Wednesday, August 01, 2007

One Of My Own

Many of those in the medical field will tell you that one of the most difficult aspects of any emergency response or medical line of work is to separate one's own emotions from the patient and the situation at hand. It is often a challenge to remain calm during an incident, especially when the patient is extremely ill, badly hurt, screaming and crying, or when children are involved. I have experienced all of these in my few years of volunteer work, and over time, have built up a reasonable balance of empathy and self-protection. But to this day, there is one situation I have not yet completely mastered: The friend or colleague in distress.

Yesterday, it was my coworker, a very nice lady that I talk to on a regular basis. While our job paths do not intersect, we relate to each other on a personal level, sharing stories about our lives and families. And when she came to me saying she "didn't feel well", and her left arm was feeling rather numb, and she was having a bit of trouble breathing.... I had to call in the cavalry.

Women, when experiencing cardiac events, often present with very different symptoms than men. In many cases, they do not experience the telltale radiating chest pains that men do. And of course, the #1 symptom of any heart attack is denial, which my lovely coworker was in, full-force.

She said she felt a little better after putting her head down as I'd asked her to do. She didn't want to make a big deal out of it. She didn't want all sorts of people around her desk. I compromised by bringing her to a conference room away from the office, but very strongly recommended that she allow the Fire Department to evaluate her and make a recommendation.

This was my friend. This was someone I personally know and care about, and here she was, at the other end of my stethoscope. While I was assessing her and gathering facts, I was my normal EMT self, composed and professional. But when they loaded her on the gurney for transport to the hospital, a wave of emotions flooded over me.

What if she really was having a heart attack ? What if something was seriously wrong with her ? What if.. what if.. all the worst possible scenarios ran through my mind. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't control them. I had to take a break and compose myself in a conference room. After a phone call to Danny, my very best support system and confidant, I returned to work.

My coworker's medical evaluation is not yet complete. She is back at work today, however the hospital highly recommended she follow up with her doctor. Although they did not find anything life-threatening last night, they said that she needs follow-up care to ensure that nothing is truly wrong.

She was back at work today, tired, but otherwise fine. I know that I did the right thing by calling out the ambulance, but I must admit that I was scared to death.

I am certain that other emergency responders experience what I did; the fear of what might be wrong, the dread of waiting for what seems like an eternity to find out, the anxiety of facing your own mortality and that of someone in your inner circle of friends, family and acquaintances. I can comfort myself in the fact that I did all that I could to help her, but that does not take away the fear of the unknown.

Thankfully, this time, the prognosis is cautiously good. I cannot say how I would react if it were not.


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