Happiness – Is there a Secret?

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Today I want to touch on two topics that goes hand in hand:  Happiness & stress.

When I tell people I work as a paramedic, they automatically relate to the job as being stressful.  That is true.  They often relate to stress as a paramedic from the calls we get, the things we see.  That is also true.  However most people don’t think about the everyday stresses we get, which is not related to the calls we do.  In fact over the last 5 years it is the every day stress that gets to me more than the calls.  It is the chronic stress that builds up and creates burn out.  Let me explain.

I do not deny that bad calls can be extremely stressful, it can trigger PTSD, nightmares, etc.  Absolutely.  However from my personal experience, those calls are few and far between (thank goodness!).  I consider myself lucky.  Most calls I can shake off, and move on.  I’ve developed a tough skin and over time you learn to be okay with most things you see.  What I personally struggle more with is the daily stress regarding, finance, sleep, and family.

For five years I have worked multiple jobs on the side to make ends meet financially.  I love being a paramedic and did not want to give that up, so I worked various jobs on the side.  Unfortunately, I found most side jobs did not fit my schedule well, or just did not pay enough.  So I go from one side job to the next.  I think I’ve worked a new side job almost every year I’ve worked as a paramedic.  I lived paycheck to paycheck, never really knowing how much I’ll make as work load and call volumes were never consistent.  Some days I make a good amount, other days I make so little I would have made more working minimum wage at McDonalds.  It was stressful when it came to paying rent, it was impossible to budget expenses, it was always something nagging in the back of my mind:  Will I make enough to pay my expenses this month?  I cannot blame anyone on my predicament, I knew going into the service this was what was to be expected and I was willing to take on that challenge.  However, I cannot deny it got stressful.

I hate being sleep deprived.  I know I’m too young to say this, but I don’t like night shifts.  The problem with part time work is I do back to back shifts.  I don’t do a fixed regular scheduled shift like four days on (two days, two nights) and four days off.  I may do something like a 72hr shift, 8hr break, then another 24hr shift.  People say, well you’re not constantly working all that time, you’re on call.  Well, that is true, the problem comes with sleep pattern.  When do I sleep?  It is impossible to regulate sleep pattern when you don’t know when you’re going to be called out.  I may be up since 9am and not get a call till 6pm and then have to work 16hrs straight, meaning I’d be up for 25hrs without sleep.  I could sleep till 5pm, but if I don’t get a call all night, then I would be awake all night twiddling my thumbs, which doesn’t make a lot of sense either.  The longest I’ve been awake while working was 31 hours (due to the way the calls came in), within that time I only worked the max 16hrs which is allowed, but 31 hours is an insane amount of time to be awake and expect someone to function at their best.

My loved one often comments on the fact that I’m tired all the time, that I’m constantly sleepy and exhausted.  He is correct, I am always sleepy and tired.  People expect me to bounce back after one or two nights of good sleep.  Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.  You can’t bank sleep (I wish we could!), in fact it takes a number of days of regular sleep for me to feel refreshed.  This doesn’t happen when you work consistently.  So zombie I will be, which isn’t really fair on my relationship.

The other aspect is down time.  Because I work out of town, when I’m working I’m staying at the station.  Which means I generally share a room with another coworker (two beds in one room).  I’m an introvert and often I’d like to have space and time to myself to decompress.  It is difficult to do that when there are always people around and there is no real privacy.  Shift change happens at 7am or 6pm, sometimes people talk louder than they should or clang the dishes to get breakfast ready.  It is really tough to get good sleep and get the revitalization I need.  Sometimes I just stay in my room all day.  People at my station must think I’m a hermit, but really I’m just trying to create my own haven, to be away from others for a little bit to recharge.  It isn’t that I’m anti-social and I don’t like my coworkers.  I absolutely love my station and the people, it is just difficult to find time for me sometimes.

One thing that comes hand in hand with working out of town is, you’re generally not home for days at a time.  Time away from my loved ones creates stress not just for me but also for my partner.  I remember a time in my life where I’d be away from home 5 days a week.  That is no way to have a committed relationship.

As a part time paramedic, there are a few things I’ve got ingrained into me:

  1. I love my bed.  (I wish I can finish work and just sleep in my own bed.  You have no idea how lucky you are.)
  2. Forgetting to bring your pillow, pajamas, and cell phone charger to work = a terrible work block.
  3. I don’t like suitcases.  (My life revolves around packing and unpacking my suitcase).

