Being in EMS for about 3.5 years, I found myself in my first real rut of burnout this past December. I’ve
found that in the midst of chaos, human nature urges you to seek order, like illogical patterns of events.
Well, after a series of the types of calls that linger in your subconscious a bit too much, I began to fear
my Saturday shifts. Every other day of the week, I knew I could handle any situation, but on Saturday,
DEATH WAS AT MY FINGERTIPS. IDK maybe I watch too many movies. It wasn’t horrifically unfounded,
though. I know a lot of people believe they’re a black cloud, so let me just define what my shit magnet-
ery has included in my 2 years of paramedicine:
 About a dozen intubations, almost exclusively as medical arrests
 1 RSI
 2 needle decompressions
 Sending a trauma off on a helicopter
 4 transcutaneous pacings
 Every drug in the box except Adenosine (maybe someday…)
 A traction splint! (which after applying, I promptly split my pants right down the butt seam)
 And of course, a good old surgical cric which was, indeed, the most terrified I’ve ever been in my
damn life.
That’s the highlight reel; of course, a million other more mundane or less dramatic calls have crossed my
MDT, but at least you know where I’m coming from. For the most part, especially with my regular
partners, I took it all in stride. I am notorious for being happy. Like seriously, I have been accused of
some insane stuff just because people can’t believe I’m a peppy person in EMS. You’d be amazed how
much you can either brighten someone’s day or really piss somebody off just by having a positive
attitude.
But in December, things started changing. Instead of singing the Narwhal Song between calls,
we were ranting about systemic problems in EMS. About physical abuse from patients. About getting
publicly disrespected by “professional” physicians while giving urgent reports. About how draining it was
to go on maybe the biggest call of your career and then being rushed out from your decon to pick up the
drunk regular down the street. As a result, I lost my outlet and lost my vision. I started freezing on calls,
big calls. My partner was having to dig me out of situations he’s seen me handle before with my eyes
closed, pigtails in my hair, and smile on my face. He confronted me about it, and I remember the tears of
frustration and disappointment, feeling like I failed myself, my partner, and my patients. I didn’t know
how to shake it. The bad calls just weren’t fun anymore. I was taking souls home with me at the end of
my shift. I stopped journaling about calls, going to run reviews; I didn’t want to spend another extra
minute on my job that I didn’t have to, which was pretty ironic because in doing this, I became a
repeating broken record dwelling on my negativity instead of just freaking dealing with the problem. I
remember thinking, “This is why this job isn’t for people like you. How could you ever think you could
possibly do this?” It sucked. I’m not gonna lie. And if you’re in this spot right now, I feel you; honestly,
probably every single paramedic feels you.
What’s important is how you get out. Whether you decide it’s finally time for a complete career change
so you can finally open up that dog rescue you’ve always dreamed of or the common “stay in healthcare
but leave the road” move or figuring out a way to break your routine of bologna. Discerning that is your
only task once you realize you are in this crappy predicament. Everyone’s solution is different. I started
throwing out feelers in all 3 categories hoping for some magical neon sign to descend upon me. With
some luck and some great mentors, I found my recipe.
It helped that this dang eager paramedic student rolled up wanting to do third-rides with us (hey, girl. I
know you’re reading this). She was solid. She knew her book, was kind of hard on herself, welcomed
feedback, and wanted to learn past the minimum. More importantly, she fit in great on the bus. She
knew when to turn the music up and laugh with us, knew when to ask questions, knew when to wave a
white flag. She was amped after certain calls we’d grown numb to. She helped make it fun again. We
were playing Heads Up at post after debriefing from calls. We started reviving our nightshift “Pancakes
and Wine” time at my place which consequently brought back the camaraderie. We aired out elements
of calls; we supported one another. Saturdays stopped being so damn scary.
Since then, I’ve reminded myself of how freaking cool EMS is. Let’s first explore the purely, well,
insensitive parts: it’s fast, loud, adrenaline-pumping, bloody, intense, downright fun, challenging; the
skills, the mental self-high fives after something insane you pulled off. Those are the parts that first
piqued your interest. Now, for the deeper reasons, why you’ve stayed…the humanity, training so hard
so you can be honest when you say “we did everything we could”, the trust between partners and other
crews you know the rest of the world will never be able to feel, people’s homes-the good, the bad, and
the hoardy, the chronic patients you know well enough now that they ask about your family when you
get there, the hope that maybe one of your patients fighting addiction is affected by your
encouragement, knowing that your face will forever be tattooed on families’ memories as the face that
delivered the news that changed their lives, explaining procedures and medications in simple English
after patients were left in the dark by complex and cold medical terminology, the confidence to take
control of an absolute literal disaster no matter your personal life, your background, your degree (or lack
thereof). All of us in EMS are super freaking weird, let’s just say it. We are drawn to serve, to help, to
override our natural instincts in many ways. EMS is a common string that binds a diverse community of
providers, and as long as we wear those damn beautiful pants, we are connected. And we can’t ever let
each other forget how freaking wild and badass this job. That belief is at the center of defeating that
pesky burnout rut. Go ahead, “woop” those sirens a little extra for me tonight. Live a little.
Natalie Zink
Natalie is a paramedic in Atlanta, GA who is passionate about education, advocacy, and all things Wonder Woman. Before moving back home to the sunny South, she worked out of Ann Arbor, MI where she got a degree from the University of Michigan. Her dog Parker is her pride and joy, and she is so excited to be contributing to a platform dedicated to educating and empowering others!
Original author: Natalie Zink