I can remember the exact moment that I knew I needed to work in EMS. The precise moment. The moment that my son was choking in front of me. The moment that I realized I had no idea how to help him. The fire fighters that came to Nick’s rescue inspired me with their professional nature, their ability to treat him and calm both of us down… I wanted to be the calm in the proverbial storm. I didn’t want to ever experience the feeling of terror and helplessness that I felt that night when I couldn’t help my own son clear his airway.
Fast forward a few years later – I was working as an EMT. I loved everything about it, and I did my job well. But I knew that there was still more that I could do to better serve my patients. I was never going to be satisfied working as an EMT when there were higher levels of certification in EMS. It’s just not how I function.
Seven years later and I’m now working as a paramedic. I’ve experienced more in the last two years than I have in the five years prior. I still battle nerves on occasion, and there are runs that have reduced me to tears afterwards, but I think for the most part I’m a pretty collected provider. I work with EMS students at the Basic, Intermediate and Paramedic level at the local university in a lab setting, which I enjoy to the point of distraction. They’re an amazing bunch, and I’m honored that I’m allowed to be a part of their education. I read EMS articles on current treatments and upcoming changes. I read medical studies, hell, I still go back from time to time and skim through my text books. I attend CE’s locally and at the national level at the different conferences. It can only make me a better provider, right?
I’ve come a long way. Those who know me best will vouch for that. But I’m still learning, and I probably will never stop learning. There are those you can help. There are those that you want to help, but can’t.
I don’t remember what I was doing when I first heard that Little Red was in trouble. Probably playing some silly Facebook game or watching Grey’s Anatomy or some other mindless activity. I heard from family that she had been hospitalized for threatening to kill herself. They were adjusting her meds and she’d be fine, I was told. I was confident that the medical team working with her would do everything that they could to keep her safe and get her mind back to where it was supposed to be. They’d fix what was wrong, because that’s what we do.
It seemed like she was back to her old self. She went back to school to be a Pharmacist. She continued working towards her black belt. She worked at an arts and crafts store. She had a boyfriend and friends. My kids bought her a Hello Kitty from Build-a-Bear for Christmas. She loved it, and slept with it every night, she told them. She would talk to Nick on Facebook about video games and she’d ask about how he was doing in school. Little Red (she had long curly ginger hair) was the coolest Aunt to them, showering them with attention and love during the brief time she would be able to visit with them every year.
I really thought things were improving for her. Until I realized they weren’t.
I found myself talking to her one night and realizing that she was alone in a house and intending to kill herself. It was one of the most terrifying conversations I’ve ever had, bar none, trying to convince someone I adore to go to the hospital from 1200 miles away. It might as well been 12,000 miles. I talk people into going to the hospital all the time when they don’t want to go (but need to). I didn’t think for a second that I couldn’t do the same with her. When simply stating the obvious didn’t work, I began to beg. I begged her to think of everything that she had to live for. She had everything going for her, she was so smart, so close to finishing her degree, so close to getting her black belt. She lived in a beautiful area, in a nice home… She was active in her church. She had so many people who loved her!
I tried logic. I told her that her system was screwed up because of the meds she was on and that if we could just get her to hold it together and get to the hospital that they could fix it. She was studying medicine, she’d get it, I thought. They would fix it. They would balance things out. They would make her better. They would help her feel like herself as opposed to someone without the will to live, barely getting by.
I tried guilt. I begged her to think of her family. Her mother and father, her grandparents, her extended family. Think of her older brother who was standing next to me crying so hard that he could barely breathe. I’ve known that man for 13 years and he’s one of the strongest men I know. I’ve never seen him reduced to hysterical sobbing. I begged her to think of her niece and nephew who were upstairs sleeping. What would they do? How would they react? They adored her, she’d break their hearts. I was pulling out everything I could think of, I was desperate.
I offered bribes. I begged, I cried with her, I let her talk. We cried some more. I listened some more. She talked to me until her parents could get to the house and take her to the hospital.
I don’t think I was wake for five more minutes after I knew she was safe. I passed out that night from sheer exhaustion. The next day, my eyes were swollen from the amount of crying I had done. I was confident that she would be okay. She was in safe hands.
A month later I received a phone call from Red’s mom. There was no cry for help this time. No begging. No facebook threats. Nothing. She had ingested something. The ER wasn’t sure what it was, possibly antifreeze. Whatever it was, she took enough of it do some serious damage.
“What are they telling you,” I asked.
“Not much. She’s on dialysis. She’s intubated. Sedated. What do you think?”
Her kidneys are shutting down, if they can reverse it with dialysis, which I doubt, she’ll still have to deal with a lengthy hospital stay, weaning off of the ventilator, possible pneumonia, possible MRSA or some other lovely infection, and God knows what permanent damage was done…
I didn’t say any of that. I just couldn’t.
“Red’s in a good hospital with an excellent staff. It sounds like they’re doing everything that they can for her. She has a rough road ahead of her, but she’s young and strong. You call me if there’s anything I can do, anything. Okay? I don’t care what time it is. Call me.” I hadn’t ended that phone call thirty seconds before I started calling my EMS friends to find out if there was something out there that people were taking that reacted like antifreeze. I was so freaking clueless. Gutless. I knew what was coming. I was just reaching for anything that could give me some hope for her.
Red’s mom promised that she would call if she needed to, and she did. She called a few more times to ask for clarification on a few things that were going on. For a day or two it looked like Little Red was improving. The hospital tried to extubate her and for a brief time she was able to communicate with her parents.
For the first time in four days I had hope. I even told my little ones that she was improving. All they knew was that their aunt was very sick and in the hospital and that both mom and dad had cried quite a bit that week. I just didn’t think that they were ready at the ages of 6 and 11 to deal with suicide. I’m 35 years old, and I know I wasn’t ready to deal with it. Not even with the field I work in. Not when it’s someone you love. Nothing prepares you for this.
Red’s Mother would call one more time on day five. This time she wasn’t able to talk. The only sound that came from my phone was a cry, a shriek… A guttural moan that I’ve heard so many times but still kicks me in the stomach every time. That cry that a parent does when they realize that their child is dead. The cry that just twists you up from the inside and sucks the air out of you. I knew instantly that Red, the little girl who I tried so desperately to impress when I was dating her brother was gone. The teenager who was so excited to show me her high school ring. The first sister I ever claimed. The girl from the sticks who was almost a foot shorter than I but who could still kick my ass. The girl who I had so much respect for, who I had admired so much… The tiny girl who impacted so may lives. I’m not even sure she ever realized who infectious her smile was or how much people just loved to be around her. She wasn’t here. I fight with my religious beliefs on a daily basis, but that day more than any other that I can remember, I truly hoped that there was a heaven, and that she was there, finally at peace.
The loss. The loss was just… There were no words. I wasn’t able to attend the funeral, but I’ve seen the video, and it was heart wrenching. I watched, sitting at my computer as her Sensei sobbed while presenting Red’s black belt to her parents. I watched as those from her Tai Kwon Do classes bowed before her remains and performed every move that she was taught in her training, from the beginning until the end. Even after the accident that almost took her life a little over a year ago. She worked harder than most of us to attain to what so many of us take for granted. Just being healthy.
Dawn, we miss you. We will never forget you. You were one of the toughest chicks that I had the honor of knowing. You’ve taught me more than you know, and I know that you’ve made me a better person, a better friend, a better paramedic. And I thank you for that. I’m better for knowing you and having you in my life.
Your big sister from Ohio