I want to deviate a little from my personal events and focus on some current issues and misconceptions about paramedics.
I’ve been reading a lot of interesting blogs by paramedics and currently I’m reading Peter Canning’s book: Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine. I find all that I’ve read interesting because it gives me an insight of a paramedic’s job, life, as well as some of the stress they have to cope with. I also learned a lot of neat medical information here and there, which I’m sure will help me in the future. I remember on my first ride-along, one of the medics told me that they get called Ambulance Drivers a lot. At first I thought he was joking, but later found out he was dead serious. Now he said it with humour, but a lot of medics take such title into offence. It’s like calling nurses Bedpan-Cleaners.
So where did this ignorance stem from? At a young age, children associate cops with police cars and chasing down bad guys with guns, that firefighters drive big red fire trucks and grab hoses to battle immense flames. What about paramedics? Children don’t even know that the people who work in ambulances are called paramedics, all they know is that they drive ambulances and take people to the hospital. And who can blame these children for calling paramedics Ambulance Drivers when even their parents are unaware of the existence of the word “paramedic”? No one ever associate paramedics with starting IVs, pushing drugs, doing intubations, defibrillating patients, calming violent overdosed people. These are the jobs of doctors right? Paramedics just drive ambulances, like chauffeurs, taxi drivers and bus drivers right?
Here’s a great poem written by Alan Torbet, a paramedic, who expresses his frustration about people’s lack of education of what paramedics do:
But I’m Just an Ambulance Driver!
Standing in chest deep water, freezing rain falling and stinging as it hits the exposed parts of your body. Holding the head above water to keep her head from drowning until rescue could get there to cut her free. But I’m Just An Ambulance Driver.
On a scene at a MVA a mom trapped upside down in her car and her dead son’s body laying on top of her without a second thought for my safety crawling inside the wreckage to take C-spine control and to calm the frantic lady. But I’m Just An Ambulance Driver.
Confronting a 89 year old lady who just watch for hours me and my partner do our best to save her husband of 64 years as he lay dead in the bathroom floor. But I’m Just An Ambulance Driver.
Doing chest compressions on a young girl who decided this life was more than she could take. Her family screaming at us to save her as though we were the ones who did this to her. Her lifeless body flailing about as the tubes goes in and IV’s being started, my arm and back burning from the pain of 30 min. of CPR never once giving up, hoping she would make it through and over come whatever lead her to this decision she made. But I’m just An Ambulance Driver.
Standing in the middle of a street at midnight on the wrong side of the town trying to save the life of a 19 year old shooting victim with multiple bleeding with occasional bullets whizzing past our heads never breaking stride because this kids life is in our hands. But I’m Just An Ambulance Driver.
Called away from a just prepared meal to B.F.E to a house with no numbers, no porch light on, nobody waiting to sign you in and they yell at you because you took too long only to find out the pt. left P.O.V ten min. ago so we just grin and smile and walk away from the verbal lashing only because I’m Just An Ambulance Driver.
Death is all around me and still I go home to live my life. I get kicked at, spit on, hit, bleed on, puked on I look into the eyes of lifeless child at 7am and by 8 I’m holding my child a little tighter and they know nothing about what just happened.I have hundreds of hours of classroom time
Years of field experience
I’ve challenged death and won
I’ve helped the homeless
I’ve neglected my family for yours
I find comfort in complete chaos
I eat cold meals if I get to eat at all
I work with no sleep for days at a time
I miss birthdays, holidays, and school functions
I put myself in harms way for a total stranger on a daily basis
ALL BECAUSE I’M JUST AN AMBULANCE DRIVER
I am an Ambulance Driver!!!! I drive 70 mph through congested traffic full of people who refuse to yield the right of way while my partner stands unrestrained in the back of this screaming land missile saving your loved ones life!!! Never once does he question my driving he knows that at the end of this shift he will go home to his family safely because I’M AN AMBULANCE DRIVER
I don’t think paramedics are asking for glory, to be sanctified as heroes, but it seems only fair for people to acknowledge the training and knowledge paramedics have and what they actually do. Now I myself was once part of the ignorant population. Although I’ve never called paramedics ambulance drivers and I know they do a lot more than just drive ambulances, I’m at fault for never once thinking about paramedics when I think of the word medicine. I remember in high school, there would be guest speakers who’d come in, or our teachers would introduce to us all these various occupations that we can enter. Never once, did anyone mention paramedicine. In fact, I didn’t even know the word paramedicine existed until I looked into entering paramedic school. I know I’m not alone in this, because when I posted my status online that I want to enter paramedicine, a friend of mine asked me:
“Is that short for paranormal medicine? If so, then that is pretty cool.”
