Tuesday, May 17, 2011

M is for Mechanic

Automobiles are often personified. Men like to refer to their rides as "she", and give them human names. Remember Christine, the red 1958 Plymouth Fury with the malevolent grin and a deadly jealous streak? It may seem a stretch to directly compare cars to people but the internal combustion engine has many similarities to the human body.

They both run on fuel, a car needs gas and a body needs calories. The stomach is our gas tank, the blood is our oil. Our transmission system would be our musculature; our computer of course, is our brain. Both utilize oxygen and produce CO2, and both have an exhaust system that pollutes the air.

I am a paramedic. It is my job to help fix people when they are broken. In that way, I am a mechanic. I studied the way the body is constructed and I understand the way it is supposed to run. When is isn't running right, I systematically go through a checklist to figure out what is wrong then follow a set of guidelines to get it back on the right track. This allows me to be efficient when time is of the essence. When a person has sprung an oil leak, I must plug it. I don't think of how horrible it must be to be losing oil. I don't wonder what it must feel like to have your oil pouring from your body. If I did that, it would paralyze me and I would be useless.

There is a mantra that I have repeated in my head for so long that it has become part of my psyche. "I didn't cause this...my presence here is only a positive...no matter the outcome". This is not to say that I don't consider a patient's emotions when I work. A person's mental state is part of their makeup and has to be addressed as much as any other working component of their body. I can sit with a wife who has just lost her husband and compassionately give her the news. I have stayed on scene for an hour or more to assist families with situations that have caused them grief. But, when I leave, I can go get a cheeseburger and think about my plans for the weekend.

There have been patients that have broken through my personal barrier. I have a short list of calls that have stayed with me over the years and will bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye when I recall them, but it is a very short list. I would not have survived 25 years in this business if I didn't have this approach to my work.

This mindset not only allows me to function in heartbreaking situations, but it also allows me to be efficient and professional when I am faced with unpopular ones as well. It doesn't matter if you are a Yugo or a Rolls...you get the same treatment from me. It is my job to fix you, not judge you.

One of the most unpleasant stories in my repertoire involves a call I ran many years ago. I was dispatched to the jail on an attempted suicide. When I arrived, I found an inmate who had deeply sliced both of his wrists and was bleeding profusely. The first responders and infirmary staff were halfheartedly bandaging the wounds and seemed repulsed at having to touch and even being in the same room with this man. I quickly understood why when they told me who he was. It was front page news. A man had raped his four month old daughter. That's month...not year. She almost died and had to have her pelvis surgically reconstructed. This was the man charged with that heinous crime.

Most of the people in that room could think of nothing but his alleged actions. I saw an oil leak that needed plugging. You can think that I am cold; you can think that I am heartless, but when I start placing value judgments on my patients, it is a slippery slope that would eventually end in disaster. When I first read of this man's crime and thought of that precious baby girl, I was sickened and heartbroken. When I followed the story of his trial in the newspaper, I thought he deserved any torture that the mind of man could come up with. But, when I was faced with saving his life, that's what I did. Not because of some higher purpose or a desire to see him face a harsher justice. I didn't have time for such complicated musings. I saved his life because it was my job to do so.

The reader must think that I am uncaring, but that is simple just not true. I care very, very much. I care so much that I have developed this mindset that allows me to do what I do. All the tears in the world won't fix a busted fuel pump and they won't fix a busted heart either. Both require a trained professional to assess and treat the problems accordingly. I am glad that there are mechanics out there to take care of my car and paramedics, nurses, doctors and surgeons out there to take care of my body. I don't really want any of them crying about my problems when they need to be fixing them.


  1. Another incredible post, Cyndi. How sickening about that criminal's behaviour towards his own daughter and yet, you had to look past that and save his life as that's what your job is all about. Great writing. I'm sickened, inspired and awed by the post, all at once.

  2. I commend you for being able to separate your personal feelings from your professional responsibilities. That's no easy task.

    I have the unpopular opinion that horrible criminals have the same human value as sweet old grandmothers. When I've voiced it, I have sometimes been berated for thinking that way, but my stance remains. Every soul is valuable. We all matter. We may not all be pleasant or even safe to be around, but we are all inherently and enormously precious.

    You did good.

  3. Oh, I almost forgot. I loved this: "...both have an exhaust system that pollutes the air." :O)

  4. I believe that just about anyone involved with cars as their career are out to screw people. Obviously, not all mechanics are like this, but having recently been quoted $125 for back brakes and then getting them done by another company who used gold brakes for only $60, there's proof mechanics can be crooks.