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Sunday, February 10, 2013

From Heartache to Higher Education

by Steven P. Velasquez
February 10, 2013

From Heartache to Higher Education -
How a paramedic's persona can promote healing
in more than just the patient

I should be so asleep right now it's sickening. I can't fall asleep however because of a patient encounter I experienced last night, one that affected me deeply. I continue to draw pleasant amazement at the beautiful, therapeutic and healing powers we can (optionally) learn, long after we move beyond the basic "if then" algorithms of pre-hospital care.

The family called for their husband/father who was weak and uncomfortable.  Not usually a cause to call 911, but the patient had an extensive history of heart disease, a very weakened heart muscle and walks slowly about his house with a vaso-active medication constantly infusing to keep his blood pressure and his hearts' workload balanced.
My partner stayed with the wife and patient in the living room while I went to defuse the explosive situation evolving with the daughter; all of this under the guise of gathering information for my chart. She was screaming at her weakened father out of frustration as he downplayed his symptoms, hypervocabularized, and vexed us with verbosity.  "He's a bright man" she cried, "an intellectual. But this is not the time sound all intelligent." Her moist face fell in her palms as she sobbed. 

We sat at the kitchen table and I began gathering data from the beautiful woman in her late twenties.  Using my softest voice and direct eye contact, I asked and she answered, but she did so, it appeared, out of muscle memory. It was rote from the frequent repetition of dealing with health care professionals so often in her father's care.
The house was modest but clean. It was well cared for within the family's means. Once I had all the necessary information for the patient report, I began to focus on her. I asked what she does for a living and she (still crying) expressed that she had been accepted into the prestigious, historically Black, "Howard University" in Washington, D.C., but had to turn it down to continue being available to care for her ailing father. So she settled for an education from "Columbia University," a private, Ivy League, research school in N.Y.C. where she completed a Masters Degree in Social Work and intended to work with school age children. She was visibly calming down and showered me with thanks for being kind, supportive and informative. 
Like we see so often, we had a family with a complex problem, an assortment of medications that the family had only the loosest of ideas what each was for, and an obstinate patient that longs for the days of his youth, strength and independence. Meanwhile causing all around him to suffer.
Softly, I explained each medication, its action and why her father takes it.  The conversation went well and she truly appreciated my taking that extra time to inform her about her father's conditions.  Lastly I asked, "Any desire to complete a PhD?"  Her answer went right to my core. She said; "I don't think I have a PhD in me."

I recalled a conversation I had only a week ago with a brilliant man who shared his thoughts on higher education, particularly at the Doctorate level. He explained that there is collective body of knowledge that we humans have gathered since the dawn of time and that we can actively "contribute to that body of knowledge through research and publication."  He said we can actively participate in the human condition as more than its subjugates.  He made ME want to get into the nearest classroom post haste!
I went on to use her as an example and asked if she thinks there is a story within her?   Through her pain, sadness and frustrations, did she think that somewhere in the future, some young woman (or man) may benefit or change their life's direction, if he/she read the words of another who had gone before her; overcome insurmountable hurdles, someone who struggled, turned away a scholarship, postponed their education or made other great sacrifices -- to help the family they loved.

She clasped her hands around mine  and appeared to be vibrating as she thanked me profusely.  She said aloud; "You know what? I've never thought of it that way.  I know I can do it.  I want to do it.  Oh my God, thank you!"  She no longer sobbed nor wore sadness upon her face. She had exchanged both for a look of determination, enthusiasm, and conviction.

We gathered our equipment and headed for the door while the EMT's packaged the patient for transport to the hospital.  From the vestibule they waved and thanked us both again.  The daughter mentioned something about going to school and the mother shouted loudly; "Who got you goin' back to school?!"  It was in the same tone as; "Who gave my daughter drugs?" So I was happy to be a distance away, and on terra firma.  "He did." She replied and pointed as I descended into the snow. "You got my daughter talkin' about school again? Y'all come back for dinner some time you hear me?" 
We all laughed heartily.  The patient was on his way to definitive care.  The family was in a much better place than how we discovered them. And I think I helped a young woman find the PhD within her; God willing.

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