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Monday, December 30, 2013

Those Pesky Volunteers!!

by Steven P. Velasquez
December 30, 2013

Recently, an overnight call in a nursing home provided a much-needed shot in the arm for me. I often write about the issues we face in the pre-hospital world like being underpaid, underrecognized and often undermined (sometimes) by people who perform our type of work for free (volunteers). Sometimes I and other writers highlight the blunders and failed expectations and place an accusatory, blaming beam of light squarely upon them, those pesky volunteers. The irony there is that when one works in EMS in New Jersey, unlike any other career, they most often begin as a volunteer EMT before moving into career departments or becoming paramedics or other allied health professionals. Volunteering is a sort of proving ground, a place to cut one's teeth and learn this trade, before moving into a career position (or continuing a life of dedicated volunteerism). So the discomfort lies in being so frustrated at the very system that produced - YOU.

Now I can go on about the kinks, flaws and perceived failures but that would read like the words of every other angry paramedic in the field.  I had an encounter that reassured me that perhaps the field will survive if I, or others like me, who have roamed these streets for decades, should die.

These pesky volunteers are often young - very young - which sometimes punctuates their errors; and especially from the increasing distance of my aging eyes. They often lack social skills as they interact with the three inch screen of their smart phones more often than fellow human beings. They have no appreciation of history and those who have lived it, whether it's the veteran EMS provider beside them or the WWII veteran on their stretcher. Life, or should I say the world, to these young pesky people, seemingly begins and ends - with them.

The four EMT's on this call perhaps had a combined age of 75 to 80, or about a decade short of our patient, who happened to be a combat veteran of WWII. I remember being in my late teens, early twenties and facing the geriatric patient before me and hating it! They looked weird, smelled funny, didn't move or act like me, had nothing relatable with me and they were just not exciting. I wanted shootings, stabbings and cars on fire like on TV!

 As we drove to the hospital, the young volunteers of the Cranford First Aid Squad allowed me to perform my work on the patient, and as we buckled in for the trip to the hospital, they did the unexpected. They didn't disappear into their smart phones or imaginations, they engaged. They engaged the patient and listened, not to his medical history and medications etc... but to him, about his military service, where he served and who he served under. Then when he stopped talking, they responded and not with "oh, that's interesting," but with their own stories! No, they weren't in WWII silly, do the maff! Stories passed onto them from their grandfathers!

George C. Scott as Patton directing tanks
I was witnessing a meaningful, life changing, exchange of information between these young, pesky volunteers and the nonagenarian before them! One shared a story where if you had ever seen the 1970 movie "Patton" featuring George C. Scott as the general, there was a scene in there where the general was playing traffic cop, directing tank traffic through a village in France. One of the tank operators was the grandfather of that young, pesky volunteer.

Back and forth they went, patient and providers young, transferring their stories, lived or passed on, both breathing life into the pages of history, something I value tremendously and hope you will too!

I'll admit, you would have to hold a gun to my head to make history important when I was their age. I hated it and resented having to learn any of it. Today, I'm a proud history buff. I read the books, watch the movies and documentaries and walk the battlefields of our country's fathers. The little I know was transferred to me by the aging infirmed, in the back of my ambulance, when I too was young, pesky and volunteered.

Thank you Cranford First Aid Squad for renewing my faith in the future of our field. Keep listening and show your young to do the same.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ghosts of Christmases Past

by Steven P. Velasquez
December 31, 2011

Over the past few weeks, the EMS community in NJ has once again, endured the pain of having to bury a brother paramedic.  The details of why, how, ages etc… are irrelevant, for they all can be answered with the adjectives “painful,” “tragic,” “too soon,” “saddening” or “unnecessary.”  The reality is that we now have yet another, empty seat at our table. 

Every calendar year ends with the Holiday Season, a time for celebration, family and joy.  For us in emergency services, the inverse is often true and can often weigh very heavily upon us.  The daily exposure to tragedy and pain can exact a sometimes deadly toll. Thus I encourage all my brother's and sister's – to take steps to actively become “our brother’s keeper” and let none of “our family” suffer in silence.  To borrow a saying from the Department of Homeland Security, “If you see something, say something.”  

Strangely, even when we have the opportunity to not work the holiday’s we often do.  Sometimes for economic reasons and often to run and hide from other parts of our lives, and sometimes without knowing what we signed up for, we go to face what later become “The Ghosts of Christmases Past.”

I can’t begin to express the sense of agony in our crew-rooms or parking lot conversations where those of us left behind scan our minds and memories to see if there was something we missed or could have done to avert a tragedy among one of our own.  The following article has been simmering in my thoughts for years and now presents with new and saddening emphasis.

The following are some recent memories of some of my “Christmases Past.”

A few years ago, I reported to work Christmas Eve just before 7 p.m.  The day shift was relieved to see me and informed me there was a call holding for a pronouncement of death (not a high priority dispatch that requires an emergency response).  My partner and I gathered our gear and responded to the address.  Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised to have met my ex-wife’s cousin at the door.  He serves as a sergeant with the police department of that town and cautioned us that this wasn’t going to be easy and that we should watch our step.  Apparently there were firearms involved and the mess trailed through the festively-adorned house.  The agonizing cries of a grieving family emitted from the basement as we made entry into the unknown.    His lifeless body lay there in the bedroom.  He had received news the prior night that a close relative had unexpectedly passed away. He became overwhelmed, and could deal with it no more.  His permanent answer to short-term pain was to face the working end of a deer rifle against his youthful head.  He, a boy, was 14.

