What I Learned During My First Shift In EMS

I’d seen Chicago Fire and Grey’s Anatomy. I knew what I was getting into on my first shift as an EMT. Right?

I showed up at 0530 — uniform flawless, hair in an ironically perfect messy bun, stethoscope draped ’round my neck.

An hour and twenty-seven minutes later my medic showed up, introduced himself, did a 20-second rig check, and mumbled to dispatch that we were in service.

I was ready to save anything that sneezed funny. (After all, uncontrollable sneezing could indicate a stroke!)

Spoiler alert: It’s not as glamorous as the TV shows make you believe.

We sat at our post for four hours listening to silence. My FTO had a book. I had been anticipating at least being able to save someone’s cat from a tree — not total mind numbing boredom.

Finally the tones dropped and we were off to the races with lights flashing and sirens blaring!

“Man down, unknown origins.”

As we bounced down the interstate I couldn’t believe my FTO was so chill about the whole thing. Two minutes later dispatch piped up again to let us know that fire was on scene and had cleared us.

Apparently someone fell asleep on a park bench and didn’t need the calvary to save them. So, I put away my hero cape and we went back to our post behind the abandoned bowling alley for several more hours.

That day I learned that the reality of EMS isn’t always delivering perfect twin babies while driving through an ice storm or heroically holding pressure on an arterial bleed while waiting for the chopper to land. It’s being referred to as the “ambulance driver” and doing 14 transfers in one day. It’s family members screaming at you to do more for their loved one when you know there is nothing left to do. It’s telling stories to scared kids and tucking in the blanket to keep the winter wind off someone else’s grandma. It’s walking into your worst nightmare and pretending you’ve seen worse. It’s hours of boredom punctuated by moments of pure adrenaline.

So, if you are getting ready for your first shift as an EMT, or if you’re a veteran with a newbie joining your crew, remember that it isn’t all about hero status. It’s about providing the best care, being there for your patients on the worst day of their life, and supporting the rest of your EMS family through the good calls, the bad calls, and the calls that would never make it into your favorite medical drama.