Monthly Archives: August 2013

Please distribute to all Law Enforcement, Paramedic and Fire personnel – 9/11/2013

Distribution: Please distribute to all Law Enforcement, Paramedic and Fire personnel

First, I want to say thank you to everyone who has made it possible for me to distribute this message. I can not express my gratitude enough for your assistance.

As I write this, Patriot Day is two weeks away. It is a day or remembrance for what we lost in the attacks on 9/11. Just under 3000 people lost their lives that day. 343 firefighters, 70 officers of the NYPD and PAPD, 8 private EMT’s and a K9 gave their lives that day and over 50 more since then due to “9/11 related illness”.

It’s during these times that we ask ourselves a question like “What do we do to honor their sacrifice?” One of the 343 was a Chaplain, Mychael Judge. Sometimes I ask myself the same question, although maybe not in those same words. When I put on my uniform I may take a second glance to make sure it looks like it should. I do what is needed and I behave in a manor to not bring shame on my position, or tarnish that honor. That looks a little different for everyone of us. When you lace up your boots and get in that engine or cruiser, I’m sure you do the same thing.

But don’t think that means we don’t have “bad days”. We all have bad days from time to time, even us Chaplains. So what we do with our “bad days” determines if we bring honor to our professions or if we tarnish them. It also determines if our “bad day” becomes a “bad year” or a “bad life”. So what do we do? I understand that your life may be complicated. As everyone travels the road through life, we have to deal with money issues, family issues, hospitalizations and death of family members. So how do we keep ourselves going? Here are a few ideas.

1. Take time for yourself. I know I say it a lot. You have to do something for you that makes you happy. Whatever it is – hunt, fish, go to the beach, go to the mall, go to a religious service. Do something for YOU.

2. Remember, anything can change. If you are going through a tough time, it can change. Things change. People change. We change.

3. Reach out. Find someone you can trust and talk to them. Supervisors, clergy, co-workers, doctors, chaplains… somebody.

4. Share your story. This might be hard for some of us. If you managed to fight your way out of a dark time in your life, others may need to hear it. If you had a “critical incident” and you came back happy, then someone else will need that. It will help someone else, but it will also help you to remember it. Life threw it’s worst at you and you came out on top. You won. Be proud of that. I’ll end this point with one of my favorite stories from “The West Wing”. “This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'” Someone needs you. Let them find you.

Thanks for reading, stay safe, and contact me if I can help you.

I’ve said it in every email. I’ve said it to the chiefs and administrators when I contact them. You all are heroes. I don’t know how often you hear it, but I’m certain it’s not nearly enough.

Once you peep through that hole, you can’t pretend you haven’t seen it.

I saw the following post shared on Facebook. While it is geared for hospital nurses, I think a lot applies to Police and Fire as well.

A fellow ER nurse shared this on her wall and it’s a good read. Don’t look at ER staff as cold, insensitive, and mean since patients and family have NO idea that they aren’t the only ones who are human.

Seriously, wth is wrong with me tonight?

When people learn I work in the Emergency Department they usually ask, “How do you do it”? or say “Wow, I bet you see a lot of crazy things”. My answer aloud: “It’s never dull”. My answer in my head: “You have no idea”.

What profession do you walk out of a room that someone has just yelled, “I’m gonna kill you *****” and laugh? Do you preform CPR, call a time of death, then talk about your weekend plans all in the same breath? It gets worse. You don’t want to know.

Even the bad ones: a rape or child abuse. Even that has to be walked away from and on to the next stomach ache, cold/cold or even heart attack. It may, for a minute, leave a pit in your stomach the weight of bowling ball. But even then, you can usually get rid of it with a sigh so deep that it goes all the way down to your toes. Sometimes it takes two sighs.

Sometimes I give a high five to someone on my team. Not to say “congrats”, but to feel a little human touch and know I’m not alone.