The combined experience of my partner and I bring decades of experience and plenty of exposure to ballistic injuries.  The horrific sight and devastating pattern of injury left here took our collective breath away.  It was a haunting juxtaposition against a beautiful home prepared for the Christmas holiday.  With each moment we spent on scene, the horrifying images around us seared into our memories.  We made our observations, contacted our medical control doctor and were given a time of death.

After that call, winded, we visited a local diner in hopes of getting some dinner before the world closed up for the holiday.  Our warm coffee was interrupted (as usual) by another call in another town for a “possible DOA.”  “Another one?” we said aloud.  Death is something we encounter daily but usually not back to back.  This was not the beginning of a Christmas merry!

This one was far less emotional.  A person who lived in some form of indigent rooming home, with all of his earthly belongings in a pungent 6X10 bedroom was found on the floor, quite dead, and by the smell of things, for a long time.  Again, we went through our ritual procedure, received a time of death and released him to the local constabulary.  Back to the diner we flew, quite hungry and quite done with all the death in our call area; or so we thought.  The diner people were so good to us, they threw away the first dinner order we placed and completely brought out a freshly cooked order of the same.  When what to our wondering taste buds appeared?  But another dispatch, for yes, another DOA back in the first town we visited earlier.  We looked at each other in disbelief.  “How is this possible?” we thought.  But off we went with empty bellies, dwindling holiday spirit and a death-induced fatigue that really made us not want to be there this Christmas Eve. 

This woman was in her 50’s, found in bed surrounded by her best friends -- ash-trays piled high with cigarette butts and an army of liquor bottles lined on the shelves, the TV, the window sills, the floors even.  She appeared to have been the most peaceful of this evening’s departed, as she was still in bed covered by a warm winter’s blanket.  They say bad things come in three’s right?  “If that diner closes before we get back, I’m going to be pissed!” I exclaimed.

After we cleared from that scene, an unprecedented event, and evidence of a true and living God followed.  One of our supervisors happened to be working in dispatch that night.  He paged us to call him ASAP.  We obliged and he greeted us with an offer of genuine concern (something we are not used to).  He said he had been monitoring the radio traffic and couldn’t believe the cards we had been dealt.  He asked us if we were okay, if we had yet eaten and then offered to take us off the road and send us home!  He said, “You’ve had enough.  If you want to go home, just say so” then extended the offer.  We declined (probably because we didn’t want to be perceived as weak by our peers, but more so, probably for fear of being alone with this rattling about in our heads).  In retrospect, I should have sucked it up and gone home!  The night remained busy with lots of really sick people and the repeating vision of a lifeless boy, in a festively adorned home, and the result of a rifle’s work on a Christmas Eve.

Now this is just the stuff that goes on at work.  Then there’s the home front to deal with too.  After that horrible and exhausting shift, I was to go to my mother’s house for a 2 p.m. Christmas dinner before going back to work Christmas night.  My ex-wife was going to have dinner with us there and I would be able to see 2/3 of my children.  The littlest daughter was with her mother and their family in NY.  Two out of three ain’t bad right? 

My renal alarm clock woke me up at 6:45 p.m. that night, or 15 minutes before I was to appear for work.  My phone had about 30 missed calls and 13 voice mails from my parents, my children, my ex-wife, and my other daughter’s mother.  They were all looking for me since I was supposed to be at Mom’s about 5 hours earlier.  That year, I had bought a Harley Davidson and everyone thought I might have crashed on the way to Mom’s.  My sister had driven about 40 miles and was about 15 minutes away when I finally reached her.  My daughter’s mother called the neighbors to come knock on the door thinking I may have died at home. 

When I finally became aware of the time and the events in my midst, my face was awash with tears.  I shook and uncontrollably cried as I had missed Christmas with my children.  I wanted nothing else than to see my daughters on this day and especially since I rarely get a chance to see them on any holiday.  I’m usually out fixing the world.  “What a friggin’ loser you are” said my teary reflection.  I couldn’t even get this right.  I failed my daughters – yet again.  I made it to work about 15 to 20 min. late and cursed the fact I had to be there.  My partner knew something was wrong with me but didn’t ask.  He probably figured if I wanted to talk about it, I would.

A year later, and on the eve of Christmas, we were dispatched to a residence for a “possible miscarriage.”  These dispatches are usually non-eventful and don’t require the services of paramedics.  We entered the home and there seemed to be a party going on with many faces.  A few distressed faces in EMT uniforms emerged with a towel in their hand.  They told us about the mother’s condition and said the fetus was in the towel.

Strangely, the mother was unaware of her pregnancy and claimed to know nothing of what was going on.  The many people in the home seemed concerned in the same way slowing traffic does at a collision.  They weren’t interested enough, as if they were actual friends or family.  It was then we realized these people were part of a group of recovering alcohol or drug addicts from Jersey City. 

