A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #81 Intersections
I miss the intersections.
On the job, when we arrived at an intersection there were mere seconds to survey the situation and decide whether or not to proceed.
“Clear right,” said my partner.
“Clear left,” I said to myself.
And then we were through the intersection and continuing on our journey. The flashing lights and the siren were frequent companions but not always. Often it was the silence of night or an immersive sound-muting blanket of snow or a twilight dusting of mid-summer humidity that hung fast to our rig as we rolled down the road.
Life as a paramedic presents itself as a series of intersections.
One of my mentors had told me that if you were going to be an EMS officer you had to be able to constantly find a way to be a useful navigator – that it wasn’t going to be enough to merely announce to an on-scene paramedic that he or she wasn’t doing CPR on the right side of the body.
Paramedic training involves an unimaginable number of protocols designed to create predictable algorithms for every possible emergent scenario you might encounter in the emergency medical atlas that will become your career.
The planned-for decision trees are all dependent on the successful negotiation of a series of intersections. Life, death and human beings are each capable of adding or deleting choices and possible pathways just as you enter the crossroads. EMS always finds a way to deliver a surprise.
When I went through an emergency driving course, my instructor’s mantra was ‘Think on your seat and always leave yourself an out.” A different path. The route less taken. One of the myriad of choices not covered in the protocol.
Years later as part of a team designing an immersive simulator to be used to put emergency leaders through a series of worst-case scenarios, I remember the challenges faced by our team as we tried to predict all the possible decision paths that would be taken by the participants.
Of course, every time the simulator ran, a real human being in the loop added yet another element of what-if that immediately altered the landscape and the corresponding intersections. Trying to predict outcomes became a guessing game and even after several dozen run-throughs, there were still surprises.
Intersections. No certain path between here and there. Always enough variables in play to make it interesting.
Yesterday, I arrived at a crossroads – a four-corners – out here in the country.
I looked left. Nothing.
I looked right. Clear sailing.
I looked in the rearview mirror and could just barely make out a family of deer crossing the road behind me.
I looked ahead. The road disappeared into the low-hanging fog and mist.
I found myself mesmerized by the scenery and by the luxury of time to take it all in.
Be well. Practice big medicine.