SEKanBlogger (Tracy) asked:
Xavier, I have an odd question:
In a job like yours, or even mine, how many times can we be put in traumatic situations before it affects our own health? And what happens then? Are we just discarded because we cannot perform as well as we used to?
Really. I’m serious. This question has been on my mind for awhile now.
I already had PTSD when I became a first responder. I’m a survivor of extreme childhood violence and neglect. Many first responders enter the field with combat veteran status or other personal baggage like mine. People who come in the door traumatized are often better suited for the job.
Part of the transition from civilian to first responder involves getting comfortable with death and chaos at a deeper level. In a way it’s comforting, even; we’re in our element. We’re not weird anymore We’re harder to shock, and don’t get vapor locked as easily. The PTSD people function very well in freaky, ugly situations. Maybe not so well in sunny meadows. There may be some physiological addiction to adrenaline, I don’t know.
It took me a while to get confident in my knowledge, practical skills, and experience. Now that I have, I’m cocked and locked as a paramedic. That role keeps my demons at bay.
It’s like the lady who rides the tiger. Everything’s fine while she’s on it, but doesn’t dare dismount. A lot of people do fine in their roles as long as they stay in them. It’s often a slow motion train wreck — if the person can postpone the inevitable long enough, they can retire and then go hang themselves.
The part that makes people no longer effective IMO is the unhealthy coping mechanisms employed in this dysfunctional, male-dominated culture.
The system selects for people who are quick to judge, extroverted, physical, self-confident, and team-oriented. (See: “Jocks.”) Everybody gets drug tested, so the drug of choice is alcohol. Alcoholism is rampant, as is inappropriate sex (they don’t test for that, either). All of that helps degrade the family support network. The entire culture is steeped in the alcoholic mindset.
The soul crushing part about public safety isn’t the daily tragedy; sometimes you can help people with that stuff, and for those golden moments it’s all worthwhile. The truly stressful part is the culture and dealing with management and co-workers, especially if you’re not homogenous (i.e., tendency/ability to use words like homogenous correctly in a sentence.)
There’s no transparency, so the public has a completely false idea of what’s going on. You share no common language and can’t blend in with them. You’re thus painted into a corner. You can’t go home again. If it comes to the point where you can no longer play by firehouse rules, then the walls come tumbling down.
I know a fire captain whose alcoholism got so bad that they made him retire early. He didn’t drink at work. Even so, his blood alcohol level was so high at baseline that 24 hours dry didn’t bring it back under the limit. I’m sure you’ve seen this. Even a respected captain (and a very good guy who cared about citizens and sacrificed everything for them) can’t be obviously drunk all day every day at work.
His wife asked me to come over and talk to him. He was so drunk he could barely sit upright. I listened to him. He started gushing decades of trauma, including the old-school CPR; many times he put his mouth over the puke-encrusted mouths of dead people. The part that really crushed him, though, was when he could no longer pretend his band of brothers gave a shit about him. Once they vote you off the island, you’re radioactive.
I don’t know. I wasn’t on his crew but I know them. I can see why he feels so betrayed. His wife despises every one of them now that she’s read the final chapter. She feels robbed, and she should, she was.
As a person with excellent coping skills (which I realize may not seem to be the case from reading my blog) I have to say it’s not fair to expect them to save him. One drowning man can’t save another. I don’t think they’re a band of brotherf*ckers, though I know other crews that are.
The problem is they’re in a system that chews people up and craps them out.