I am an optimistic person.  I believed if I put in my 5 years (at the time it was 5 years to get full time position in the city), I’ll be good to go, things will be easier.  If only life runs so smoothly.  Seniority has gone up to 6-8yrs now for a full time position.  I can’t wait any longer.

I understand why paramedics feel burnt out, I get it.  I now understand why when I first tried getting into the ambulance service, many medics warned me to get out while I can, telling me only crazy people enter the ambulance service.  Does this mean I don’t like being a paramedic anymore?  Absolutely not.  Having worked various jobs on the side, I still find no better job than being a paramedic.  It simply to me is, the best job in the world.  But the real question is, am I happy?

Happiness is an interesting thing, everybody in the world wants to be happy.  What is the secret?  Is there a secret?  People tell you it isn’t about the money, it is about finding what you love in life, it is about feeling fulfilled, it is about finding the job you love and a job does more than just spit out a paycheck.  I believe that is true, but it isn’t that simple.

I found a job I love, I found a job that I believe to be my calling.  How lucky am I?  Most people don’t even know what they want to do.  Having the job I love will make me happy right?  I never hate going to work, I enjoy going to work, it is a fulfilling job that gives back to the community, gives you an opportunity to influence others and save lives.  I don’t make a lot, but it isn’t about the money right?

Well here is what I’ve learned.  I have my dream job, but I wasn’t completely happy.  I was constantly stressed.  I worked a lot, but something wasn’t adding up.  Then I realized it was because I haven’t built my foundation.

I’m sure some of you have seen Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs:

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If I haven’t met my physiological needs, how can I expect to be happy?  I need financial security so I know I have shelter, food, clothing.  I need to not be constantly sleep deprived so I can feel like a normal human being.  I need to be able to spend time with my family instead of being away all the time.  You can’t build a house on a crumbling foundation, it’ll topple over.  I realize it is the same with happiness, it is only when I have these fundamental building blocks in place, will having my dream job come into play.

It took me almost five years to realize this.

This year, thanks to a convincing friend, I applied for a full time job with another company which is related to emergency work and still offers the same satisfaction with helping others albeit not in the front lines.  This is a shift work job, but it still allows me to work casually as a paramedic and keep my seniority going, aka a perfect fit.  New job offers me stability financially, gives me benefits, offers me regulated sleep patterns, allows me to go home after work, sleep in my own bed, spend time with my loved ones.  It meets the foundation I need.  It also allows me to pursue my extra-curricular interests – climbing and martial arts.  Do I miss working on the street and on car?  Absolutely.  But am I happier?  Yes.  Am I less stressed out?  Double yes.

Does this mean my paramedic career is over and done with?

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Hell no.

What I see is a journey.  I will always be a paramedic, but sometimes it takes a few turns and twists before I get to the final destination.  It is important to remember the journey isn’t about how quickly one gets to the destination but to embrace the meaning the journey has to offer and to value every step.  Having chosen the path of paramedicine has taken me to interesting places, allowed me to try various jobs, shown me that none of these jobs were more satisfying than paramedic work (that I didn’t choose wrong!), allowed me to appreciate my current new job and what it brings to my life in building a strong foundation for happiness, and finally it has challenged me mentally and emotionally, that I can be strong.

I may be working this new job for another three or four years and casually as a paramedic.  In the future however, I can work full time as a paramedic and this current job casually.  Life is flexible, the journey isn’t always straight forward, it is only a matter of finding a path that would work for you, finding what you need to do to feel complete and happy and enjoy what life has to bring.

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I want to end this post with a big Thank You to all my readers.  I haven’t posted in this blog for a long time and yet I am getting more traffic than ever before.  It is always exciting getting replies from readers and seeing so many people interested in paramedicine and the passion and excitement they bring.  We need people like you in our ambulance service, the excitement, the fresh energy and passion.  Because sometimes the folks that have been in longer, we lose a bit of that enthusiasm and we need the new people to step up to show us why we got ourselves into this career in the first place.  It is refreshing.

This is my last blog post. 

I have contemplated whether to continue writing for a long time.  I feel that this blog has met its objectives in inspiring those who are interested in paramedicine, and providing a platform of information for those who are interested in becoming a paramedic.  I no longer feel the need to post stories as I have before.  I do have many more stories to tell, but I will save that for if we ever cross paths in person (not while I’m working as a paramedic of course!  Unless you’re my partner for the day).

