Many of you reading this do not know me or know what I am about. I do not like attention and label myself an introvert. I choose to write these blog posts because I feel that I can bring value to the business of EMS. I have spent my adult life working in the field in one form or another. Hopefully I can help one or many of you be a better provider.
I have been asked many, many times about how I develop positive interactions with my patients. I have been asked about how I take an initial negative interaction with someone and turn it into a smile and a handshake at the end. I have been asked why I have such a positive attitude when caring for my patients no matter their station in life, race, religion, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation or any other reason. I have been asked some version of all of those questions many times throughout my career. To be honest, I have been trying to come up with a good answer to any or all of those questions for quite some time. I have, as of the time of this blog post, not come up with a solid answer, but I will give it a try.
This is what I can tell you; if you do not employ empathy, you will lose! If you do not have sympathy, you will lose! If you do not try to understand the hardships of others, you will lose! If you think that you are, in any way, better than the people that you take care of, you suck and you will fail at everything!!!
That’s it and that’s all in my opinion. I take that attitude into almost all of my patient interactions, no matter who they are or what is going on. It has served me well and has paid dividends both psychologically and monetarily in the form of donations to the service I work for.
Don’t get me wrong, I have and will judge people on their face value as part of my initial “walk up and greet” moment when our paths cross. I have to do that. I need to know if they want to kill me or want my help. I use that judgement as a tool and not as the “end all be all” of who I believe the patient to be or how our relationship is going to go. I have been in a mood that made me salty with some patients. I am human and have my bad days like everyone else. I have also purposely tried to wreck the initial interaction with a patient just to see if I can bring the situation back around to positive. Those are the days that I put the extra effort into not being an asshole and making sure that the patient is getting the most from our or my service as they can. Remember, we are a service provider ……… to customers …………that you are supposed to take care of ……………because we are professional problem managers ………….for other people …………….other ……………people ………….. because it is not about you! An for those of you that don’t get it, we are in a relationship with the patient. We enter their home or enter their life and listen to intimate and possibly embarrassing things that they are trying to tell you. They have let you in so don’t take advantage of that.
And that is what we are doing. We are engaging in rapid relationship building in an effort to do rapid problem solving, that may or may not have dire physical consequences, using your instincts and the last few minutes of information you have just received. As many of the brilliant minds in our business have said “treat the patient not the equipment”. My version of that is “treat the patient and not your attitude”.
Treating your attitude is what you are doing if you put yourself before the service that you are providing to the patient. You are in your own way and you are going to fail. You are treating the way you feel about your patient and not the way they feel. You may get lucky and actually make a difference in the life of your patient by some weird alignment of the planets. Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be an asshole and provide quality care to anyone. You can’t. It’s not going to happen. I’m sure that a lot of you disagree with what I have just said. It’s okay, you can believe that you are making a difference. I don’t believe that you are. We can agree to disagree.
So what can you do to improve? Well, the good news is that you have the power to get better. Most of you anyway. Some of you are screwed. Some of you don’t need to be doing this line of work. Some of you have some real issues that you need to seek professional help for. If that is you, I highly encourage you to get the help you need. It’s not “gay”; you are not “weak”; it is not stupid and you are not alone. Get the help and be better for you and all of the people you encounter.
As I said, you can improve. You have the power! You need to make a real effort to learn what empathy, sympathy and understanding are. You need to deploy kindness and you will win. You can build your entire career on kindness and serving others. Many people do it every day. There are many tools out there to improve. I don’t really endorse one method over the other because every person learns differently. YouTube is loaded with free content about how to improve your ability to be empathetic. The key is that you have to believe you need improvement. We all can get better at something. I certainly can. I am always looking to tweak my experience with people. I see it as a social experiment and I see almost every patient interaction as an opportunity to make a new friend.
As you can see, I have trouble articulating how I do what I do. All I know is that my parents ingrained a solid set of values in me that I lean on very heavily when interacting with people. I learned to be as nice to the janitor as I am with the CEO. I learned to be just as interested in the oldest person to the youngest. To be nice and to be fair.
The Heroin epidemic was a trying time for all of us due to the increased workload and the social stigma attached to it. I did my best to treat everyone the same but did have a few moments that I am not proud of and treated some people as less than human. I didn’t get to far into the “firehouse rhetoric” about how the addicts were less than us but I didn’t fight against it either, which in my view is just as bad. I went home angry with myself and called some of my coworkers brainless idiots behind closed doors. I can’t change that.
So that is the best that I can do to explain it. I hope that my explanation gives you some value and helps you at least start a conversation with yourself or others about how you treat people. This line of work brings most of the people in it a great deal of stress but brings many great rewards. You can make the job whatever you want it to be. That’s the joy of it!
“May I never see in the patients nothing but a fellow creature in pain” – The Oath Of Maimonides
Stay safe out there and be nice!