Surviving your first year on the road Part 4 – Trauma


  • Psychological trauma

When I first started the job, members of my family were convinced that I was going to be a gibbering wreck within the first week.  It wasn’t the case but I understand their concern.  The public perception is that paramedics routinely deal with horrific and gruesome incidents – it doesn’t happen as often as people think but if you stay around a while you’ll get your fair share.  More important than that though is the chronic stressors of other people’s emotions, the pressures of shift work, problems at home *plus* graphic jobs.  I personally knew two paramedics who have killed themselves in the past two years – I don’t know why they did it but it’s incumbent on all of us to look after ourselves and our mates to try to prevent that sort of thing in future.

After a while everyone has “that job”, the one that haunts them. For me it was a fifteen year old boy who had an unexpected cardiac arrest and died while in my care.  There was nothing I could have done to prevent it or change the outcome, but that didn’t stop me stewing for years.  I should have called someone, taken some time off, gotten counselling and generally worked through it.  But because I’m an idiot, I didn’t – I went on a solo trip the next day through Cambodia, drank excessively and hated life.  Don’t be an idiot.


Problem:  You can’t stop thinking about “that job”.  It doesn’t matter what the job is.  Maybe it was just a nursing home transfer, but the old lady reminded you of your own Nan.  But there is a job that’s playing on your mind and bothering you, even a little bit.


Solution 1: A senior colleague of mine has a method which he refers to as “chicks and beer trauma management”.  His plan is that after a stressful job, if three days of casual sex and heavy drinking don’t make you feel better, you are *mandated* to call a professional.  Although it’s a bit silly the fact that he has an automatic trigger for seeking help is a great idea.


Solution 2: Call someone and talk.  Anyone.  A professional counsellor or psychologist would be good, but even just call up one of your colleagues or your mates from outside the job. Call your employer’s Peer Support program.  Call your mum.  Call someone.  Take it seriously.


Problem: It’s all a bit relentless. Job comes after job with no breathing space

Solution: Create the breathing space.  It’s important to debrief after a case to internalise what you’ve learned and to get ready for the next one.  I have a rule that whenever I do a case that makes me a bit flustered (for any reason), I sit down and have a cup of tea before I write my case sheet.  That five minute break works wonders for my state of mind and allows me to deal with whatever came up before I’m expected to respond to another case.  Highly recommended.


  • Physical trauma

Injuries happen, particularly to paramedics.  We do a physical job and we’re constantly exposed to sick people.  In my experience (not scientific) the people who are most likely to get injured are those who are anatomically unusual (very tall, short, overweight, etc.) and young women.  The ambulances are all built around the dimensions of the “average person”, and that’s bad news if you’re not physically average.  You should always use whatever lifting aids that your employer provides and avoid lifting people at all if possible.  If that’s not possible the best insurance for your own health that you can buy is physical strength.  I’ve written about that at length on this blog, but I think it’s crucially important.


If you are unlucky enough to get sick or injured, you need to look after yourself.  Workplace injury is a real issue in the ambulance industry, and you won’t do yourself any favours by being a martyr.  Take as much time off as you need to heal or recover.  It may set back your studies by a bit but that’s much better than a prolapsed disc.  Also, night shifts are generally awful for exacerbating illness or injury – beware.


Part 5 (final part!) coming soon…

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