I went home injured a couple weeks ago. This wasn't the first time I was injured on the job, but the first time I couldn't finish a shift. How it happened is embarrassing. I coughed and didn't splint myself properly. I pulled a muscle in my lower back on the left side. I couldn't bend over. I made it though one more call, then had to pack it in. Not that i didn't want to finish out the shift. I realized I would be putting my patients in jeopardy because I might be able to move in the manner that paramedics sometimes have to do to care for the sick and injured. I didn't fill out an injury report because I knew in a few days I'd be better. I went home and put a bag of frozen peas on my back and took ibuprofen.
A few years ago, I got thrown in the back of the ambulance and was hurting pretty bad by the end of my shift. My back hurt and had some numbness in my legs. I went out for two weeks. I went to oc health and when they looked at my back x-ray, they asked what I was still doing carrying people up and down stairs. The words the PA used was my back was "past its expiration date." They gave me two weeks of rehab, some stretching and I was back to work. I'm still working and I still have the numbness.
I'll be sixty-five this summer. With my other job at the hospital, I am down to only working one day a week on the road. I want to keep going. I try to work out, try to stay in shape. I jump rope every day and lift weights every two or three days. I do one set of seven machine exercises and then a couple of dumbbell routines. I rest in between exercises. I remember using really heavy dumbbells when I was younger, like forty pound dumbbells. Now I use twenties when I am feeling strong and fifteens when I am just trying to get through the workout. I used to do two or three sets, but one wears me out. I have to lift in the afternoon because if I lift in the morning or at lunch, I'll fall asleep at my desk. Each year it gets harder. I need to be more careful when I cough which is all the time it seems. I don't know if I am tired or if I'm just…
I was talking to another paramedic this week. He is a service chief now and hasn't practiced in years. In his day, he was one of the best paramedics I knew. He said he always worried about staying in the field too long. He wanted to go out on the top of his game. I think about that some time when I watch sports stars retire and then come back for the love of the game, but they just don't measure up to what they once were. I think of Willie Mays playing for the New York Mets and young pitchers firing fastballs by him at will as he no longer had the bat speed to get around on the pitch.
I don't want to be the paramedic who can't get down on his belly to intubate, I already have to put on glasses to see the vocal chords clear enough to put a tube through them. I don't want to get winded running up four flights of stairs following a family member frantic for me to help her ailing family member. They tell a younger medic about an older respected paramedic, "He's forgotten more than you know." I don't want to be the older paramedic who has forgotten so much he knows less than the younger medic knows. And most of all I don't want to sit in the EMS room after a difficult call, with my head bowed, knowing I have lost my powers.
My hearing isn't as good as it was when I first strapped on an ambulance shoulder belt. What? What did you just say? Say again, please. But for all how bad my hearing is, sitting here writing this now, I can still hear the ambulances going by in the distance. I still hear the sirens call.