My partner performed an exam on the mother and I went into another bedroom to examine the fetus.  Unsure of how many weeks it was, I applied the electrodes of our heart monitor to verify the absence of any activity.  I regret ever having done that as my eyes nearly popped from their sockets when I saw an organized electrical rhythm on the monitor.  Without getting into too much detail, the finding was transient and again, we obtained the time of death.  The EMT’s had already left the scene with the mother.  We were now left with the awkward circumstance where we don’t move a body after pronouncement of death has been made and, in good conscience, we could not leave the lifeless fetus here with this detached group of bystanders.  Not to mention, fetal tissue can often prove beneficial for diagnostics of hidden problems in other family members. So, we decided to transport the towel-wrapped fetus to the hospital as well.

Quietly, we returned to our ambulance and my partner entered the rear compartment with the towel in hand.  I looked up at him and stated, “Bro, it’s already been pronounced.  I don’t think it needs to be transported in the patient compartment.  There is no care to give to it.”  My partner looked like a stunned duck after receiving a shovel’s blow to its head.  “Um yeah, you’re right.”  He jumped out and sat in the front with the towel in his lap. 

The ride seemed to be the longest, slowest ride to a hospital – ever.  All the radio stations had constant loops of Christmas music or ads for erectile dysfunction.  We drove with our eyes forward and conversed about the birth of baby Jesus (my partner was Jewish) that the world celebrated this eve.

The next time you speak to one of us about why we’re working the holidays, please understand that sometimes our schedule demands it, and other times, we go to work purely out of fear of being alone or facing our private lives. Often we wind up facing what turn out to be - the “Ghosts of Christmases Past.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Dear John...

by Steven P. Velasquez
October 3, 2013
Dear John - the CVS Jerk-Off,
I visited your establishment today in search of some personal products. I'm wearing conservative, business casual clothing just to set the scene correctly. 
Perhaps I was there too long or strolled through an aisle too many. Your not-so-stealthy attempt to follow me with your beady eyes was betrayed by your shark fin-like, bald head that transiently appeared and vanished and appeared again in the aisles beside me as you seemingly sought to catch the brown guy "in the act."
When I got to the check out, you asked if I had a card. I replied (in fluent and articulate English) that I had lost my keys and thus, my card and asked you for a replacement. You confirmed my suspicion and secured your new nickname of John - The CVS Jerkoff when you passed me my new cards, unfolded the application and handed it to me - Spanish side up.
I won't get too dirty here or bore my family and audience with the list of obscenities in my heart (and in two languages no less). I'll just remind you of this my bald, beady-eyed, stereotyping, racist friend, I just left a classroom where I taught doctors how to save critically ill babies. You just rang up my M&M's.
Buenas tardes Jerk-off.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Runway Ruminations

by Steven P. Velasquez
Sept. 28, 2013

He sat in seat 11 at the window before the right wing (no pun intended) of the aircraft. The flight attendants smiled and silently illustrated the narrated safety directions.

An American Airlines aircraft was parked beside him awaiting their passengers and cargo while the "Gate Gourmet" trucks fed the craft from the ground below. His plane began to taxi passing "Air India," "Virgin," and one plane with the NY JETS logo on the runway.

He had navigated the roadway beneath the aircraft dozens of times in his mobile intensive care unit, but this time was different, this time he was a passenger and not a paramedic.

As the attendant, who remarkably looked like his daughter Nicolette, gestured to the exits, his eyes welled up with tears and he wasn't quite sure why.

Nicolette Velasquez teaches a CPR class
for the deaf using American Sign Language (ASL)

The plane briskly accelerated and in only a few seconds, effortlessly, or so it seemed, leapt into the sky. The cranes of Port Elizabeth, the New York City skyline, and  the newly completed "Freedom Tower" that now occupies the space where his office once stood, now filled his window, his teary eyes - and his mind.

The world became small, the autos - minute. The Pulaski Skyway, was now a brief mark upon a beautiful, and diminishing, Earth below.

They headed north then banked west. He traded the view of New York's skyline for the true - lines of the sky.

Returning to that tearful moment, he paused and turned his attention inward as his pen furiously marked a notepad before him. The sadness he encountered was at best, transient when juxtaposed against the excitement of lift - and thrust.

He supposed it was a combination of things, his daughter's image, the memory of his office burning, then crumbling, and crushing many of his friends and colleagues. His recent departure from Newark's elite EMS system and the cascade of feelings brought on by no longer being "part of the team." The realization that since 2001 (12 years before), his only exposure to airlines or air travel were during his emergency responses to NYC on 09-11-2001, Weehawken, NJ for what was euphemized as "The Miracle On the Hudson" and countless medical and traumatic emergencies upon such craft.

And now, in shorts, a t-shirt, no badges, radios, police escorts or equipment, he felt an uncommon vulnerability. His enthusiasm for travel was painfully blurred by a myriad of "what if?" scenarios. "What if we crash?" "What if we have a fire?" "What if I never get a chance to see, hold, or kiss my daughters good night again?" His ears painfully popped and in moments, after twenty four hours of work, he fell gently asleep - and he flew.

