While at the eye doctor in Savannah the other day, I had an interesting experience. Â I had to leave from work to go to my appointment, so I was in uniform. Â While standing at the desk to check out, a woman almost directly behind me became faint. Â She slumped into a chair as I turned around to see what the commotion was, and she looked up at me, weakly sayingÂ she was fine. Â The receptionist called 9-1-1 as I knelt next to her. Over 25 years ofÂ paramedic experienceÂ hasn’t left me quite yet, and I remembered to stayÂ far enough away to have an escape in the event of vomiting.
She was dressed in a hospital robe (my doctor is conveniently located directly next door to the regional trauma center) and didn’t look very healthy, likeÂ that look people get when they have been sick for a few days too long. I identified myselfÂ as a firefighter from Hilton Head Island; SavannahÂ isn’t in my state, much less my jurisdiction. I don’tÂ have anything resembling a jump bag in my car, not that it was close by anyway. Â And since I’m in administration these days, I don’t even carry gloves on my person (in the car also). Â You know how this works; not having anything I really needed, I kept up a distracting conversation with her and got medical history, talked about her children and any other subject,Â stalling while hoping the medic crew isn’t far away. Â Fortunately, they weren’t, and also fortunately, she really wasn’t even all that acutely sick and looked fine by their arrival.
Unfortunately, since the last week of July I have been more and moreÂ daily engaged with operational planning over the Ebola issue. On my way back to work, it got me thinking about the woman I just encountered, and my total lack of preparation. Â While I was in uniform, I haveÂ no legal duty to act. Â I wasn’t in my state and honestly, I’m not even a paramedic any more. Â My legal duty aside, though, IÂ would never avoidÂ helping another person. In uniformÂ or not, on-duty or off-duty, I take my oath seriously and I always offer whatever help I can, at least to the extent of not interfering with the locals when they are doing their job. Â But in this case, it was just me and her and a bunch of worried looking bystanders.
And I know why it was just me and her and everyone else keeping their distance.
I was in the fire service during the AIDS crisis. I remember talk about wearing Level A and people withholding treatment. Â I also remember the scapegoating that went on. Â It is easy to dehumanize a subset of individuals when you are frightened and don’t have all the answers. I also remember the bungling that went on when our “leaders” were more worried about pointing fingers and blaming others than finding solutions and fixing problems. Â Its not much different these days, trust me. Â When I hear talk from individuals, or read in the newspaper or see on TV that individuals are considering withholding treatment from those who have Ebola, or that it “isn’t our problem”, I wonder if they really do pray to the same God that I pray to. Â You know, the one who sent His Son to help even the least of us, even the lepers?
And for those of you with “No Fear”, who claim that anyone who isn’t willing to charge into a building to save another is a sissy, regardless of consideration for the fact that either the conditions aren’t there to support life, or that it might not be likely anyone is in there anyway; I’m wondering if you are going to be just as willing to lay down your life for an Ebola patient? Â Are you willing to do something that isn’t so glamorous as hanging off the side of a building or charging into the smoke? Like clean up their vomit, or hold their hand, or help with their treatment?
While there are those who want to talk about their bravery or their unwillingness to help another, there are others who care to just do the job because it is our job. Â It is our job to be there for people, whatever the issue, to help them in their time of need. Â It doesn’t make sense to do this without protecting ourselves or being smart about minimizing risk, as we have loved ones who depend on us and more in the community that we have to share our talent with. Â But to those who claim this isn’t our problem, and to those who say “let them die”, I’m asking you if you really thought about that before you said it? Â What if that was your daughter or your mother dying? Â And for those who don’t see the corollary between making risk/benefit analysis and usingÂ goodÂ judgement so we don’t die or get injured unnecessarily, I ask if that bravery is equally present when you plan on facing a disease that will have you bleeding from places you shouldn’t be bleeding from.
If you are going to do anything in this life, and do it well, you should do it with a passion. Â You should ask yourself if you are willing to put the stupidity down for a moment, however, and when you are ripping off some anecdote about how brave you are, or proudÂ because of how resilient you are, remember that we are gifted with the ability to improve the lives of others. Â And we are also responsible for extending our careers long enough to help others and to be there for the rest of the team. Â Quiet professionalism is what people admire more than all the ridiculous talk. Â Instead of running your mouths, perhaps you should just shut them and put your shoulder to the load. Â The rest of us can use the help.
Be safe and be compassionate. Â They really can exist hand in hand.