A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #82 Advice for the ages
Early in my career as a paramedic, I was lucky enough to work with the late great Gil H. – one of the last of the previous generation of gentleman medics.
Gil had started working on the rigs in the scary days of load & go when knowing that the sticky-side of the band-aid went on the patient was about all you needed to start a career as an ‘ambulance man.’
He had survived those wild days and had transitioned into the role of providing eminence grise to a bunch of young cowboy paramedics fresh out of school and aiming to mix things up on the streets. Gil was unflappable. He was a true gentleman and was wonderful with patients and with his younger colleagues.
There was a great warmth about him and when you worked with him you couldn’t help but find yourself in a better mood than when you started the shift.
Gil provided me with a piece of advice that has endured through the decades since he and I worked the streets together.
During the course of one shift he turned down the radio and said in a low conspiratorial tone. “Do you want to know the secret of a long career in EMS?”
“Now this might seem self-evident but if there’s just one piece of advice I could impart upon you, Hal, it’s… don’t be a prick.”
I laughed. He didn’t.
“I’m serious. Trust me when I tell you this, Hal. Several of the people you trust most right now will turn on you and the others given half a chance to advance their careers. And once they make that move they’ll do everything they can to protect their turf. And if that means climbing to the top on a ladder built of bayonets stuck in the backs of their closest friends, they’ll have no problem with that – just so long as they can get ahead.
“The real challenge is to stay true to your own path and never give in to the temptation to be a self-centered prick. Be gracious, be gentle, be honest and remember to smile every single chance you can. Treat your colleagues as if they were your patients and treat your patients as if they were your family. ”
I didn’t laugh. I had already experienced the first in a series of soul sell-outs by members of our class of paramedics. It was one of many cold calculated leaps of lack of faith from roots in the streets to the upper branches of the management tree.
“It’s just business,” one member of our band of brothers had said to me after severing our friendship ties in favour of hanging out with his new friends with collar iron and stripes on their sleeves. “I hope there are no hard feelings.”
“What if there are?” I had asked.
“Are you serious? Friendships will always take second or third place to being able to advance my career. You are so damned naïve, Hal.”
I guess I was – and still am. An eternal optimist I am always expecting and quietly hoping to witness the best in people. Despite occasional journeys to the well of disillusionment I am often rewarded for my faith in my fellow human beings.
I find it fascinating that the two longest held pieces of advice bestowed upon me have a common theme: “Treat your colleagues as if they were your patients and treat your patients as if they were your family. ”
Neither Barry nor Gil had enough time on this planet to build further on their respective foundations of white glove EMS. They each died too soon. Barry when his heart gave out and Gil after cancer came calling. However, their words have found homes in the hearts and souls of successive generations of paramedics who continue to make a difference on the streets.
Be well. Practice big medicine.