An hour and a half later, his craft safely kissed the ground in Charlotte, NC. New view. New skyline. New opportunities on the horizon and another chance to kiss his daughters good night.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some Thoughts On Change and Never Saying Goodbye...

by Steven P. Velasquez
Sept. 29, 2013


Rutherford High School - Rutherford, NJ
I'm driving up Interstate 85 between Charlotte and Greensboro, NC in my hot rental car. I'm frustrated because the cars on the highway seem immobile. A glance at my speedometer has me at 85 mph though I feel like I'm standing still. Comfortable, but probably not a good change from a safety standpoint.

The radio is filling my ears with literally ALL the sounds of my formative years as I've found an 80's station that has me in complete nostalgia mode. The thought of getting a radio signal from a satellite in space vs. AM waves on terrestrial radio? Never thought we'd see the day back then, but here it is. I say this is a good change as the clarity, selections and lack of geographical restriction are seemingly endless.


The personalities on the satellite radio are none other than the original V.J.'s of the earliest days of MTV before it became the abortion it is today (bad change). Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood are still alive and well today and their voices (minus J.J. Jackson) unearth an unending stream of beautiful memories that are making my journey more of a movie set. The serious teen crush I had on Martha Quinn and Nina Blackwood I won't detail here. Nina's raspy voice could raise the hairs on my neck at any hour of the day. The fact that she, and her raspy voice have aged so, make her sound more like the now deceased, liberal radio host Lynn Samuels  is disturbing; not a good change (only my fellow die-hard talk radio fanatics will understand that reference).

Photo by Steven P. Velasquez
Just now I had to pull over and broadcast this before the thoughts would subside as the next song and its narcotic effects came on. They just played Bon Jovi's; "Never Say Goodbye" and it reminded me that this was the chosen and scheduled prom song for the class of 87. Due to the reference of "[losing] more than that in my back seat baby," being too much to bear for the administration, that got deep-sixed and our class settled for Billy Joel's, "This Is the Time." Hell, they could have been talking about losing their wallet, change, or a contact lens for God's sake! Compare that to the complete degradation of all things moral today where "Jiggly, jiggly, jiggly, bitches and ho's, bitches and ho's, bitches and ho's..." passes for music, and it leaves me reaching for Tylenol - and longing for the puritan's of our time; not a good change.

To my classmates:
    "You and me and my old friends
    Hoping it would never end
    Say goodbye, never say goodbye"
- Bon Jovi

Gotta run, "Danger Zone" is on!!
MTV Music Television

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Of Moments Missed

by Steven P. Velasquez
September 21, 2013

Alright, alright already. Maybe you all were right. My strategy of working almost every moment of my life was detrimental to my health and to my family. I can't imagine how many moments like today have been missed while I ran from one employer to the next, to the next - and never was any bit better off financially than if I didn't do it. I owe my daughters a sincere apology as it was the only way I knew to attempt to secure a future for them.

Well, I didn't hit the lottery or uncover a secret inheritance, but I have blocked some time out to breathe, to smile and to love. And it doesn't suck!

This morning after work, I made a "B-line" to my little one's arms. She's been more excited about my birthday than... well, anyone. All week, she couldn't wait. She was going to bake me a cake and get me gifts and she, unlike her father, followed through on every bit of it.

After she and her mother took me out to a Cracker Barrel breakfast, Steve's magic mini-van made an appearance in Belmar at the beach. We unloaded our chairs, a blankie, some books, and of course, my camera gear.

Little B will grow up with no recollection of the
boardwalk at Belmar before Super-Storm Sandy.
I'm just happy she can share in some of the same
memories I've been so fortunate to have had. Not
a year has passed yet, and the town is rebuilt - stronger.
We went right up to the water line, sat, read, watched surfers and hundreds of lunatics practicing for the Mudman X contest on the beach. We went out about knee deep in the water and with every wave, like the opening scene from "The Monkee's," turned and ran away. The wind, the waves and her contagious laughter played a beautiful symphony in my mind's eye. I lamented the moments lost as I tried to calculate how many her sisters never had because Daddy - was always at work.

After some brief frolicking, there was some unprecedented activity too. B took off to play on the children's toys and I knocked the hell out in my chair. I slept for hours! I woke up and it was 2 pm already. I was startled too because I couldn't see my daughter. Actually, I couldn't see anything for that matter. I panicked as I thought being 45 had earned me a sudden onset of glaucoma. Everything was foggy. I removed my glasses and realized that the mist from the ocean had caked across my lenses. Little B was only a few feet from me and having a great time. Whewww!

In summary, I've realized that my lifestyle requires compression. Compressed fun, compressed time off, compressed finances and compressed love. I don't have the luxury of free time like many others. So everything I do is brief, but with great intensity. Perhaps that's why I shoot (photos) as much as I do is because I'm trying to isolate those compressed moments into a choppy, but intense movie. Today has been a great scene, in "The Story Of Me."

And... action!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Forgive Me Father...

Forgive Me Father

Because I Really Want To Sin...

by Steven P. Velasquez
I finished teaching my class this afternoon and upon leaving the hospital, got sucked in by the absolutely stunning fall weather, the cool temps, and knowing that I was just a little more than two blocks away from the beach.

When I left the hospital, I was vibrating with enthusiasm and filled with happiness knowing that I was just a hop, skip and a jump away -- from a beautiful sunset and crashing waves.

