EMS Mixtape by Timothy So

The songs of my life in the mixed bag of Emergency Services. These songs, while may not coincide with the song directly, they are songs that I have chosen that relate to my experience.

“One Last Hope,”  Hercules

The classroom. The beginning for most Emergency Medical Technicians. To teach us how to save lives (and transport patients to dialysis). Taught by a Danny Devito-esque, an experienced instructor who is well versed in the world of Emergency Medical Services. Charlie was my instructor, a jaded and cynical man but also a source of knowledge and my main resource in my quest to become a “hero” and help people. Like Devito trains Hercules to be a hero, so did my instructor train the class of twenty people to be EMTs.

I learned a lot in this time, I started off with the notions of helping people and saving the day. The rigorous course quickly corrected my grandiose visions of what it meant to be an EMT and realized the hard work and studying it takes. I learned the basics of patient care and got my feet wet in the expanding world of medicine. Learning the ways of CPR and the AED and learning how to diagnose and treat certain illnesses. This is the beginning chapter of my journey.

“Get the Party Started,”  P!nk

Fresh out of EMT school and I am ready to “get this party started” equipped with my new medical gear. Stethoscope around my neck and freshly laminated license in my hand, I am ready to work. I started to apply to places, excited looking for a job and finally get the chance to help people. I search online, and I am able to get a job fairly easily in the city. While I won’t be pulling up in a “Mercedez Benz” I fantasize about “looking flashy” in an ambulance responding to emergencies. I still have this idea of saving lives fresh in my head. School, while corrected some of my naïve notions, I still am excited to practice the skills I learned. I have gone through the grueling coursework and I have accomplished the honor of being acknowledged by the state to provide pre-hospital care. I used to fantasize that one day I’d get to be the hero and perform CPR on a patient in cardiac arrest, actively doing compressions on them while being wheeled in dramatically into the Emergency Room, successfully preventing death by getting them into the nurse’s and doctor’s, saving the day.

Like how this song has an upbeat tempo and a uplifting tone that keeps on rising throughout the song; it is close to how I feel about starting out in the medicine field. This is something I have wanted to do and I finally am getting the chance to pursue that dream. The party of being an EMT has started as I start my new job. I soon find out that is not the party I thought it was.

“Stay,” Rihanna

I started out in my new job and reality hits hard. I realize it’s not all lights and siren emergencies. No life-saving calls but rather it is a mixed bag of being a medical Uber with emergencies sprinkled in. What they don’t show on television, the world of a NYC EMT usually starts in transports. This is where you gain experience since most companies require you to have a couple of months to a year experience in the art of picking up people and dropping them off. The theory is that you learn the techniques you would need for emergency calls and you gain a sense of how the EMS system works along with how the hospital works.

As Rihanna claims that “all along it was a fever,” this was the same for me. It was jarring to me, the ideas I had of being an EMT were not all that I had originally thought. I was a “cold sweat hot-headed believer” of the images of EMS from shows, movies, and even in class. While it wasn’t the sole reason I wanted to start as an EMT, it still played a factor as I was enticed by the notions of glory and respect that first responders seemed to have. I knew that there was more to the job than transports but this start in this career was a reality check. Like the way “Stay” is slow with the solemn piano playing in the background, it captures that mood I felt. Rihanna love seems to go “round and around” while the same is happening to me literally with transporting patients either to the hospital or their house repeatedly but also with my mixed feelings of being an EMT. I was unsure about my feelings with this career and this bleak start made me question my motives. I was not doing what I set out to do. I wanted to stay in the excitement I had when I first started out. But after a year of transports, it faded out pretty quickly. I started to question my motives, why did I really want to become an EMT?

“Eye of the Tiger,” Survivor

This is sort of a cliché I know, but this is the song of power and passion. It is pushing through adversity and coming out on the other side with the “eye of the tiger.” My fight here, an internal one, is something I feel many NYC EMTs will go through. It’s pushing past the negative effects of the system, the lack of motivation even from your peers and finding your passion in the field. I soon realized that for many, that dream of saving lives inspires a lot of people and the subsequent failure to do so by not getting the chance, really burns people out in the job. Some feel cheated. I understand that, I struggled with this reality as well. However, I realize it also inspired me more. This field is not for everyone, and in a way this transport barrier either weeds people out or inspires them to push further and actively better themselves to get to the point they want to. I was “risin up” going literally back on the streets in the ambulance and I was motivating myself again to continue. The guitar riffs with the buildup of the song is what I felt like trying to build up myself to become a better EMT. I pushed past the slow, negative, pessimistic feelings of the EMS system and found my personal joy in it. I realized that while I wasn’t necessarily helping people with emergencies, I was still helping them in comfort and assisting them in their times of need. I remember when I realized the real reason why I wanted to be in the medical field. One day, after carrying a patient a grueling five flights (sounds harder than it sounds, trust me) of stairs on our aptly named “Stairchair,” our 68-year-old patient thanked us and said they were grateful that they there were people like us to get them home. They could finally relax. While it wasn’t saving lives, I still felt grateful and felt good the rest of the day. I realized that I loved interacting and helping people, regardless of the way. It soon clicked, I finally figured it out, my thrill of the fight is patient care.

