The pay is just a bonus
This is an account of jeramedic, a young paramedic living and working in the United States. He is not a seasoned paramedic of forty years, bitter with experience about the service, but nor is he a green recruit fresh out of training with no stories to tell. He is in a grey area in between those extremes, hardened by those experiences he has had but still proud of his profession.
I thought I should write something that would be both personal, and general to the industry. Something that gives you, fine reader, a glimpse at what it’s like. So first off, a bit about me, and where I work. You know, just so we can get to know each other. I am a Paramedic in America, and at this moment, I am twenty six years old, and have been in EMS for six years. I work in Los Angeles, which is a very, very large and diverse place. If your only understanding of L.A is what you see in the movies, then you may think it’s just Hollywood, the beach, and gangs… Well you’re wrong. L.A county is so much more. The population is pushing 10 million. And in a area of 4,083 square miles (10,570km2) there is enough room for 8,000 foot mountains, miles of coastline, desert, a skyscraping metropolis, and people and cultures from around the world. Or yeah, and Hollywood. It is a truly unique place to live and work.
This job is like no other. It takes a certain kind of person to willingly go through the process, and sacrifice of training, hiring, and of course actually doing the job. It is one of those things where you have to enjoy every part of it. If you enjoy it, and it suits you, then it will be the best job you will ever have, and the idea of doing anything else is just ridiculous. But if it’s not for you. It’s the worst.
This is not a heroic job, although it may look that way. This is a privilege, this job is also about trust. Where else could one work, where a parent would give their sick or injured child to two strangers in a van? That’s trust. And it is the privilege that people give us to protect them. You see things that most will never see, or never want to see. In one shift you can deliver a baby, and then witness death. You will see the very best in human compassion and love, and the very worst of violence and evil. All in a day, and the go back to your home, as if nothing happened.
It is the misconception of many that this job is full of pain, drama, and tragic accidents. And yes, terrible things do happen, but not every day. Most calls are minor accidents, or people feeling ill. Not every call is for a bus of children that crashes into a puppy rescue that’s on fire.
In the U.S, EMS has an interesting history, and is thought of differently then in other parts of the world. Here, I lovingly say that we are the bastard child of healthcare, and the foster child of the fire service. We fight for identity and recognition. We are Paramedics, which means we practice Paramedicine, which is medicine. We are not ambulance drivers. Just as Police officers are not police car drivers.
We are trained and educated professionals, that are expected to act in a moments notice, and in a matter of minutes, ask a few questions, and fuss about with your body, and are to know exactly what’s wrong with you, and how to fix it. And all at 4am. And you know what? I am proud to say that is exactly what we do. That is one my favourite parts of the job. Is being the first one there, and being able to really make a positive impact on someone.
Some like the job because they feel it is a way to give back to their community. It’s now only recently that I have been interested in working in the same area I live. For years I have had about an hours drive to my station. It meant work was left at work, both mentally, and geographically. The drive into work gave me time to prepare for the shift. And equally time to reflect, and decompress on my way home. After working in the same area, for any length of time, streets and buildings can start to collect ghosts. Having that separation was one strategy to avoid bringing the ghosts back home.
But for all it’s drama and stress. For all the sleepless nights. For all the danger, and absurdity. It is in this job that I find meaning, experience, adventure, entertainment, and family. The pay is just a bonus. Now how many careers can you say that about?
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Featured Image Source : Photo by Jeramiah Bush, Used with the permission of Jeramiah Bush