My location in the world was Long Branch, New Jersey, a place I've frequented since childhood, served as a paramedic since adulthood and educated their health professionals these past several years.

I perched here on this scenic deck. There was no one here but me, me and the intense scenery, and the gulls, there's always the gulls.
My tripod was up, camera equipment scattered about a small table and clicking away minding my own business (every good story begins with someone minding their own business).
A man in a wheelchair with his woman in tow approach and begin taking pictures of each other and together (she in his lap with their little camera phone aimed at their faces, the bright moonlight in the background. Cute I thought.). They were not in my way, nor I in theirs. We initially exchanged pleasantries. We said hello and; "It's a beautiful night out isn't it?" We both went about our business.


 He, they (whatever) never once asked me to help them, assist them, photograph them - nothing!

As they're leaving, he turns and barks at me; "Thanks a lot for your help... you fucking asshole!"

I actually looked over my shoulder as I couldn't believe his venomous words could possibly be aimed at the quiet guy with the tripod that greeted him so nicely.

When I realized that I was exactly his intended target, an anger and rage filled me that I haven't felt in a long time. Perhaps he unlocked a lot of pent up sadness, anger and frustration in my life but thank God, for his sake, that I am a decent person with a healthy fear of consequence. Never in my life have I ever even remotely imagined hurting someone so unfortunate as to be bound to a wheeled chair.

I swear to God, I felt I could make the deck of this restaurant a scene reminiscent to the Aquille Lauro back in 1985. I wanted to beat the man silly with a tripod and throw him into the sea below!

What the hell is wrong with people? Because I'm a photographer and have gear, I'm obligated to offer up and take the picture of every person with a friggin' camera phone (and of course free too right? I'll bet this P.O.S. votes for... (ha ha, I won't say it)).

Forgive me father...

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fraternity of Us

by Amy Eisenhauer, EMT
May 20, 2013

I am blessed to have such amazing friends.  One or two of them I have known most of my life and we have grown and experienced things together as brothers and sisters would.  But most of my friendships have been forged in the bonds of fraternity.  I suspect you are thinking, “Fraternity? You are a female, what would you know about brotherhood?”  
Delta Tau Chi- "Animal House" 1978
Typically the word fraternity brings to mind college parties and secret rites or heroic soldiers returning from battle.  Both of those images are accurate when speaking of the Fraternity of EMS.  We can be silly and rambunctious when at rest, but when called to action we are professionals ready to mitigate your worst day. All my close friendships have been kindled via the field of EMS.  There is something about spending 12 hours in a truck with someone that forges a bond.  You learn how they take their coffee, what kind of music they like, their facial tics, how to operate together without speaking.  You know that when you step into the street, even if you are having an argument or don’t particularly like that person, they are your lifeline and you are theirs.  That is sobering.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We are -- brothers.

I vacation with these people. I break bread with these people. We encourage and mentor each other pushing one another to the next level.  We laugh together at corny jokes or at pranks we pulled. 
EMS Honor Guards from FDNY and Boston EMS pay a final
farewell to Paramedic David Restuccio - Sept. 2012
We celebrate our achievements together: awards, children, new homes and holidays.  We mourn our losses together.  We help each other, no matter the circumstance, no matter the time.  It is difficult to describe how I feel about them. Family and love are terms that come to mind, but those words don’t depict the ache in my heart when they are disappointed or hurt, the exuberance I feel when they succeed or the rush that comes when someone tries to bring them harm.  I realize that this is not an experience most have the opportunity to have; a massive family, a brotherhood, stand with you through your life and I am humbled by it.

I would like to thank all those who in the spirit of fraternity have taught, encouraged and mentored me, helping me to continually grow and reach higher; especially when I did not want to, and was particularly whiney.  You are the family I choose.  I am not sure why I deserve to have people like you in my life, but I am so happy you are here.

Guest writer Amy Eisenhauer, EMT
Amy has been an Emergency Medical Technician in New Jersey for many years.  She is also an instructor for several courses related to Emergency Medical Services and an advocate for the profession.  She is currently in pursuit of her Bachelors degree focusing on Political Science.  Amy is the 2013 Recipient of The Captain Jonathan Young Memorial Scholarship given by the New Jersey Emergency Preparedness Association.  She lives in New Jersey with her cats, Coco Chanel and 13.


Monday, May 6, 2013

Are You "Learning Enabled?"

Are You "Learning Enabled?"

by Steven P. Velasquez
May 6, 2013

I was doing some Spring Cleaning today, but not of the physical variety. I was mulling through folders and folders of previously important email, messages etc... when I happened upon one that is a keeper for sure. The words within it were touching, though not authored by the sender. The fact the sender found me worthy of such words is what touched me so deeply and leaves me glad I didn't hit delete.

The person who sent it was a student of mine. She too is an educator, in the public school system if memory serves me correct. Often when I teach my classes, I share with the students a part of my life that is a little embarrassing, has caused me much grief (probably more for my parents) but I share it with my students willingly to help alay their fears. You see, they sometimes appear eager and are so quick to come tell me their problem, their issue, their excuse for their anticipated underperformance. They set the expectation - for failure.
  • "I don't test well."
  • "I'm a hands on person. I can't do book stuff."
  • "I have a learning disability."
  • "I have test anxiety."
While certainly not trying to dismiss those with developmental delays, cognitive impairment, or verifiable obstacles, I have found from my life's journey, that often the missing ingredient is simply passion for a topic, and a leader, guide, guru or journeyman to enthusiastically help one along the way.

