In Firefighter I school we had Critical Incident Stress Management class. It's about how to cope with bad stuff that you see on the job. There were three folks that taught the class. All three were Firefighters, but one was a Pastor, and another was going to school to become one. They are part of Project Phoenix which is a group that helps Fire / Rescue / EMS / PD cope in Northern NJ with really bad incidents. They could be bad because of size, like 9/11, or they could be bad because of the nature of the call, like if a child is killed.

At the beginning of class I thought that I hadn't seen much to cause me emotional harm, but as the class went on I remembered a whole bunch of bad stuff.

Probably the worst thing for me, aside from 9/11 which was devastating, was a woman pregnant with triplets. One of the fetuses had died in the womb already weeks earlier. The other two were still alive/growing. They had twin to twin transfusion syndrome and one of the other 2 was in trouble when they called Hatzolah. I took them to the Bronx where their doctor was even though normally we didn't take folks outside of Manhattan.

I thought that was the end of the call and I was left a little upset about the one fetus the woman had lost previously, but happy that I was able to take her to her doctor so maybe the other two would be alright. A few weeks later there was a call at the same address so I went out of my way to be sure I responded to that call. It was the same woman, and she had lost the second fetus and now the third was in trouble. The horrible part is that she didn't really lose either the first or the second fetus really. They were still inside her. I took her back to the Bronx to her doctor at the hospital where I left her. I don't know what happened beyond admitting her to the ER, but I have to assume the last fetus didn't make it either.

I guess what was so upsetting was how drawn out the whole thing was. The poor woman had to spend weeks carrying around one dead fetus, and then two, and all the while hoping at least one of the three would be born. So for me that was probably the worst set of EMS calls I have ever taken.

Second to that I would have to say that the worst call was my first cardiac arrest. I became an EMT when I was in High School. The first code I worked on was a 90-something year old male. While doing CPR on him his eyes wept reddish tears. I felt myself break at least one of his ribs while doing compressions. CPR wasn't the worst part of that day although you would think it couldn't get worse. We took him all the way to the hospital still doing CPR. The ER staff did a little more CPR and pushed a few more drugs. Finally they called it, but being that I was on a Jewish ambulance and the patient was Jewish it did not end there. Someone had to stay behind to watch the body until it could be picked up by the funeral home. Jewish custom says that a body may not be left unattended. So the dead guy under a sheet and I sat there in the room for hours while I waited for the funeral home to come. That was a miserable few hours that I was happy to have come to an end.

Critical Incident Stress Management