I know what it feels like to walk on broken glass and smell hot asphalt mixed with gasoline and oil. I know how to shut down all moving lanes of traffic. I know where the guardrail's height reaches on my body when I stand next to it. And I know how to avoid stepping in puddles of blood.
I was a paramedic — that's why I know these things.
I have post-traumatic stress disorder and can't be a paramedic anymore. I was diagnosed in 2014 after being one of the main paramedics at a double-murder call where the murderer became my patient. Because he was my patient, I developed what is called a "moral injury," causing my world to become very dark. I struggled with addiction to alcohol, and wasn't able to put my uniform on without being cast into a world of depression.
I miss the humanity of it all. I miss my connection to the road and to my patients. But that's OK — because even though I don't walk on the highway nowadays, the memories it gave me, like the ice that often covered it, are frozen in my mind.
I miss the humanity of it all. I miss my connection to the road and to my patients.
The highway has a feeling to me that you may or may not understand. To me the highway feels like these things and more: ominous, heavy and dark as I drive towards billowing smoke and flames; hot, scorching and work-boot-sweaty as I drive on a summer's day through stopped cottage country traffic; pinching, stinging cold and dry as I step out of my ambulance into large blizzard snow flakes, which block all of my visibility; damp, sweet-smelling and slippery on April days filled with sideways rain and wind.
To me, the highway has felt like so many things — imprinted in my mind like a childhood birthday memory, what the highway feels like to me will last forever, and today I will share with you why I miss these memories so much.
I don't miss the fact that patients could be trapped in the billowing smoke and flames, but I do miss the sense of elation when I get close enough to see that everyone is out safely and I get to tell all of them that "today is your lucky day."
I don't miss feeling the sweat drip down my back under my black uniform on hot, scorching days, but I do miss the feeling of holding someone's hand when they are searching for a gesture of hope.
I don't miss not being able to feel my fingers on ice-cold winter nights, but I do miss loading a patient into the back of the ambulance where they will be warm, and placing another blanket on top of them until they finally grin.
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I don't miss wearing soaking wet pants and trying to start an IV on a hand dripping with rain, but I do miss finally giving the pain medication they need and the feeling of pride for "getting the line" that was so difficult to get.
I hope this leaves you with a deeper understanding of the realities of being a paramedic on the highway. Next time you see one, send them and their patients love, because they BOTH may need it more than you know.
Through the eyes and heart of a paramedic — welcome to my memories.
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