I will continue to check my blog from time to time to answer questions.

To my colleagues, thank you for always have my back and I love working with you.  You make the bad days go easier and the easy days a blast.  We are family and we are never alone.

To my loved one, you have always supported me in what I loved to do (too many things!), there is no greater love than that.

Lastly I want to thank all my patients for inspiring and teaching me the value of life.  All of you have played a part into making me who I am, and for the better.  It is always an honour to be there at your most vulnerable.  I will never forget.

– Michelle Tsoi

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Comments
23 Responses to “Happiness – Is there a Secret?”
  1. craftymedic says:

    Good for you for realizing it! I always say “I never lost sleep over calls, even the bad ones. I’ve lost countless nights of sleep and gained many grey hairs over how I’m treated by my employer”. I don’t regret scaling back my ambulance work to below minimum (thank god for LOAs) and going back to school. All the best in your new endeavours!

  2. A. J. says:

    Just wanted to say that I am so pleased to hear you’ve found a F/T job and some sort of work life balance. You are wise beyond your years for realizing this now rather than later! I know it is a bummer that the irreg list has increased recently but to be honest it was never really 5 years anyways (for a bright shining moment maybe but not for a long time). I’ve scolded people in the past for telling new hires that for the exact reason you posted. No one knows the future and it can be discouraging to wait 5 years only to find out you may need to wait 3 more. Funny thing is, once those 3 years go by, you may not want to even be with BCAS anymore and sadly BCAS loses an amazing paramedic! I hope that is not the case. Best of luck to you no matter what you decide!

  3. Dan says:

    Best of luck to you you, Michelle. It takes courage to make such a decision and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy one to to come to. I just finished school this year and am anxious to get posted. I’m told it will be soon. I too put a lot of value on feeling rested and having some sort of routine in my life. Although after reading your last post I feel slightly discouraged, I appreciate your openness and honesty and for letting me know what I can expect. Where are/were you posted? I live on the island and will probably start off in Tofino or Ucluelet. I don’t see much money coming in from there and can see myself in the same boat as you have been, working multiple jobs to keep up. Either that or getting into the oil and gas industry but that lifestyle isn’t very appealing either.

    • PocketMedic says:

      Hi Dan, don’t be discouraged, it isn’t the easiest journey but it is a rewarding one. I’ve been posted in many places, Boston bar, sechelt, pemberton, Whistler.

      Best way to look at it at first is that it is a hobby job. The thing to remember is that it will always be there, so finding a side job that works for you in the meantime is the best option. Tofino would be a beautiful place to work out of. Once you’re done probation start putting your laterals in. Good luck!

  4. L. says:

    Hi!

    I’ve been reading your blog for some time and I’m really sorry to hear that – but at the same time I am so happy for you! I’m just starting my EMR course (do you still help with the certification?) and I’m really afraid of going into the PCP program because of the issues you just raised.

    Thank you for writing and letting us know what to expect 🙂

    • PocketMedic says:

      I wouldn’t be afraid of going into the PCP program. It is a great job, like no other. Just use your knowledge to know what you are getting into and make sure you plan ahead. The important thing is not to be ignorant and get blind sided with reality. If you are willing to move to where you work it can work out well and has done so for many people. I also know many people who don’t live in the area but had made things to work out for them. If you are really interested I’d do the program and see where it takes you especially if you’re gonna look back and regret not having done it. If it doesn’t really mean that much to you, being a medic, then I would weigh your options carefully.

  5. LuapTheFrog says:

    Thank you so much for doing this. You are an excellent writer and the way you convey your thoughts has given me a lot of insight on what to expect while working for BCAS. Obviously, I am disappointed you won’t be posting here anymore, but I am happy that you have found the balance you have been looking for.

    Again, thank you for your efforts and good luck

  6. Mokinator says:

    Hey Michelle,

    I’ve been a long-time lurker of your blog, and have checked back every once in a while in anticipation of new posts. I’ve a fairly similar background to you… Just completed my Kin degree at UBC the last year, and have been seriously contemplating becoming a paramedic as of late. It’s something I’ve always had in the back of my mind since I was younger, but felt somewhat apprehensive about given the state of the BCAS.

