Tending to and witnessing the grief of others is part of the role we play as first responders. If we’re lucky in our career we’ll have the opportunity to learn from great mentors that teach compassion and empathy while providing exceptional care. After losing my mom this year, I’ve been giving thought to what happens to us when we experience profound loss and grief in our own lives? Does having a personal experience with grief make us better providers? How does this paradox shift effect us?
My recent experience of loss has made me aware of my lack of wisdom when it comes to bereavement. While painful and sad, the loss of my dog and best friend was no match for the heartache felt when losing my mom. Grief doesn’t feel like you think it’s going to feel. Many are wildly inept at dealing with or expressing what they're feeling when encountering grief. Some of us, especially those that haven't experienced the loss of a loved one, have the misconception that life is back on track one week later. Grief doesn’t work that way.
During my moms illness, my family felt vulnerable and reliant on a healthcare system I grew up working in as a healthcare provider. For me, being on the other side of the bedside was eye opening. I found myself thinking about my own approach to patient care in the face of loss and tragedy and realized that being vulnerable with patients and customers is essential. One evening, I arrived to the medical intensive care unit to see my mothers nurse taking time to comb her hair. I stood in awe as I watched the nurse invest in my mom, making her laugh and smile while gently combing through her hair…… what kindness. Another evening medics responded to my mom’s 911 call and chose to stay on scene for almost an hour while I was stuck in traffic to make sure she was safe and had what she needed..…… that’s impact. Then there was the nurse who set me up in an ED room to sleep while my mom was in critical condition and the nurse practitioner that pulled strings to allow my moms beloved dog (Tootsie) to come see her before she passed just eight hours later. Tootsie hasn’t since looked for my mom at the house because she understands what’s happened thanks to her nurse practitioner…… that’s what caring in healthcare is all about.
As I emerge from this experience I find myself softer, humbler, and more grounded than ever. For me, this experience has solidified providing exceptional healthcare is so much more than training, applied knowledge, and response times. It’s being vulnerable and showing our patients empathy, compassion, and kindness. I was inspired and comforted by the courageous vulnerability many of the nurses, medics, and doctors openly displayed while caring for my mom. I am sincerely grateful for their teachings.
Our own personal tragedies can make us better. For me, there is a silver lining in experiencing personal loss. I’ve gained a better understanding of those facing a personal hardship of their own. I am less inclined to hide my humanity while in or out of uniform. It takes courage to truly listen and help others when they are in need. I realize throughout my career I wasn’t always courageous with my emotions. Looking back, I believe I viewed emotional vulnerability as a weakness, therefore, my tears were rarely seen, and if they came they were shed conveniently in the privacy of my ambulance while grabbing a piece of equipment. Now I understand how important it is to allow your humanity to be seen. Personally, my mothers departure clarified a lot things for me. It highlighted how limited our time is here on earth and solidified my belief that we are all here to help one another. I look forward to carrying on her legacy professionally by helping patients and mentoring those wanting a career in emergency medical services.
This ones for you mom.