It’s about people, not statistics. TEN things a PARAMEDIC wants you to know.
I guess we’ll never really know why Adreanne Leblanc couldn’t ask for help, or so we are told she couldn’t. I have my suspicions though. More and more, we know less and less about how to really offer it.
Adreanne is the first responder from Quebec city who took her her life last week. She was the first to arrive on the scene of the deadly mass shooting at a Quebec city mosque last year.
She had been dealing with a lot. On top of the images of the scene that she was replaying in her head over and over, she was also grieving three other first responder friends who had committed suicide too during the last four years.
You would think that with stats like this, we as a society would be crying out that there’s an epidemic.
Following the incident, Adreanne received a grand total of one hour of counselling.
One hour ….
You hear over and over about how First Responders have trouble asking for help. Like somehow they want to live up to this super-human image. Like somehow they just need to be trained better to take care of themselves.
I think it goes way deeper than that. I think that as a real sense of community disintegrates around us, it becomes easier to see each other as numbers. We start to look at caring for others as “services”. And then, finally, it’s not long before we worry about statistics and the dollars and cents that go with them before we worry about people.
As a pastor who works in a field where burnout is high, and who has spent a fair amount of time with first responders and their families (police, paramedics, firefighters), I can tell you that in order for someone to want to take care of themselves and “get better”, they need to have people around them who think they are worth it – like really worth it. Because they see so much stuff around them that eventually sticks to them, they are in real danger of thinking otherwise.
That’s what it looks like when PTSD takes over. You lose sight of who you are as a person until you see yourself as less than a person.
You need people around you who see you as more than a uniform. You need to have people around you who see you as you – as human, as beautiful, as wanted.
Julie Weinrich is a good person, mother and wife. She also happens to be a paramedic. I hope that she never forgets how loved she is – as a whole person.
Julie Weinrich is a long time friend of mine and she’s worked really, really hard to become a paramedic. Heaven knows people are her passion. By grace, because she’s never given up on people (even as others might have) she’s never given up on herself.
I asked her if she might share with us the ten top things she thinks we should know what lies behind the uniform and the stats. Number 7 stands out for me.
(1) Please don’t ask “what is the worst thing you have ever seen?”. By doing this you are literally asking us to remember/relive our worst memory. Trust me, you really don’t want to know.
(2) We get paid less than most other EMS services.
(3) Despite the pay we LOVE what we do. If asked, most will say that this is the best job that they’ve ever had.
(4) We arrive as fast as humanly possible, I promise.
(5) You will not get seen any faster if you arrive via ambulance. You will get triaged just like everyone else who walks through the door.
(6) We miss birthdays, anniversaries, school plays, soccer practice and Christmas.
(7) We work long hours, often with few breaks. If you see a paramedic in line at the coffee shop, treat them! I promise you they will pay it forward.
(8) Our job isn’t always guts and broken bones. It’s helping grandma back into bed. It’s making some phone calls and a pot of tea for the husband who lost his partner of 50 years. It’s going to elementary schools to inspire young minds.
(9) Full moons day/nights are always busy!!
(10) Being a Paramedic is a privilege. Being called to help in someone’s greatest time of need is extremely humbling
There is no reason to suffer alone. But that reason can’t just be trained into you. Real people, all kinds of people, need to love you. We have a word for those people – we call that community. The Apostle Paul called that a cloud of witnesses. In the United Church, we call that a family.
I grieve Adreanne and her family even though I don’t know them. I grieve their loss and I grieve our failings as a society to love people better. But grief is not enough. It takes real action too.
In the United Church, down in the Seaway Valley in a tiny little town known as Cardinal there sits First Responders United – the latest in what I predict will be many churches that will fill the gap in mental health support in this country. They are the first to offer accredited care to first responders and I’m told there’s already a waiting list.
(https://firstrespondersunitedchurch.wordpress.com/. The minister there is a former OPP officer and is currently a licensed clinical psychologist) PLEASE – Share this link. Share if you care.
There are other examples that are popping up all over the place. For example, in Montreal, Ian Smith and his community with help you with stress issues related to grief. I’m told the school board is reaching out to him. He has been doing grief work at a palliative care center for several years. In Ottawa, my own church will help you with the same and also issues related to life transitions of all kinds. Of particular note is that we are active on two campuses here in Ottawa – Algonquin and Carleton – on behalf of the whole of the United Church. I am currently working towards my certification in counselling to solidify the secular training I already have – my congregation is helping me foot the bill. These are just a few examples. There are dozens right across the country. In the United Church, our faith inspires our ministers to meet and treat people on their own terms.
The thing of it is though – is that what we offer most – what people experience most – is not the “service” so much as that elusive thing we call community.
Julie knows this about her life and her profession. She knows so well that community, family and love are where it’s really at. I know she knows this because whenever we speak, she reminds me of what a good person looks like and how they stay that way. We owe it to ourselves to listen to what she has to say.
On behalf of Carleton Memorial United church and the whole of our church in Canada to First Responders: If you have no other place to go, find us. You never need to do much else than come as you are and simply be until you find yourself again.
Be blessed. Be a blessing.
Rev. Eric Lukacs