    I think this last post has really hit the nail on the head… You can have the best job in the world, but at the expense of what? Sometimes the sacrifices we make simply aren’t worth it, and it’s wonderful to see you have long-term in mind… Relationships, financial stability, and happiness trump all else at the end of the day. I think you’ll find in 10 years, this will have been the best decision you’ve ever made… And we both know come then, you’ll be ripping down the streets of Vancouver with lights and sirens, yelling at all the shitty drivers to get out of your way.

    I feel like I’ve used you in some respects, but its personal accounts like these that have really helped me decide how I want to play out my future. Your blog has been an absolute inspiration…I’ve shown it to a few close friends and said, “damn, doesn’t that sound like an awesome job to have?”. Even though it can be hard to pick up emotions over text, it wasn’t difficult to tell how much you love working as a medic. I say to myself, “that’s what I want in a job”. That alone has solidified paramedicine in my future; but in line with your last post, I’ve decided to settle for an EMR cert for now while I undertake further studies that will give me stability moving forward. It’s the hope that I’ll be able to at least swing casual employment with BCAS towards the end of my degree (and beyond) until I’ve enough seniority to turn paramedicine into a somewhat stable career.

    I just wanted to say, thank you. I hope all the happiness in the world finds its way to you… I don’t think there’s anyone more deserving.

    Take care,
    R

    • PocketMedic says:

      Wow thanks for such a wonderful comment. It was very moving. I’m glad my experiences were able to help you make the right choices in your life. Good luck with your goals and aspirations, Thank you.

    • PocketMedic says:

      Also wanted to mention EMR is a good choice and a good side job option while still going through school. Good luck! I hope to see you out in the streets one day as a colleague 🙂

  7. Janice says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I am a student from SFU in a course called Workplace Health. I’m wondering if it might be possible to incorporate some of your experiences and thoughts into an upcoming oral presentation about paramedics. My partner and I are supposed to only acquire information through interview-type communication. If you are interested, I think a lot of questions are answered in your blog posts, so I was wondering if there was any possibility that I can email you further details. Likely, I’d just send you the questions and you could just direct us to specific blog posts that you think would be most related, which would validate our communication process to acquire the information. Then you also don’t actually need to spend time in typing out answers since it’s on the blog already. Please let me know. If you’re not comfortable or not interested, that is completely fine too! I think you have an amazing blog that is super useful and helpful for a lot of people, and it’s also super cool to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a paramedic. 🙂

    Cheers,

    Janice

    • PocketMedic says:

      Hi Janice. I’d be happy to help, when is the deadline for your project?

      • Janice says:

        Hi Michelle,

        Thanks so much for the offer! My partner Brendan and I really appreciate it! Our actual presentation date is on the 30th, so although we are not in an immediate rush to receive answers, the sooner the better. If you think that this might still be doable, is there an email that I can use to send you the interview questions? However, if you think you are too pressed for time, and can’t realistically get back to us in time, that’s completely understandable. We were just looking into other options to gain information from multiple sources.

        Thanks again for your consideration!

        Janice

      • PocketMedic says:

        Hi Janice, my sincere apologies… I didn’t realize I didn’t provide you with my email and life got in the way (I don’t check this blog much anymore) . I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help, I hope your project still went well.

      • Janice says:

        Hi Michelle,

        No worries! I understand 🙂 Things worked out and we were able to do very well. Your blog still gave us a lot of insight and ideas for things to highlight in our presentation, so thank you!

        Hope things are well.

        Janice

  8. Oreo says:

    What a surprise! I have been reading your blog eversince I found interest in Paramedicine and I didn’t even realize that it was you! — We have volunteered together before.
    I really enjoy the chat that we had at Roger’s Arena. You have given me a lot of insight and compassion both in real life and in this blog, so thank you.
    I am finally starting my PCP class and I’m very excited for it. Hopefully, we will cross path again sometime in the future!

  9. Jared Rogers says:

    Best of luck on your journey Michelle — thanks so much for this epic post! 🙂

  10. A.J. says:

    I was browsing the status of the recent full-time BCAS posting and saw your name on there. Awesome! Congrats on finally getting some stable work. You should post a blog update about full-time life and specifically being an irreg and the… uh… “fun” that comes along with that. Next stop: Reg position!

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  • Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose. -Tom Krause
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