Seeing Faces

I am so blessed.

I have a wonderful family, supportive friends, and a life is generally not that bad.

My lovely bride is loving and supportive of even my most outrageous ideas and projects, even though it probably takes me ten months to complete a one week project.  I have beautiful children that irritate the hell out of me, but I am so proud of what they have accomplished in their lives.  I have a younger son that reminds me daily of the wonders of exploration (get off the damned table!) and the fascination with new things.

My fantastic friends jump to assist anytime there is a problem, helping out with rides, sometimes bringing extra food over, guiding us to where the best specials are available, and worship with us, but mostly with the laughs that tend to fill the room when they are around.

While I am currently, officially, unemployed, I have been making great strides in breaking into a new field which I dearly enjoy, albeit a difficult one to make a living at, but if you do something you love, the money will follow.

I have a saying that I have used for many years; all the shit of the past is great fertilizer for the future.  But what if that buildup of fecal matter actually burns the garden, not allowing the garden to bloom as well as it should?

It seems my past fecal matter has not composted as well as it should.

We hear, almost daily, of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is suffered by our military veterans.  Their service to our country is very honourable and appreciated.  We also hear about the PTSD being suffered by domestic abuse victims, rape victims, and other victims of violence, but what about the helpers?  What about the emergency workers?

I have not been in the field, on an ambulance, in many years, but the affects of the time spent trying to help people, trying to save them, has raised its reptilian head once again over the past several months.  It is nothing obvious, but the subtleties of events in my past that bring the faces to me.

Emergency Scene AheadLet me explain something first.  When I speak of seeing faces what I am referring to is remembering the faces of those that I helped, or couldn’t help.  It is remembering the faces, the sounds, the smells, and the tactile sensations of different scenes and events.  It is the uncanny total recall of the event in movie like detail, but not being able to remember names or dates.

Let me explain further, in detail.

Seeing faces is going to a friend’s house to have fun knowing that a few houses down, on a hot summer day, you found an elderly man dead for a few days in his wheelchair, multiple fans blowing directly on him, and what appeared to be his lungs hanging out of his mouth; the smell of the death and old blood permeating the entire house.

Seeing faces is driving to the grocery store and passing the apartments where I walked in on a father holding his 10 month old son by the ankles and swinging him to hit his head on the wall of the apartment, all because he would not stop crying.

Family killed in car accidentSeeing faces is driving to a family member’s house, or to our favorite BBQ place and passing the spot where a drunk driver killed an entire family of seven leaving a family reunion.  The drunk was the only survivor.

Seeing faces is having to pass a steel pole on the way to the library where a man embedded body parts into his car because the pole refused to move out of the way and he was drunk.  Or a few yards further down where 13 children were seriously injured in a stupid, easily avoided accident.  Or a few yards beyond that where a man was electrocuted, almost to a crisp.  Or a few yards beyond that where a man was repeatedly run over by multiple vehicles, his body being spread over 30 miles.

Seeing faces is driving down the freeway and passing the point a man fell over 100 feet from a billboard, landing right in front of you, and the media claiming his death was the result of your work.

Seeing faces is driving to a friend’s house and having to pass the exact spot where a four year old died in an accident, the only injury in the accident.  Seeing a pile of coats from the wrecker drivers on the side of the road with two tiny shoes revealed under them.  Pulling the coats off to find this young soul with his head crushed in.  Learning that his uncle had taken him to McDonalds for an ice cream cone and was in the process of taking him back to the house, right next to the scene, where a surprise birthday party was waiting for him.  Having the entire family walk up and I tell them he is dead, the grandmother then grabbing my uniform shirt, looking me in the eye, and saying, “You are a paramedic.  You can save him!”

“No ma’am, I can’t.”

There are so, so many more and each one being just as vivid.

As I am getting older I find myself suffering the same complaints and symptoms of those I tried to help over the years.  Some complaints that I simply thought of as being stupid, and “Why did you call the ambulance for that?” in nature I now experience; and trust me, I won’t call the ambulance, I won’t go to the doctor, and I won’t go to the hospital for them.

I keep my tongue and experience my punishment in silence.  I feel it is my penance for not taking these people that seriously at the time they needed me to.

The public does not realize, or forgets, that those who help can also suffer.  We are not supposed to feel this way since we are the ones that save lives, so we should feel good about ourselves.  The depression, alcoholism, addictions, family breakups, and suicides are incidental and have nothing to do with what we do as a living because, again, we help folks.

We are the good guys.

The good guys are also human.  The good guys have emotions.

CryingThe good guys cry.