I never learned about the EMS system and how it all works, and who are in the front lines of medicine. This ignorance showed when I entered university and started noticing my interest in medicine. I thought about being a nurse, a sports doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, but never once did the word “paramedic” or “pre-hospital emergency medicine” pop into my head. I would have never thought of being a paramedic if my brother hadn’t told me the story about his paramedic friend. I know that some schools in Richmond offer high school kids ride-alongs if they’re interested in the medical field in order to give them a taste of what pre-hospital medicine is like. Many students however, aren’t so lucky. I believe having school outreach programs, be it a guest paramedic to speak to grade 12 students, or offer first aid courses, etc., is important to change the public’s view of “Ambulance Drivers”. For example, if paramedics really were just ambulance drivers, then many critical patients would not make it through the hospital doors alive. What is vital about the EMS system is the chain of survival. When you have a heart attack, you have 4-6min for someone to start CPR before your brain dies, then another 8min to shock and restart your heart back to normal, and 12min to get Advanced Life Support or cardiac drugs pumped into you to keep your heart pumping before you reach the hospital. If you don’t get these services because paramedics are just ambulance drivers, you most likely won’t be revived even though you’re in the hospital surrounded by doctors because you’ve lost the vital 12min. I believe ignorance by the government and general public about pre-hospital care and its vital role in the EMS system and outcome to patient survival is the partial cause to the poor working conditions, pay and neglect by the government.
I was watching the news the other day during my part-time job at the coffee shop and they stated how the paramedics plan to go on strike sometime in the following weeks. The BC paramedics are asking for a 4% increase each year over 3 years, however, the government only offered a contract of 3% increase over 1 year.
I don’t want to turn this blog into a research paper full of stats (there’s a lot more info on http://www.saveourparamedics.com), but here are some hard facts everybody should know.
Did You Know??
- Full timer paramedics make less then bus drivers.
- Part timers in Urban remote and rural areas make $2 an hour when not actually on a call. They have no set response time so an ambulance in this day and age responds from home on pagers. Unfortunately many of these remote communities have few or no locals working there, forcing many paramedics to commute to these communities often to get paid for less then their gas money to get there.
- Part time paramedics in Urban/ Rural and some remote communities on a fast response car make $10 an hour unless on a call. They have a 90 second response time… the same as a full time car, for less then a third the wage.
- It takes about 5 years to become full time, so for the first 5 years of their careers, most paramedics don’t know what they are going to be paid each check if at all.
- Part time paramedics receive no benefits for the first 6 years or so.
- Part time paramedics have no sick days, even though they have to be more sensitive to illnesses as to not infect their patients.
- BC Paramedics are not considered emergency workers like police or firefighters by The Government of BC.
- BC Paramedics are told that their jobs aren’t dangerous like police or firefighters by the government of BC, however…
- Paramedics are injured in crashes – every year
- Paramedics are assaulted by psychiatric patient- every day
- Paramedics face the danger of infectious disease – every day
- Full time Paramedic jobs are being eliminated in favor of part time volunteers for less than minimum wage.
- BC paramedics tell employer there are not enough ambulances. The Government of BC say they have increased the ambulance fleet with 200 new ambulances (to replace the 220 that were taken out of service for age, accident, and fire)
- Other emergency medical service, police and firefighter jobs, pay $20-30 thousand per year more.
- Patients are dying waiting for ambulances because the closest ambulance are responding from two municipalities away.
- Communities are without ambulance coverage because of lack of volunteer/staff who are paid $2/hour
- Paramedics are offered 2% wage increase after four years of zero pay raises.
- Vancouver Dispatch Center–911 calls often go unanswered for 3-5 minutes due to increase number of emergency calls and not enough staff to handle the workload
After learning about all this, being a paramedic doesn’t sound so wonderful now does it? So why do I still want to be a paramedic? I can make way more money being a physiotherapist or a personal trainer and get much better work hours and less stress. I don’t have to worry about being peed on, spit on, contacting TB, HIV or hepatitis.
As a child I played soldier, adventurist and detective. I dreamt of roaming the rainforests on the back of a silver wolf, of adrenaline rushing adventures. I played the hero of rescuing my stuffed animals from abuse and tending to their wounds. As I grew older, I dreamt of seeing the world, both its good side and the bad, of catching a glimpse of other people’s lives, to absorb their experiences into my own because I believe it’ll help me grow and make me stronger. I yearned to experience the unknown, be it happy, scary, sad or revolting. Perhaps I can’t ride a wolf and roam the rainforest saving stuffed animals, but I can turn the city into my rainforest and the ambulance into my wolf. Whenever I hear the ambulance siren’s howl, it’s as if it’s calling out to me, this is where you’re suppose to be.