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Get out of your rut..

Being in EMS for about 3.5 years, I found myself in my first real rut of burnout this past December. I’ve

found that in the midst of chaos, human nature urges you to seek order, like illogical patterns of events.

Well, after a series of the types of calls that linger in your subconscious a bit too much, I began to fear

my Saturday shifts. Every other day of the week, I knew I could handle any situation, but on Saturday,

DEATH WAS AT MY FINGERTIPS. IDK maybe I watch too many movies. It wasn’t horrifically unfounded,

though. I know a lot of people believe they’re a black cloud, so let me just define what my shit magnet-

ery has included in my 2 years of paramedicine:

 About a dozen intubations, almost exclusively as medical arrests

 1 RSI

 2 needle decompressions

 Sending a trauma off on a helicopter

 4 transcutaneous pacings

 Every drug in the box except Adenosine (maybe someday…)

 A traction splint! (which after applying, I promptly split my pants right down the butt seam)

 And of course, a good old surgical cric which was, indeed, the most terrified I’ve ever been in my

damn life.

That’s the highlight reel; of course, a million other more mundane or less dramatic calls have crossed my

MDT, but at least you know where I’m coming from. For the most part, especially with my regular

partners, I took it all in stride. I am notorious for being happy. Like seriously, I have been accused of

some insane stuff just because people can’t believe I’m a peppy person in EMS. You’d be amazed how

much you can either brighten someone’s day or really piss somebody off just by having a positive


But in December, things started changing. Instead of singing the Narwhal Song between calls,

we were ranting about systemic problems in EMS. About physical abuse from patients. About getting

publicly disrespected by “professional” physicians while giving urgent reports. About how draining it was

to go on maybe the biggest call of your career and then being rushed out from your decon to pick up the

drunk regular down the street. As a result, I lost my outlet and lost my vision. I started freezing on calls,

big calls. My partner was having to dig me out of situations he’s seen me handle before with my eyes

closed, pigtails in my hair, and smile on my face. He confronted me about it, and I remember the tears of

frustration and disappointment, feeling like I failed myself, my partner, and my patients. I didn’t know

how to shake it. The bad calls just weren’t fun anymore. I was taking souls home with me at the end of

my shift. I stopped journaling about calls, going to run reviews; I didn’t want to spend another extra

minute on my job that I didn’t have to, which was pretty ironic because in doing this, I became a

repeating broken record dwelling on my negativity instead of just freaking dealing with the problem. I

remember thinking, “This is why this job isn’t for people like you. How could you ever think you could

possibly do this?” It sucked. I’m not gonna lie. And if you’re in this spot right now, I feel you; honestly,

probably every single paramedic feels you.

What’s important is how you get out. Whether you decide it’s finally time for a complete career change

so you can finally open up that dog rescue you’ve always dreamed of or the common “stay in healthcare

but leave the road” move or figuring out a way to break your routine of bologna. Discerning that is your

only task once you realize you are in this crappy predicament. Everyone’s solution is different. I started

throwing out feelers in all 3 categories hoping for some magical neon sign to descend upon me. With

some luck and some great mentors, I found my recipe.

It helped that this dang eager paramedic student rolled up wanting to do third-rides with us (hey, girl. I

know you’re reading this). She was solid. She knew her book, was kind of hard on herself, welcomed

feedback, and wanted to learn past the minimum. More importantly, she fit in great on the bus. She

knew when to turn the music up and laugh with us, knew when to ask questions, knew when to wave a

white flag. She was amped after certain calls we’d grown numb to. She helped make it fun again. We

were playing Heads Up at post after debriefing from calls. We started reviving our nightshift “Pancakes

and Wine” time at my place which consequently brought back the camaraderie. We aired out elements

of calls; we supported one another. Saturdays stopped being so damn scary.

Since then, I’ve reminded myself of how freaking cool EMS is. Let’s first explore the purely, well,

insensitive parts: it’s fast, loud, adrenaline-pumping, bloody, intense, downright fun, challenging; the

skills, the mental self-high fives after something insane you pulled off. Those are the parts that first

piqued your interest. Now, for the deeper reasons, why you’ve stayed…the humanity, training so hard

so you can be honest when you say “we did everything we could”, the trust between partners and other

crews you know the rest of the world will never be able to feel, people’s homes-the good, the bad, and

the hoardy, the chronic patients you know well enough now that they ask about your family when you

get there, the hope that maybe one of your patients fighting addiction is affected by your

encouragement, knowing that your face will forever be tattooed on families’ memories as the face that

delivered the news that changed their lives, explaining procedures and medications in simple English

after patients were left in the dark by complex and cold medical terminology, the confidence to take

control of an absolute literal disaster no matter your personal life, your background, your degree (or lack

thereof). All of us in EMS are super freaking weird, let’s just say it. We are drawn to serve, to help, to

override our natural instincts in many ways. EMS is a common string that binds a diverse community of

providers, and as long as we wear those damn beautiful pants, we are connected. And we can’t ever let

each other forget how freaking wild and badass this job. That belief is at the center of defeating that

pesky burnout rut. Go ahead, “woop” those sirens a little extra for me tonight. Live a little.

Natalie Zink

Natalie is a paramedic in Atlanta, GA who is passionate about education, advocacy, and all things Wonder Woman. Before moving back home to the sunny South, she worked out of Ann Arbor, MI where she got a degree from the University of Michigan. Her dog Parker is her pride and joy, and she is so excited to be contributing to a platform dedicated to educating and empowering others!

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