In the 1980's, I was diagnosed by counselor's as "Learning Disabled." I had performed so poorly in school that I found myself before a child study team and after batteries of tests, that was their finding. The kid, who was in gifted and talented programs in his youth, was now encouraged to:
  • Learn to use your hands.
  • Become a carpenter, construction worker, or mechanic.
  • Join the military.
There is absolutely no shame in any of the above!

I was told I "was not expected to accomplish anything of academic significance." When I share these embarrassing facts before my students (EMT's, Paramedics, Nurses, Doctors and Specialists), they gasp. "How could they?" "Where did they get their degree from?" "What's wrong with them?"


"I feel like a Kentucky fried idiot" - Rocky 1976
Had any of you sat across a table from me, you'd have the same assessment. I earned it. When asked to read before the class, I'd deliberately make it painful for them. I sounded like Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky." I deliberately would read like the "Kentucky fried idiot."

It would be such an auditory insult to my classmates, the teachers would limit my performance and better yet, not choose me to speak again. This was my desire! I believed I was disabled and led them to the same conclusion. The result? Less work for me and no expectations.

Somewhere along the way I got involved in the Emergency Services. I finally fell in love. I finally found a topic(s) that gave me wings, a topic to be inspired and empassioned by. A body of knowledge that drove me to read page after chapter, after book after volume; and today, I no longer see myself as disabled in any way. Quite the contrary. I am LEARNING ENABLED. I have gifts that I've developed, honed and shared through the years. Today I stand before classrooms, lecture halls and auditoriums. And today, I whisper words of encouragement into the ears of those I precept, of my students, my audience. It turns out I was never "disabled," just different.

This beautiful woman, this student of mine, sent me this email in spring of 2012, and I'm touched deeply a year later. Thank you Miss Hamilton.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids who don't always get A's,
The kids who have ears twice as big as their peers,
And noses that go on for days.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids they call crazy or dumb,
The kids who don't fit, with the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum.

Here's to the kids who are different,
The kids with a mischievous streak,
For when they are grown, as history's shown,
It's their difference that makes them unique.
Addressing a class of 2nd year medical students at the University of Medicine & Dentistry - Newark, NJ Dec. 2012

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Japanese Friend

My childhood home on Mountain Way in Rutherford, NJ

My Japanese Friend

  April 27, 2013
by Steven P. Velasquez
Once I was young,
As you were once too,
Turned many a page,

You too, now have aged
When I ran, skipped and played,
My face feeling hot,
You offered me shade, home base, a cool spot
As my roots grew deep,
Long, strong and wide
Yours did so too,
Mine from within, yours outside

Oh beautiful friend, we've endured much together,

Watched changing seasons,
Harsh and warm weather

Protect the next family,
Watch over their lot,
Offer them shade - home base - a cool spot

Monday, March 25, 2013


The boardwalk at Point Pleasant is currently being rebuilt and spirits are high!

by Steven P. Velasquez
March 24, 2013

Jersey Strong!

So what does "Jersey Strong" actually mean? It's tough to define in words alone, but perhaps some imagery will help.

As October 2012 gave way to November, the second most expensive storm to strike the U.S. ever, gave a direct blow to the Jersey Shore, costing billions, devastating thousands and killing more than 100 (Source: Time). Hurricane Sandy was second only to Hurricane Katrina which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2008.

February 6, 2013 was the 100 day mark after Sandy's landfall. Now April rapidly approaches, and as always, once the camera crews leave, so does the public interest and the support so desperately needed to recover. Just ask the people of Haiti and Louisiana. Despite these truths, the industrious and resilient people of  New Jersey are rebuilding and remain - Jersey Strong.

Despite the shameless acts of the politicians and the burgeoning bureaucracy known as FEMA, the people of New Jersey have been frantically rebuilding their homes, businesses and neighborhoods in an attempt to normalize their lives and be open for business for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, when NJ officially kicks off the summer tourism season.

Today, I took my family to Asbury Park, Belmar and Point Pleasant on a slow lazy ride to get a birds-eye view of things going on. The recovery and amount of progress was impressive! The one thing that really got to me and gave me pause was reaching the boardwalk at Point Pleasant and seeing the children's rides WERE OPEN!!! With the upcoming Easter Weekend a week away, I saw sidewalks full of families, smiling children and an occasional Easter bonnet atop a child's head.

For years and years, one of the Velasquez family traditions was to come to this area around this time to plant the seeds of summer enthusiasm in the children's heads. I have carried on that tradition and my fears of having to come up with an alternate plan were dashed with this beautiful sighting. I was almost driven to tears at the sights and sounds.
There were still stark reminders of the devastation and the monumental work-load ahead. The strength of this storm has left indelible marks in these storm struck communities and one can not help but feel for those affected.

Waffles & More was hollowed out by the devastating winds and surging waters of Hurricane Sandy
That said, what was even greater than the damage, was the strength, optimism and spirit of the people and the businesses of this area. The marquis in front of Red's Lobster Pot Restaurant enthusiastically displayed their expected opening date and the fact that they are PSYCHED!!!

