A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #96 End of shift
Last weekend I had the privilege of meeting a brother medic/firefighter who has been on one helluva long godawful ride that has transcended hundreds of shifts and a large chunk of his life. The trauma Al experienced occurred in quote, real life, unquote and will stay with him forever.
He lost a young daughter to what should have been a routine illness. An illness that is so normal that spending time slathered in calamine lotion is considered to be a rite of passage for elementary-school-aged children.
He was married, once, however the loss of their daughter set the marriage adrift on turbulent seas. He is the proud father of a daughter now entering university.
And he is an extraordinarily effective spokesperson for why we all need to confront mental health and get our collective heads around PTSD and the horrendous impacts wrought on living in the aftermath of tragedy. When Al speaks he does so from the heart with all the raw emotion of someone still finding his way around a forever scarred emotional landscape.
It is difficult to listen to his story but impossible to walk away. Al’s pain and anger have transitioned to sadness and a pervasive feeling that there are injustices in the world that no one can predict or fully overcome. His battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is ongoing and when he shares his story he finds a way to convey the enormous impact PTSD has had on him and his family.
He is a career firefighter now. His brothers on shift have his back when it comes to rolling on pediatric emergency calls lest his PTSD nightmares decide to return for a visit at the station. He has his good days, his bad days, and his dark days when interacting with other people is very low on his list of priorities.
Al is still on the longest shift of his life. He started one day with two daughters and came home from the hospital with only one. It didn’t seem real until the next morning at breakfast when suddenly he realized that now they were three…and there was a permanently empty seat at the table.
We throw around terms like ‘end of shift’ as if they matter, as if the actual end of a shift will somehow put a stop to the experiences, trauma and memories we’ve accumulated while in-service. It is a bit like believing the weather in Canada will politely respect the border and not roar its way into the United States to wreak winter havoc.
Were it only that easy. Wouldn’t it be nice if the trauma accumulated during the course of a shift could simply be stuffed into an emotional duffle bag, tucked away into the corner of a dark closet, and filed away under ‘discarded memories scheduled for deletion’ ?
The problem with the whole notion of ‘end of shift’ is that it implies there is a beginning and an end. A finite horizon. Sadly, real life doesn’t work that way.
10-5. In service. 10-6. Out of service. 10-89. End of shift.
Be well. Practice big medicine.
The Tema Conter Memorial Trust can put you in touch with Al if you would like him to share his story about PTSD with your organization.