I was typing the title for this post when I had a thought, I originally put Medic school in the title and it dawned on me; what you didn’t learn wasn’t something missing from Medic school, it probably happened in EMT school. More importantly, it probably happened when you were a kid or while you were growing up. It’s a skill that you perfect over time and it will pay dividends throughout your career.
I’m talking about empathy and your ability to approach a patient. Empathy is defined as your ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I believe that being empathetic is the nucleus of what we do if you drill it down. We arrive because someone called us and those folks involved in whatever is going on are hoping for empathy, or even expecting it, when we arrive. They are at a point in their life, whether they expected to be in that spot 5 minutes before you arrived or not, that they need some empathy. I know some of you are thinking that not every patient encounter is one that is lacking empathy an I agree. We come into situations that are just basic explanations or just need our expertise to get the situation back on track. Or they have know idea who to call so they called us. I get it. You guys aren’t idiots. You know what I’m talking about.
So what do we do about it? Well there are many things that you can read, watch, study or listen to that will help you understand empathy. There is a ton of content about generally being empathetic in your daily life. Tony Robbins and others have made a career, in part, by teaching people to be empathetic. I encourage you to explore everything you can about the subject.
The problem with our business is that there is no time in the syllabus at the educational institutions to teach anyone how to be nice and/or empathetic. Now I can’t speak to all of the programs in the country and you may say i’m an ignorant asshat but from what I have seen in my area, from some of the shows, YouTube videos and stories I have read in our industries periodicals, we have demonstrated a severe lack of empathy in our business. Did you know that it is estimated that over 90% of litigation waged AGAINST EMS stemmed from the attitude of the crew when they arrived on scene? Yeah…..that’s just sad.
We spend so much time waging the debate about how we don’t make enough money, how our union is being mistreated or what effect the job has on us that we forget that we are actually interacting with other human beings that need us to be empathetic and compassionate. We put us ahead of them. We are assholes most of the time. We put the politics before the response.
I am not giving you a pass. I am not giving myself a pass. I have done it. You have done it. I am not giving out participation trophies today. This is not grade school. Try not to cry millennials! I have been in a place mentally on certain days when I didn’t give my patient what they needed. I have uttered the phrase “so you are only a piece of shit when you are in public places” to a patient so I don’t get to point fingers. I am just trying to bring awareness of our assholeness.
The patient you are treating or transporting from the nursing home to the doctors office or whatever is not the reason you don’t feel good. They are not the reason that you hate yourself for eating to many donuts. They are not the reason that you can’t be productive in your workouts. They are not the reason that your girlfriend or boyfriend took off because they are tired of you blowing up about the fact that the dishes aren’t stacked in size order in the cupboard. They are not the reason you drink to much and they are not the reason you won’t go get some help for how you feel. It’s not the patients fault. It’s your fault. Just agree that I’m right. I know I’m right………..I’m right.
So what do you do about it. Take a good hard look at yourself. Take a look at how you interact with everyone around you. Take a look at how you interact with your patients. Take a good long look at how you feel when you are truly loved by someone. That warm feeling when your mom hugs you or when your wife, girlfriend, husband or boyfriend tells you that they love you. That is the spot you need to be in when you take care of your patients. If you don’t know what that feeling feels like, find someone who makes that happen. Get some counseling to work out your past because looking back doesn’t do you any good, you are not going that way. Your patient is not where you work out your problems.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to be a mushy blob of goo and start balling your eyes out. What I mean is that you need to take that feeling that makes you vulnerable enough to be empathetic to the person that you are taking care of. It’s not difficult, you just need to let yourself be vulnerable. It’s a behavioral investment.
So work out your problems in the gym, in the shrinks office, with your pastor, with your significant other or at the bar. In the back of the ambulance is not the place for you to get the therapy that you need, it is the place that you get to be the therapist.
Stay safe and be nice. You will be amazed at how quickly the scene can shift when you are nice to people.