The Breakdown (And The People Who Helped)

My mind was swirling with a nauseating soup of questions and uncertainties. I felt this sickening pull in my stomach. Yet, it was all muted. I was manipulating red hot emotions through thick welder’s gloves. I couldn’t name it, I couldn’t identify it, but I knew it didn’t sit well with me. I quietly engaged in superficial and meaningless conversation with my partner as we backed into the ambulance bay. I was just politely filling in the silence, while simultaneously trying to figure out what was happening to me internally.

Numb, I climbed out of the ambulance, paperwork in hand. I returned the other crews’ greetings, and headed into the kitchen to grab a glass of water. An officer nonchalantly followed me into the kitchen, and quietly asked, “Are you okay?”

I looked at him, confused. “I don’t really know. I think so,” I mumbled. He patiently waited, watching my face as my eyes nervously shifted around the room. How could I not even know what was going on inside of my own head? I sighed, “I know I’m going to need one of the quieter rooms to write this report. There are phone calls that need to be made about this one.”

His eyes widened, almost imperceptibly, before nodding once. He set me up with a computer in a room away from the commotion of the common area. “If you need anything…let me know. I don’t care what it is…someone to talk to–”

“No,” I fiercely interrupted. “No, I’m fine. I don’t know what my problem is. I’m probably just tired or something.”

“I’ve seen you tired. That’s not it,” He said, looking me dead in the eyes. I broke his gaze, fidgeting with my paperwork. He knew me too well. His tone softened, “If you need anything. Someone to talk to…food…music…I don’t care what. Whatever you need, let me know, and we’ll get it squared away.”

He left me to take care of what I needed to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was already working on helping me–even before I properly understood myself. Those strange, detached feelings continued to stir in my head as I went through the familiar monotony of creating the report. And out of nowhere, I just started to cry.

What is wrong with you? I asked myself, disgusted. There was nothing on that call that should elicit that response. I’d run plenty of calls just like that one. This wasn’t some horrendous, gory trauma. This wasn’t a call where the patient was rapidly deteriorating before my eyes. This wasn’t about playing catch-up, or not being able to do a single thing right. Why this time? Why this patient? Why now? Why are you reacting like this? How can you see people horribly mangled and not bat an eye, and then lose it over something like this??? What is the matter with you?

My narrative was getting incredibly long and unruly. While blinking away tears, I wrote about every, single, last, detail I could possibly remember. About halfway through, I just propped my elbows on the table, and rested my head in my hands. I was giving up on holding it together, and figuring out why I couldn’t.

My phone buzzed against the table. Taking a deep, steadying breath, I tried to compose myself and answer it as evenly as possible.

“You sound like hell. What happened to you?” The chief officer on the other end of the line asked. Apparently it’s pretty hard to shake the sound of an unexpected melt down from your voice. Particularly at 1:30 in the morning. I stammered, dismissed, and evaded. He was having none of it. Finally, I got him to hang up. I figured I’d won.

By 2 a.m., there were three of the highest ranking officers at my department were sitting in that room with me–in their pajamas, no less. I offered smiles, thanked them, and tried to dismiss them. But they stayed with me for more than an hour. They told me stories of their distressing calls from back in the day, and the seemingly inexplicable breakdowns.

“That call, for whatever reason, touched you. And it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be confused. It’s the strangest, smallest details of a call sometimes that just hits you. It doesn’t have to be these obviously traumatic calls,” One told me.

I was given heartfelt compliments. I was given reassurance that this call didn’t make me weak or stupid. It didn’t mean the end of my career if I didn’t want it to be. They gave me their personal cell phone numbers, and was given instructions to call them whenever I needed to. They gave me hugs. But most importantly, they gave me their time–even in the dead of night. They gave me confidence, compassion, and understanding.

I don’t know many high-ranking managers that would go to the lengths that these individuals did. They went above and beyond. It’s something I will never forget, and will always be grateful of. Managers or officers, especially those that go out of their way to take care of their own…I can’t thank you enough.