I wasn’t the best student throughout school, and my graduation wasn’t a sure thing until the last day of senior year. I felt like an inmate let free for the first time and never considered college an option. Throughout highschool I washed dishes and prepped food for local eateries, and that career defined most of my twenties. At 27 I was diagnosed with tendonitis in both of my forearms and was told my only option was to pursue a new career. At first I was very upset; my personal identity was tied up in the only work I knew how to do. My criteria for a new career held that it couldn’t involve “real” education and had to maintain my blue collar identity. Almost at random I ended up in a program that would transform me into a licensed Emergency Medical Technician, Basic in just two months. I felt embarrassed at even this modest level of training, consistently downplaying the education necessary to successfully pass the national test and operate as a successful EMT-B. When telling friends and family about this new path I would refer to class as “lights and sirens” school and emphasise my desire to run into burning buildings; to run towards what made others run away.
I was in fear of the textbook I was shown, and asked for my copy three months before class started. I cross referenced what I read with youtube videos and treated my wife’s fellow nursing school students as a sort of study group for my own questions. By the first day of class I had finished the book and still couldn’t shake my nerves. I arrived in class and kept to myself trying not to be seen, much less spoken to. The conversations in the room centered around future goals of the students; future physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses. I felt like the least ambitious or qualified individual in the room as well as one of the oldest. By the time my instructor introduced himself by saying “I hope nobody’s here to make decent money, and I hope you all realise EMT-B is a stepping stone at best” I was convinced I had made a mistake.
By the end of the first week we had already taken two written test and ran through two scenarios, as well as qualified CPR for Professionals through the American Red Cross. At this point I was asked if I would be interested in being a squad leader, making me responsible for our jump bag, mannequins and other training equipment, as well as a first line tutor for those in my squad. When I surprised at his request, and he explained I had the highest test scores, best work in the scenarios and good class participation. All compliments I had almost never heard throughout my life. The aspiring physicians and nursing students with great study habits were asking me for advice on patient assessments and interventions.
By the end of the program I had my pick of internships and had little trouble finding work with multiple letters of recommendation. I settled into this new routine and thought about returning to my former school’s paramedic program. I was still sure my future laid outside traditional education, and that transporting the sick and injured was the most that could be asked of me.
July 4th 2014 my life got turned upside down in a way that makes tendonitis and leaving kitchens look like nothing. A few days before my wife had visited an ER and was told she was miscarrying. She was told that, despite the pain, this would pass on its own and to rest. On the morning of July 4th I tried to get her out of bed, and spotted poor skin signs. A basic assessment told me she was in bad shape, I didn’t think she could last another hour. With the help of my room mate we got her in the car and I raced her to the closest ER. My assessment with one more hour was far too generous; the attending physician said she had mere minutes to get into an operating room and even then the odds were against us.
Words will fail to describe the emotions I experienced, they can only be explained as life changing. Anger at myself for letting her “tough it out” the night before, for not doing the job for her that I do for dozens every day. Frustration that my training being is so rudimentary I was a spectator in her care. Despair that my partner for ten years and a half years was going to be gone from my life. Terror I was going to have to explain all this to her family.
Over the next five days I focused entirely on her care, utilizing everything I’d been taught and using the internet to learn everything I didn’t as fast as I could, channeling the most stress and fear I’ve ever felt in my life into productivity. Without the training and education I had received I wouldn’t have had any idea on how to follow along with the care plan. Without the experience of extremely stressful and upsetting ambulance calls I wouldn't have been able to focus through my anxieties, and channel them into productivity.
She recovered from an ectopic pregnancy and the resulting emergency surgery to stop the internal bleeding it caused. It took a few months for me to feel normal again, and almost a year after this incident to realize some of its positive attributes to my life. I realize I liked learning more about the human body and our ability to heal with science. I also never stopped feeling frustrated that my only skill was to be an advocate for her, and not central to her healing.
Which leads me to where I am today, here at Los Medanos ready to begin the education I wrote off so long ago. Through my EMT-B school I realised I can actually learn from books, that my experience in high school has a lot more to do with my living situation and my maturity at that time than any innate ability or lack thereof. And I realised a genuine interest in medicine, much more than just lights and sirens. I want to be the person with the answers, I want to be the kind of person who saved my wife’s life that day.