Paramedic: live responsibly, but fully

by Erica Tiangco

It’s never too late to follow your dreams according to veteran Newmarket paramedic, Steve Darling.  After serving many years in the medical field while impacting the lives of many and even saving a few from death, Darling admits that he still wants more.

A love for people and the outdoors, while being able to work independently is what first attracted Darling to the medical field almost 30 years ago. He admits that while he’s fortunate to have attained a great career, he has one big regret: high school.

“I didn’t try hard enough,” he told students at Centennial College Wednesday.  “I look at my colleagues as physicians as nurses.  With a little bit of effort, I certainly could have done that.”

Now, as a deputy chief of operations for the York Region EMS, Darling, 48, says that with hard work, education and focus, any career is possible.  He admits that if he wasn’t in paramedics, he would love to be a physician’s assistant, and despite his age, he’s hopeful of achieving it.

” Just to be able to do a little bit more…. It’s never too late,” he said.

Darling recalled his first experience on the job, which, to this day, remains his most traumatizing.  He was sent to a motorcycle accident on the 404 Highway in Toronto, alone, only three weeks after completing his training. The paramedic who was supposed to work with him had called in sick. The experience left Darling shaking, feeling “mortified”, until backup arrived. It taught him an invaluable lesson.

” When you’re on the scene and doing these types of jobs, you’re  ‘It’.  If you don’t hold it together, the patient doesn’t stand a chance,” he said.

Since that time,  Darling has discovered how the paramedic field offers something few other careers can.  He says the sense of closeness he experiences with patients during a crisis, is one of the most rewarding parts of being a paramedic.

“That is the biggest privilege, coming in and sharing very intimate moments with people.  It’s not to be taken lightly.”

And while he rarely maintains close ties to particular patients after a call, Darling deeply appreciated the response from families to his act of kindness carried out when he was working full time as an air ambulance paramedic. He and his partner saw the trauma and heartache many parents experienced when they weren’t permitted to accompany a gravely sick child on the helicopter flight to a hospital hours away. Often, by the time the family arrived at the hospital by car, the patient had died.

“We decided that ‘No way, we’re taking the parents with us all the time.’  It doesn’t matter how critical that person is, they’re the hand holder. They’ve [parents] reflected to us many times, ‘Thank you so much. I was there to say goodbye,’” he recalled.

Describing his profession as the first contact for people with the medical emergency system, Darling has seen many tragic deaths, including one week years ago that saw six babies die. Unlike the television shows where paramedics rescue two or three people every night, Darling says he personally has saved the lives of just five patients in nearly three decades on the job. It’s against this backdrop that the veteran paramedic and medical expert offers  some invaluable advice for students on how to avoid ending up inside one of his ambulances.

“Be responsible. It’s not just you that you’re responsible for.  You can hurt others, physically or emotionally,” he said.

“Don’t be selfish, but at the same time, enjoy it because you never know what’s going to come to an end.”