We NEVER get used to it

Yesterday, some of my coworkers responded to a single car accident in Raleigh. This vehicle was occupied by three individuals, 2 women and a 10-month old baby. From the wreck came a single fatality: the baby.

I caught the news story online (seen here) while I was on shift. I heard the call go out and saw the comments noted within the call:

INITIAL: Vehicle overturned, rolled several times, 2 people in vehicle, both occupants pinned. UPDATE: There is a baby in the car, baby is missing, unable to locate baby, baby is 10 months old. (After 20 or so minutes…) UPDATE: Confirmed fatality.

Because I was relatively bored (and curious), after finding the news story, I scrolled down to find what the general public had said in the “comments” section. To say the least, I was appalled at one particular comment. What actually caught my eye was someone replying to the particular comment that I was upset with…but let me start with the original comment that got this whole thing going.

Comment 1 (which is no longer there): “oh my god. I’m sure Ems, and the mother will need serious counseling after that horrible scene. what a nightmare….”

Comment 2: “Half Wrong.EMS are trained and see these tragic scenes everyday.Just another day in the neighborhood.”

Comment 3: “My husband was and my sons currently are first responders … they NEVER get used to such tragedy. This is heartbreaking for all involved.”

The second comment is where I had my issue. Some people can be so ignorant. It is not “just another day in the neighborhood” any day in this line of work. What we do each day changes just as much as the wind changes directions. We come into work each day not knowing what we will see or have to do. Every day is something different. Yes, we know that we will provide some kind of medical treatment…but what kind of treatment for what kind of ailment…we have NO idea. One day we may work at a structure fire providing rehab to the fire fighters and have a patient with abdominal pain. The next, we may have a patient severely burned in a pig cooker explosion, be dispatched to a shooting where someone is missing half of their head and have a patient in respiratory distress who quits breathing on you.

True, we understand that there are tragic things that happen. We understand that as emergency care providers, we must first provide the care…and then we can take a moment for ourselves. We have seen a lot of gruesome and horrific things but it’s not something you get used to. It affects you, whether or not you admit it. Some people internalize it (not recommended…but it’s what I generally do). Some people have a public breakdown. And some people deal with it in some way that fits between the two extremes.

It is not simply another day in the neighborhood when someone dies, especially a child. An adult’s death can generally be rationalized in our minds to say that they had a chance to live and experience life. Maybe it wasn’t “their time” (according to our standards, anyway) to go but they had an opportunity to really live. The death of a child, however, is difficult to rationalize in any way. As far as we are concerned, they were taken long before their time was up. They never had a chance to really enjoy life and experience all it has to offer. It is difficult for all of us who respond to something such as that. No amount of “training” (or whatever people think it is that we get) can prepare you for that.

The day we stop being affected by tragedy such as this is the day we need to get out of our profession. That is the day that we have become hardened complacent in our job, rendering us useless for compassion.