Old Paramedics

I have been getting in and out of ambulances for over 20 years now. That means just what it does. Twenty years ago my knees and back and all my bones and joints were twenty years younger than they are today. I’m in good shape, but still, I find now when I get out of the back of the ambulance when we arrive at the hospital my partners tend to offer me their hand to help me down. I ignore their help of course, but I do admit I’m not jumping down as spryly as I used to.

I read this article — As Doctors Age, Worries About Their Ability Grow in the New York Times this week and it made me think for a moment in the same way I think for a moment when I read the “Will you have enough Money for Retirement?” articles. I think I can put worrying about this off for awhile longer, but I sense that someday these articles will be my front page stories. Just not yet.

The physical deterioration of these years is slow, but undeniable. When I went to nursing school a couple years ago, I found I had to buy a pair of reading glasses so I could see the fine markings on the insulin syringe so I could draw up just the exact amount before handing it to my examiner to verify. On calls now, sometimes I squint to see the tiny vein I am trying to thread a 24 into in. A month or so go when I intubated a patient, I, for a moment saw two sets of vocal chords side by side. During cardiac arrests now I have learned not to relay on my view of the monitor beyond two arms length. What may look like asystole, if examined may actually be a defined rhythm with low voltage. I make it a practice now to print or have the strip printed out and handed to me so I can verify it.

When it comes to hearing, I have always been annoyed with patients who don’t speak up when I ask them questions, but lately I have found myself saying “Huh?” and “What?” more often than before, and finally asking them to please speak up blaming my difficulty hearing on the noise of the engine.

I used to love breaking into locked homes to rescue patients unable to get to their doors to let us in,. I’d divehead first into windows (while getting a boost from my partner) or climb up onto roofs to access second story bedrooms. Now, just as with carrying our heavier equipment, I sometimes defer to stronger more agile partners or responders on scene.

A few times I have seen a tremble in my hand and asked, is this the first hint of a condition that will change my life or am I merely suffering from lack of sleep or caffeine withdrawal? (A reassurance, I just checked both hands, and today as I sit in front of the computer, each hand is as steady as a gunfighter’s, although quite lacking the gunfighter’s speed).

One of my partners is ten years older than I am. Sometimes his slow deliberate way is frustrating to me. His scene clock is slower than mine, but then when I work with younger people, I sense they may feel the same about my pace. I like to think that I move quickly when I have to, but as in a game of softball, I no longer have the reflexes to snare a blazing line drive in the infield.

A few years back I came on the scene of a rollover, a car on its side with a women still in there, although with only minor injuries. While I pondered what to do, considering the best approach, another medic arrived on the scene, and was in the car before I could even say “good day” to him.

I like to think my approach was mature, deliberate and proper, but I do wonder if someday it will tick past the mature deliberate safe response and into the doddering greys of early dementia.

My hearing is not so bad that I can’t at a distance hear the tick tick tick of the finite clock that beats for all of us.

7 Comments

  • I am 52 and still a paramedic on the streets. I really enjoyed this, and I think about this stuff all the time… I’m glad I’m not the only one out there who thinks about this stuff! Thanks!

  • Cs says:

    I’m 25 and I can’t hear half of what these people say!

  • Good post. I’m guessing that I’m a bit older than you and I know I have been in EMS a good deal longer. Since I’ve always had crappy eyesight, I find that I’m having less trouble than other people adapting to those kind of changes.

    Like you, I find that I carry patients far less often than I used to. Of course I’ve been in EMS longer than a fair number of my co workers have been alive, so I feel no sense of guilt in that. I let them and their young backs do that work.

    I will say that I was the first person in a rolled over SUV last year. The vehicle was lying on it’s side and the FD was trying to figure out how to get into it because the doors were locked. One of the FFs had pulled the keys from the ignition and tossed them on the ground. I picked them, clicked the “unlock” button on the remote, lifted the hatch, crawled in. The look on their faces was priceless!

    One of the advantages of age is not getting to excited (most of the time) to forget the simple approach.

    Whatever you might have lost in physical ability, I’m sure you’ve more than made up for with experience and knowledge.

  • Deron says:

    great entry! Still in ems and pushing 45. Not too old considering this article! Again just a great entry.

  • Renee says:

    At age 47, I have to admit, there are those days…

  • ukfbbuff says:

    I’ve been involved in the Fire Service all my adult life (35 years)and some times I feel that being 57 years old “sucks”.

    When I ask the new “kids” coming on the job how old they are, I can honestly tell them “I was doing this job the day they were born”.

    I’ve kept my physical conditioning up, participated in the FF’s Combat Challenge, yet their are those days when I’m a little ” stiff and sore”.

    Can hear that “finite clock” ticking also, but not ready to give up just yet.

  • Vincent says:

    Hi all,
    I have been in well above average fitness level all my life. Three years ago, while following an EMR class, I developed the taste for First Aid work. Since then I have work in the Oil/Gas industry, and volunteer to sport events and concerts now trying to finish my PCP-IV.
    I have to say that the main resistance has not been so far the work itself but rather the bias found within the paramedic world. I arrive when most wish to retire.
    I have a bad news for them, I will pursue until I got the certificate, then will apply for work and volunteer for causes as long as I can effectively.
    Without looking down on speed which is clearly an asset, what I have to offer is as appreciated by the patients if not more and beside I will be back to top shape by October which is also well above the average of our provincial standard.
    Vincent
    59 years/old

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