A man made up of boxes

I watched “Act of Valor” last night.  The men, women, families, and friends that serve our country are worthy of our utmost admiration due to the sacrifice that they make to protect us.  In regards to the movie, there were a couple quotes that got me thinking about how they relate to medicine especially emergency services (firefighters, police, EMS, Emergency Room personnel).  I have included the quote below.

“Put your pain in a box — lock it down; like those people in those paintings your father used to like. Real men, made up of boxes — chambers of loss and triumph of hurt and hope and love. No one is stronger or more dangerous than who can harness his emotions — his past.”

This is very true for us that work in Emergency Services.  I know that in the ER I am expected to do this.  The scariest part is that I can do this quite well – maybe it is a talent or a curse or both?  I have pulled a lifeless 9-year-old from her uncle’s arms.  She had been shot through the chest.  The team and I intubated her and then cracked her chest.  We got her back and then lost her.  This was repeated 3-4 times until we could not get her back again.  I have intubated, placed 2 IOs, shocked and then pronounced dead a 3 month old boy.  I have opened a mother’s chest who lost pulses in front of me after being hit by a car only to pronounce her 1 hour later.  I have tried to comfort families that have just lost their dad, mom, or child.  I have ducked a punch of a hysterical brother who just lost his sister.  I have called the cops on a father who just killed his kid because the kid spilled some milk.  These are just the ones off the top of my head. I have saved many more than I have lost, but the ones that I have lost are the ones that really stand out.   It is the lost ones that follow you.  Saving people is what I am supposed to do.  Loosing them is failure – in a way.  I know that I could not have done anything else and that I did my best and at times did more than someone else in my shoes would have done.  But that does not make me feel any better.

In this line of work, you are supposed to “lock it down” and see the next runny nose (who is mad because they have been waiting so long) like nothing happened just a few short minutes before.  Because if I don’t lock it down, I will not be on the top of my game for the person who comes through my doors.  I cannot think about it. I cannot dwell on it.  I do my job and just keep on going.  That is our life in Emergency Services.  We put our losses, triumphs, hopes, and success in locked boxes so that we can be strong for the next person who needs us.