“Stayin’ Alive,” the Bee Gees

I had to include this song, the CPR song known in the world of medicine. The song has an upbeat tempo. This 1977 song by the Bee Gees has 103 beats per minute, very close to the recommended minimum of 100 chest compressions that is required every minute for optimal CPR. It has a stable and consistent beat, where you can match the compression to each beat. Funny enough, the song’s name of “Stayin’ Alive”, is what CPR does exactly, it helps provide oxygenated blood and attempts to resuscitate a person who is unresponsive with no pulse and isn’t breathing.

This song isn’t only ingrained in EMS teaching but it’s a song a I regularly play while driving the rig. It’s friendly, infectious sound is fun to sing along to. It also helps me remain positive during stressful times with patients. It’s a thought that runs through my head continuously when I am on an emergency call. Stay alive. While the company I worked for was mostly transports, there are emergency calls, either by getting flagged down by a pedestrian or if a facility, like a nursing home, calls for a patient. We are in the business of keeping people alive, and this song matches that. “Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother, you’re stayin alive” is the anthem of an EMT. The shit can hit the fan pretty quick.

“Superman,”  Lazlo Bane

What is great about EMS is that you are never alone. You always backup in the form of a partner. Partners are crucial, the standard ambulance houses a duo trying to assist patients while battling enemies like stress, fatigue, and worst of all the people who control your fate: dispatch. Dispatch gives you the calls and literally determine the craziness of your day. No day is the same and the medical business is a loopy one. Amongst the static and craziness there is a constant and that is your partner. If you are blessed to get a permanent partner that you work well with, then the job becomes way better. They are a resource in a stressful spot. You have each other’s backs. The song expresses my reliance on my partners, with the acoustic guitar always playing in the background, there is relatable feeling when Lazlo Bane claims that he “can’t do this all on my own” as he is “no Superman” much like how it feels in EMS. You can’t do the job alone, literally, the stretcher required two people to lift a patient safely up and down. When you lose that partner that you worked so well with, it feels like the end of this song where “someday we’ll be together.” I’m telling you, it is like finding a soul mate when you find a partner who you work well with. I have spent more hours with my permanent work partner than I have with my girlfriend, it is that serious. The partner dynamic I would claim is representative of EMS. On a larger scale, the system runs on partnerships with hospitals and working together for the patient. The whole “hero” notion I had was self-centered and childish, instead I now know it’s never just one, but many that make everything help and save people. It’s a large network of people working together to make differences.

“Crazy Train,”  Ozzy Osbourne

That bad-ass riff in the beginning of the song always pumps me up, especially when I am about to start a 14 hour shift. The life on the ambulance is really a crazy train. Even if its for a transport focus company. “All Aboard” indeed. You never know with a patient really. They can go from 0 to 100 pretty quickly. A stable patient can all of a sudden become unstable. A normal day might start in a prison transporting an inmate who got injured in a fight to the hospital, escorted by armed guards. Then after have a routine dialysis call followed by an emergency call for a broke femur. Your stable patient who you were just having a conversation with, can go into respiratory distress during transport and needs manual ventilation. “Crazy, but that just how it goes” is accurate. I have peers who have had psychiatric patients attack the one of the EMTs and run out of a moving ambulance. But then again sometimes you are posted with no calls for hours and you end up spending the shift catching up on your Netflix shows and getting sleep. Those easy days are great but they aren’t guaranteed. The unstable nature of the job makes it exciting. You can never know what to expect. I have learned to find the bliss in the chaotic mix of the job and is one of the many reasons why I love it and continue in the medical field. While I have had mixed feelings, this job ultimately has provided me inspiration and narrowed my focus on the medical field and aspire to continue patient care on wider scopes of practice. While it is not for everyone, this crazy life has cleared up my fantasies and helped me find my true passions. Let’s see where this ride on the crazy train takes me.

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