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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.

1 comment:

  1. And then... they placed the CHFer supine.