If a tear even feels like it might try to work its way up from your throat, you swallow it quick. It does no one any good to let it out. The family can’t see it. Your co-workers can’t see it. We all get one turn to break down and then everyone else has to be strong. We can’t all walk around like sobbing messes. When I see another on my team tear up (dead children do it the most to us), I know this time, it can’t be my turn.

So we suck it up. We learn to turn “it” off. To well, in fact. What choice do we have? We cope. We walk into fatal car accidents with our first questions (mentally, at least) being…”were they drinking, were they high, they probably weren’t wearing their seat belts”. Something, ANYTHING, to separate us from this. Something, ANYTHING so we can sleep at night and try to convince ourselves that we are not so temporary. That our spouses and our children are not so temporary.

When we can’t find reasons, we have no choice but to swallow that lump. We come home, we hugs our kids, and we cope. By the time we wake up for our next shift, it’s almost gone.

Each time I had to do that, and I suspect I’m not alone, I lost a little something. I shut off that pathway: “sadness, remorse, fear” too many times. That now those feelings are hard to come by at all.

But I’m not alone. And it’s the people by my side that make me feel normal about this chaos that we live in. This peephole into reality, that only a few of us see. We, more than anyone understand the temporariness of it all. The unfairness of it all. That even children aren’t safe from this awful game of life that no matter what ALWAYS ends in death. What choice do we have? This our job. This is our life. Even if we quit it, it’s too late. Once you peep through that hole, you can’t pretend you haven’t seen it.

If you don’t live in our world then that last sentence is creepy, maybe…morbid? Depressing? In our world, it is fact. It is life. It is truth. We have no veil of ignorance when it comes to our own mortality. Much to the dismay of our family and friends we sometimes come off as “cold” and (I hate this one)…”insensitive”.

So we may cry a little less. But here is the upside: we also laugh a lot more. We love fully. We live without regret. We generally don’t waste time on negativity or pessimism. We understand fully “one life” and we aren’t about to waste it. We wear our seat belts and don’t drink and drive. We live smart, but never in moderation! We are the ones laughing the loudest! We don’t shelter our kids, because even children without trampolines are sometimes “temporary”. So we let them jump and we let them laugh, we just have a net! We don’t keep them home from the park because we are worried about the “Boogy man” because we know most of the time it’s “Creepy Uncle Ralph” that is doing naughty things to the babies anyway.

If I did this job alone, the isolation would be maddening. But, I’m not. My co-workers are my sanity. My family: my rock. Together we get through this life with our eyes wide open. I wouldn’t change my world for anything.

I could say so much about this. It’s a view into a life of someone who sees the world as it is. Most of us are completely sheltered from how cruel and unfair life is.

But not our Public Safety staff. They see the worst that society has to offer. And they don’t break down…at least where others see it. The might later when they are alone. Or worse, they repress it. The try to drown the memories with alcohol. Of it just keeps adding to stress until they can not process anymore. Great people, who have battled what we call a “normal reaction to an abnormal situation”. Some win. Some fight and eventually win. Some battle and struggle the rest of their lives and pray for some relief…but it never comes. Some suffer in silence. Their family may not understand their pain. Their friends may not understand. Even their co-workers may not understand. So they continue to suffer.

My final thought is when the writer said ” Once you peep through that hole, you can’t pretend you haven’t seen it” . This is 100% true. You can never un-see that dead child. You can never un-see all the human misery, twisted metal wreckage and pools of blood. So remember this when that cold ******** gives you a ticket. Or the firefighter stares in “cold silence ” as you protest your right to do something we all know is stupid. Because they are the ones that pulled the baby off the bottom of the pool. They are the ones that had to clean up pools of blood of the highway including that of an eight year old.

Let me finish by saying, if you are experiencing stress more than 3 months after an event, TALK TO SOMEONE. PTSD is real. Critical incident stress is real. Contact a professional. Talk to a Chaplain. Sometimes it’s just enough to walk or talk through the event with someone who can tell you that you “did it right”. And if you can’t reach out to anyone, contact me. I’ll see who you can talk to if I can’t help. You CAN be HAPPY again.