my stomach whenever I think about that.

Finally, I rediscovered this more than I learned it…I love my grandma very much.

Yay for Educational Institute Screw-Ups

Did I tell you about the time I almost got thrown out of nursing school before it even started?

As you know, I got into nursing school. And as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m horrendously nervous and somewhat dreading it. That being said, of course I want to go and give it a try. I didn’t work my butt off for a year just to quit before the game even started.

This morning, I received an email from my school informing me (and the professors it was cc-ed to) that I was to be removed from all classrooms, labs, and clinicals on account that my vaccines were not turned in. Considering I faxed all this information over about a week ago, I was livid.

There’s a long, boring story behind this. There were many phone calls, a 90-minute round-trip drive, and lots of arguing and confusion. We finally realized that there were a few problems. Firstly, all the hospitals and clinical sites in the area are cracking down on the health requirements in order for students to spend clinical time there. It used to be okay in the past to just have your primary write “had the disease,” and have that fill your chicken pox vaccine requirement. Now, you need a titre. Only the hospitals didn’t tell the school that until a few days before the vaccine deadline. So now there are plenty of students in my shoes scrambling to get their titres in. I actually had mine done, but the proof was sitting at the bottom of a pile of faxes in the health office. Initially, the health office refused to go through all the faxes just for my records. Until I told them that I lost my seat in nursing school because my information wasn’t entered into their computer. After that, they were completely cooperative…which I’m shocked and grateful for, considering I was pretty annoyed at the time.

The other issue at hand is that when I received the pertussis vaccine as an infant, I went into anaphylaxis. So I can’t receive the pertussis vaccine, including the Tdap. I can receive regular tetanus vaccines, which is what I’ve done for my entire life. However, the Tdap is manditory for the nursing program. The health office knew I had a medical exemption to it, but the nursing program computers only see that my Tdap is incomplete, not that I actually have a valid medical reason for not getting the vaccine.

So it was a long and stressful day. I’m glad to have it over with. Several stupid little mistakes nearly cost me my spot in nursing school. Just…wow.

The Death Fishbowl

Dead. Pushin’ up daisies. Curtains. Checked out. Deceased. Gone. Passed away.

People ask me how I handle dealing with death all the time. Usually I just tell them that patients don’t die all that often. But it brings about an interesting point. We in EMS see death more often than the general population. When I think back on my experienes, there’s a certain “fish-bowliness” to it.  It’s looking in and sympathizing with the family, without necessarily getting your heart wet with the sadness of the event. With practice, I’ve been able to separate the family’s tragedy from my own life. Maybe I’ve done it too well. I found myself believing that death and sadness happens “out there,” outside the station.

It’s going to happen to each and every one of us. Me. You. The goldfish. The potted plant on my kitchen windowsill (although, given my gardening skills, that death might happen sooner than later.) One day, it will all be gone. Yet that thought doesn’t pervade throughout our daily consciousness. It doesn’t sit forefront in our minds. That’s probably a good thing. If my ultimate demise was constantly on my mind, I doubt there would be a whole lot of skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or riding bulls named Blue Manchu. For me anyway, I think there’d be a lot of fear, sadness, and freaking out, with a couple of reckless activities thrown in there. So I, like most people, live with thoughts of death tucked away in the back of my mind.

Then, something happens that shatters the worn falsehoods you’ve wrapped yourself in, keeping you emotionally safe. Where death doesn’t just happen to the goldfish or the potted plant. It happens to people–and not just the people in our ambulance coverage zones.  The red lights of the ambulance don’t penetrate the darkness of that unknown “Great Beyond.” The brick walls of the station don’t keep death from reaching for those inside.

I was fortunate to have gone several years without losing someone dear. Maybe that, in combination with seeing death happening to others, allowed for me to forget that death happens to everyone. Even those I see all the time; fixtures in my life that I’d taken for granted. Even those I work with. Even those I care about.

It’s an interesting and uncomfortable roller coaster. It’s a learning curve–an important one at that. I find myself wanting to spend more time with the people I love. I find myself giving out more hugs, and telling people how important they are to me. It’s unsettling to have that naive, protective bubble removed. I’m no longer on the outside of the fishbowl. Instead, I’m swimming in it.

Burn Out is Kind of Like Love

Burn out is kind of like love. When people get all sappy and starry-eyed and start shedding cooties all over the place, they sigh, stare off into middle distance and dreamily say cliche and exclusive-sounding things like, “When you’re in love, you just know.” Well, guess what? When you’re burnt, you also just know. 

I feared burn out. I feared that I wouldn’t be able to recognize it. I expected it to sweep over me, take me and break me before I really had a firm grip on what was going on. Surprisingly, that’s not what happened at all. As much as I wanted to deny it, there was no arguing with it. When our tones went off, the pulling anticipation in my stomach would break into dread and annoyance, not the elated excitement I was used to. On my way to the truck, I fought to hide my frustration and aggrevation, instead of my enthusiasm and eagerness. To be honest, I wasn’t doing a very good job of it either, particularly around the station. I had a few concerned, “Are you okay?”s, but mostly I got some bewildered stares. I’m not a mean person. Get to know me, and you’ll find I’m one of the most empathetic people you’ll meet. But lately, as one friend and coworker coldly–but rightly–pointed out, I’ve been a bitch. The people I work with deserved better than that, as did my patients. I was burning out.

I didn’t want to believe it at first. I’d only really been in EMS two years, in what most would consider a relatively low call volume system. While I’ve heard that the average career lasts only five years, I thought I was far too early in my career to be getting burnt. Regardless, I knew it through and through. I was burning.

As for what did it…I think it was just one too many calls at 2 a.m. on my nights off to run a BLS transfer. One too many rides with verbally abusive patients. One too many runs where I felt like I didn’t make any difference at all.  For me, a good shift means that I’ve run calls with either my brain or heart involved–if both were involved, even better. There were too many shifts were neither were used. Combine that with the physical exhaustion from working far too many hours and the emotional ache of a personal life that was imploding, and you have yourself one over-cooked little EMT.

So that’s my excuse for falling off the face of the earth for the past several weeks. I needed a break from EMS in general, and everything that reminded me of it…..which is pretty hard to do when you fall into the trap of making it your life.

Now, I’m a little more rested. I’m learning to say “No” to covering extra shifts I’m too emotionally or physically tired to work. I’m learning to stick up for myself, and start to build the stronger, improved me. And piece by piece, I’m rediscovering the little reasons that caused me to fall in love with EMS in the first place.

Plain and Simple: Seeking Advice

Today was not a good day. Running on very little sleep. Working as hard as I can, and feeling like I’m getting nowhere. Worrying about getting into the nursing program. A nerve-wracking doctor’s appointment. And, for the piece de resistance, an EMS call where I couldn’t do anything right.

I’m feeling pretty low, frustrated, hurt, and angry with myself. So, plain and simple, what do you do when you get like that? What do you say to yourself to try and turn things around? What do you do to put things back on track to getting better? On those days where all you want to do is quit…what makes you stay in the game just a little longer?