The Norma-K is one of Point Pleasant's most popular fishing boats

Other businesses and industries of the area are also poised for success this year like Point Pleasant's fishing industries. Boats are in the water and schedules are posted to welcome what one hopes will be a great year in this new chapter of Jersey history, Jersey Strong history.

The Jersey Shore is OPEN FOR BUSINESS!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


by Steven P. Velasquez
March 19, 2013

There are times in a person's life when one gets dangerously close to physical events around them, at great peril to themselves. Some people have jobs that bring them closer to such danger more often. Some of us call it "a day at the office."

EMS MVC in Prince Georges County VA
An emergency service worker is often tasked with responding to MVC's (motor vehicle collisions). Too often, responders are directly involved in MVC's as part of their job requires expeditious driving (not reckless driving) to emergencies. This calculated risk is necessary as time is of the essence when it comes to protecting human life. Compound that with a greatly distracted, often inebriated, densely populated area, and you now have many of the ingredients of  New Jersey's urban environments (Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, Paterson and Newark). 

We had just cleared up after BLS cancelled us on a call in Newark, NJ. We left the scene and proceeded down a side street, then turned left on Stuyvesant Ave (a much larger street). It was after three a.m. and there was no traffic to avoid. I could see one slow moving taxi approaching me in the opposite lane; traffic as usual, and no  perceived threats.

As the taxi passed the front of my ambulance and was beginning to vanish in my left blind-spot, their was an enormous explosion! I heard and felt the incredibly loud event and was shaken by the concussive force. My ambulance shook violently and my window was showered with debris. My partner and I immediately wondered if we had been hit but there was not a significant enough jolt to our vehicle for that. Our second thought was that we may have been nicked or side-swiped. A quick view out my window revealed that the taxi had been struck head on, and at an incredibly high speed. I realized then that the striking vehicle was headed right for my rear and had swerved at the last second, but also realized my partner and I may still not be out of danger. We assumed this vehicle was stolen and likely was occupied by less than law-abiding citizens. We punched the accelerator to avoid being anywhere near them had they exited the vehicle with guns blazing.
 Startled and shaken, I notified our dispatch center (REMCS) to send a BLS unit, our heavy rescue, a supervisor and law enforcement. The troops were on the way. We went up about a block and swung around to get a bird's eye view of the damage,  calculate the resources needed, and an accurate patient count. It was then we noticed the striking vehicle was in full reverse, chirping its' tires and backing away from the crushed taxi. Once freed, the vehicle turned "gangsta style" and took off up the side street.

Thanks to seatbelts and airbags, the taxi driver sustained only minor injuries. By my assessment, this man should have been maimed or dead. The full-sized sedan (taxi) was crushed with more than two feet of intrusion into the engine compartment. We knew the striking vehicle was a Jeep of some sort as their entire grill, bumper and license plate were left in the wreckage.

While we see this kind of event every single night, we usually see it after the damage is done and are not witnesses to the impact event.
I spent the rest of the night pretty rattled and could think of a thousand places I'd rather be; with my daughters particularly. I couldn't help but begin to think of the dozens of ways that same set of circumstances, with only a slight modification in variables, could have changed my, or my partner's life forever. I couldn't help but feel - spared.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Shampoo Directions for Troubled Times

Remember, Speak (honestly), Listen (intently), Repeat.
Remember, Speak (honestly), Listen (intently), Repeat.

Sometimes simple directions (like those on a shampoo bottle) can be applied to complex life situations to help keep us focused, resolute and moving in a forward direction.

These past several weeks/months have been more trying to the NJ EMS community than I can remember in a century's quarter. Hurricanes, loss of power, loss of property, loss of income, loss of loved one's -- and loss of each other are the recurrent themes.

Mourning Band
I've personally begun to fear answering my phone, checking in on Facebook or reading email for fear of hearing, reading or learning of more pain and loss "within the perimeter". 
My Facebook these days could aptly be renamed Eulogybook, or so it feels. Our smiling profile pics are replaced with images of bunting, mourning bands, and "In loving memory of...". Our flags never seem to fly higher than half staff anymore.

2001 PAPD Officer comforts little boy
at funeral service for Lt. Robert D. Cirri

Masters are we, or so we would think, at managing others' emergencies, others' losses, others' pain and suffering. The secret there is that in the service of others, it is ourselves we truly learn to save.


I find that as in any great exercise, mental or physical, 'tis repetition that builds strength and endurance for the long haul, the great journey, the enduring pain. It is how we condition ourselves. It is how our trainers, father's, preceptors and mentors taught us all of our greatest lessons -- and it is focus, resolution and forward direction -- that any of them would want for us, if they could still counsel us today.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fire Safety Through Legislation - "American Bloodlaw"

by Steven P. Velasquez
January 27, 2013

Below is a copy of a term paper I submitted while pursing a degree in Fire Science in 2003.  I'm attaching it here because this morning's news leads with the tragic loss of over 240 young lives in a night club in Brazil over night.  The fire allegedly broke out from a pyrotechnics display that communicated to the soundproof foam over head and the rest is the repetitive story of too many people, with a rapidly advancing, fuel fed fire and not enough avenues for egress.

