I’ve caught myself dealing with death a lot these days, it’s a part of the job of course. We are faced with dealing with people on the worst days of their lives and frequently that turns out to be the last day of their lives. I’m finding it hard to prevent it from affecting me. I create a thin shell of machismo and fabricated callousness, which protects a soft center of sadness and melancholy that threatens my happy state of being.
Early on in my EMS training, I was taught the five levels of death and even then as I was reading it from the text book, I thought it was absurd that some psychologist could quantify the intangible levels of emotion and suffering into an acronym as ridiculous as DABDA.
But as my experience with death firsthand continues to expand, I find myself agreeing completely with each level that we learned about in school. Only the acronym DABDA refers to a person dealing with their own death or possibly the death of a loved one. For emergency response workers there are other levels, more subtle, more difficult to define. I sat and looked at the DABDA example and came up with one that I think fits our kind. I’ve come up with ECDFSS.
E is for Excitement
The call comes in, the radio crackles, the tones sound off; ‘Rescue units respond to an MVC with multiple injuries…’ and you hear the severity in the people’s voices. You can almost see their faces wince in your mind as you imagine them listening to the people calling in for help. “Oh my God! Please Hurry! He’s dying, please!!!!”
Your heart speeds up as you drop what you’re doing and jump in the truck. Your daily worries evaporate. Your late car payment, the argument that you had with your spouse, your plans for the weekend…GONE. In an instant your mind is speeding down a highway just like the screaming engine that you’re responding with.
C is for Curiosity
As you arrive on the scene and become the “rubbernecker” with a back stage pass. Not only do you get to drive up close to a bad accident or a fatality, but you get to walk through the broken glass and see the blood and guts from the front row, the fifty-yard line, behind home plate and ringside all rolled into one. We are all rubberneckers by nature. By genetic make-up. Even by our classification as mammals. Have you ever watched a nature channel show and seen how the zebra’s stand around and watch as their herd mate gets turned into lion snacks? It’s in every one of us. As emergency responders we yell and blast our horns at the rubberneckers in our way, but we all have to admit that in each one of us there is a desire to look, a need to see, a demand for details.
D is for Desire to Assist
As the “rubber-necker” inside you is fulfilled and you remember that your job is to tend to these people, the original desire to assist that drove you to this job originally kicks in and you begin to function as if someone has thrown a switch. Multi-tasking, triage, scene control. Communications with dispatch, additional resources, police and public safety, all flow organically as your muscle memory and training take over, and the responder kicks in high gear. There may be those that have lost this spark somewhere along their career, but each and every one of us had it at one point, or we wouldn’t be doing this stuff.
F is for Frustration
When the scene, the circumstances or the mechanism of injury are such that there really is no hope of life for those involved, a deep sense of frustration set in. After all, it’s your JOB to save them, DAMNIT! If I can’t do my JOB, what good am I? If I can’t patch them up, if I can’t piece them together, I’ve failed. Even when it’s obvious that nothing could have be done, Frustration is a natural feeling, but one that sours your heart and robs from your soul. We are caregivers, rescuers, and protectors. Take away our ability to fulfill that role and frustration replaces it.
S is for Sadness
As the details of a fatality scene take time to document, so too does the “visual acceptance” of the death. As the police or medical examiners begin to take their pictures, you begin noticing the debris scattered around the body. The CD’s they were listening to laying on the highway, the paperback that they were reading that flutters on the ground each time a semi passes by. These little props, these belongings that were transformed into mementos in a split second, they begin to settle in on your consciousness like a thick cloud. Then you find your eyes drawn to the body again. Little details stand out. A wedding ring, perhaps an old surgery scar, or a pony tail. Little human demonstrations of life and humanity.
And then, finally on the way back to the Fire Hall after the call or even the next day sitting on a couch scratching your butt, or a week later ordering dinner at a restaurant….
S is for Self-Evaluation
Self-evaluation. By that I mean thinking about your self more closely than most people do. Where am I in my life? Who am I to the people that know me? What have I done with my life? What am I going to do with it? Where am I going? What are my goals? All normal questions for most people but they become more thought provoking, more tangible if at the end of each of those questions you were to add; ‘ ..if I die tomorrow?’
When constantly faced with human mortality we are constantly confronted by our own. It shades our thoughts differently and puts perspective on simple questions that were once posed in innocence and our now posed in stark contrast. What if that was me lying in the road with my head split open? What if that was me staring dead eyed into the bright afternoon sun? What has the culmination of my existence added up to? Heavy stuff, heavy stuff indeed.
Does DABDA sum all of that up for you?
~ Fire Ninja