Paramedics: invited to people’s most intimate moments

by Kayla Kreutzberg


            Shaking, profusely sweating, hardly being able to talk. This is what Steve Darling experienced during his first paramedic call in 1983.

Darling, EMS Deputy Chief of Operations for the Regional Municipality of York, had finished his training three weeks earlier, and, 21 at the time, was sent out  to his first call without a partner.

“[When] you don’t have a partner, for the person starting it’s very nervous,” Darling said. “I’m alone, they said “You’re It.’”

Darling had no partner because there wasn’t one booked for that shift, which is a common thing that occurs, he said in an interview April 6 at Centennial College’s journalism program.

He was stationed near Fairview Mall and the call was on Highway 404, where a motorcyclist had lost control and ended up in the guardrail.

The motorcyclist didn’t make it.

“[I felt] mortified, absolutely,” Darling said, about the whole experience. “I never expected that type of thing, those types of emotions when you’re on the scene when you’re doing those types of calls. If you don’t hold it together, the patient doesn’t stand a chance.”

Darling, 48, explained that he quickly learned a lesson he’s never forgotten: when dealing with a serious call one needs to put their emotions aside, and if they are having trouble with it, they need to go into automatic mode and rely on their training.

“If you break down, you are letting the patient down, you are letting yourself down, you are letting your whole career and […] the whole EMS culture down,” he said. “You are paid to do the job, so do the job and then deal with it [stress] after.”
And while Darling has not had trouble coping since that incident, after nearly three decades in the field, he says sheer experience sometimes can help put things in perspective for a paramedic.

“Everybody’s human, everybody can deal with it [calls] in different ways, it depends what you bring, what your background is […], what kind of life experience you have already had, and what you can fall back on,” he  said.

When he first started in the job, Darling did not have the background life experience to fall back on.

He came right out of high school trained as a lifeguard but didn’t have the marks for university. Darling got involved with paramedics because one of his friends was looking into the program and suggested it.

Darling grew up in the Finch and Bathurst suburbs.

“It was quite an eye opener to go into downtown Toronto, in the inner city and see what life was really about,” he said.

Reflecting back on his first call, Darling understands that there were things that he could have done better, but part of being a paramedic is looking back on your calls and reevaluating your actions. This is what he says helps paramedics deal, as humans, with the countless horrific cases they see at work.

“One week we had six babies die,” he said. “You accept that. You analyze each of those calls and you say, ‘Bad things happen to good people.’ ”

There are various ways paramedics are taught to escape the stress of the job. Some of these include talking to your peers, balancing your family life, eating healthy and partaking in daily fitness activities.

Aside from the encounters of stress and bad situations, Darling makes it clear that there are rewards to the job.

“[The] biggest privilege is coming in and sharing very intimate moments with people,” he explained, pointing out   unexpected home births as one example.

So after many years of being the first responder to a medical emergency, Darling now has his sights set on moving up higher in the health care chain of command: going to medical school. It’s so he’ll be able to carry out a much broader ranger of life saving procedures then what paramedics are now legally permitted to do.

“Paramedics is a very admirable job and I don’t regret that, but I look at physicians and now I have the confidence […] I could of done that type of thing,” Darling said.

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