I posted links to the tragedy on Facebook and one of the first replies I received was; "Where were the sprinklers?"  If you have a few minutes, read below and see how this tragic history continues to repeat itself both here and abroad.

Respectfully and with prayers for the deceased,


Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Great Equalizer

by Steven P. Velasquez
January 25, 2013

Anyone who's been close to me knows I have no capacity for planning when it comes to my private or social life.  Work, I've had to get good at but it hasn't come easy.  People invite me places, want me to celebrate things with them,  want to catch up on old times and I just can't ever seem to get it right.  My pathetic excuse is always; "I'm too busy.  I had to work."  It's one of my biggest weaknesses.
Franklin Planner

So as I mature, I've been taking active steps to improve my planning.  I use online calendars, sync them with my laptop, my smart-phone etc...  And, being a little retro, I still maintain a written calendar in a Franklin Planner out of part ritual and devout loyalty to Dr. Steven Covey and the Franklin system which has drastically improved my life since my early twenties.  

This weeks plans were intricate, detailed and a complex mix of personal and professional priorities all mixed in.  Having to work an off night in exchange for another so I can attend a conference that comes only once a year and is a great educational opportunity, took some planning, finding a willing participant to trade shifts and a supervisor to approve said trade.  Just when I had that seemingly locked down, one of our brother EMS providers in Jersey City has an untimely passing and of course, his funeral service falls on the day of the EMS conference.

Well, loyalty to the family supersedes an educational opportunity.  I can always get into other classes.  So I begin preparing and planning to attend the wake and funeral services of our brother.  (Unfortunately, as I age this is becoming something that happens more frequently and is quite saddening.)  My plan A was shot, so I switched to plan B.  Then came what I refer to as "the great equalizer."

The Great Equalizer

"I cannot miss this!!!"
Some of my patients are members of the class known as the rich and powerful.  They have "stuff," assets, savings, residual incomes (whatever that means).  They can buy things with ease and have people at their beck and call to tend to their needs (they often mistake me for one of them).  They keep tight schedules with other rich, powerful people that they ABSOLUTELY CANNOT MISS (or so they like to tell me)!!  I use this class as an example as they appear to be the most resistant, and sometimes obnoxious, to the grips of "the great equalizer."

Now let me be clear, I wish suffering on no one, not even my enemies.  But when confronted with a patient like I was the other night, a gentleman who arrived on a flight (1st class of course), looked at and spoke to me like a skycap, and demanded he be brought to a hospital in New York City (no NJ hospital would suffice), I get taken aback at how pathetic they appear in the presence of the fact that "the great equalizer" has leveled the playing field.  There are no VIP lounges here. There are no favors to call in. We all become -- patients, dependents etc...  He had to get schooled on how it really works down here at the serf level.  He could go to one of the three area hospitals, not all the way to NYC.  Internally, I chuckled to myself as he flailed and carried on in the grips of "the great equalizer."

The great equalizer is illness or injury.  It strips us of our power.  Takes away our sense of control, saps our strength and energy.  It humbles the mighty, makes tearful the strong, and reminds humanity that we are still mortal, and vulnerable, and need each other.  And yes, messes with even the best planned schedules. 

Flu Season
I'm so sick right now I've called out of two nights of work (never happens), will not be going to the EMS conference in Paterson, and will very unfortunately not be able to attend the funeral services of our EMS brother, Chief Richie Lopez of the Jersey City Medical Center EMS Dept.  Essentially, I'm quarantined to my room with a steady flow of Nyquil, transient sleep, an occasional meal and the constant question to my creator; "Okay God, I'm listening.  What do you want me to do or learn now?"  I am in the presence of "the great equalizer."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"At this point, does it matter?" - The Serenade of Obstructionism

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillry R. Clinton feigns outrage at Senator Ron Johnson (R) of Wisconsin

by Steven P. Velasquez

January 24, 2013

Click here to see Secretary Clinton's heated exchange

Yes Madam Secretary, it matters!  It matters to the informed.  It matters to the concerned.  It matters to the families and loved one's of the deceased.  It matters to Americans and it matters to those who wish to destroy us.  How dare you suggest it doesn't matter?  Your boss and this administration demonstrates mastery of this tactic.  You obstruct, deny, delay and distract until this uninformed, easily distracted society completely forgets what happened and not a one of you - is ever held accountable for your actions or inactions.  So much for the most transparent government in this nation's history.

Here you finally show up after your tragic concussion, dehydration, hospitalization nonsense  and illustrate contempt toward the most valid question you faced?   It's the only question that mattered!  You blamed a YouTube video!  You continued to blame the video, the protest etc... and sent all your media lap dogs after the creator of the video, as these bodies grew cold, their lives hemorrhaging from within them and the memory of what happened quickly being sanitized like a scene from the 1997 hit, "Men In Black." 

Meanwhile back at the ranch, those who voted for you twice are concerned about pressing issues like Lance Armstrong, Kim Kardashian and Michelle Obama's bangs and clothing choice.

What better circumstances could one ask for than to be a part of this deceitful administration, with its' willful accomplices in the media,  a highly distracted and poorly informed society, and to skillfully sing the Serenade of Obstructionism.

Go to sleep America, shhhhhh, it's okay, the socialists are here.