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Health

24 Brutally Honest Confessions From EMTs And Paramedics

We have to care for everyone, and sometimes that means the person who got stabbed...and the person who did the stabbing.

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For this post, BuzzFeed Health spoke with one EMT and two paramedics based in Honolulu, and a paramedic based in New York City. And by the way, although all paramedics are EMTs, not all EMTs are paramedics; which we explain in detail below.

2. We only turn on our sirens when we're transporting someone with a life-threatening emergency.

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We turn on our lights and sirens based on the urgency of the call to 911 and the information we're given from the dispatcher. If we get to the scene and it’s not a life-threatening emergency, we turn our lights/sirens off for the ride back to the hospital. That’s why you'll sometimes see people in the back of an ambulance without the lights or sirens on.

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3. We have to care for everyone — whether it's the person who's hurt, the person who caused the injury, or both.

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As EMTs, it's our responsibility to help everyone in an emergency situation.

4. There are different levels of certifications for EMTs and all of them are trained to do more than just drive ambulances.

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The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians lists three different certification levels: Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT), and Paramedic, which is the highest level of EMT. The names of these levels can differ from state to state in the US.

The higher the level of certifications, the more skills, knowledge, and certifications the EMT possesses. Basic EMTs are taught simple wound care, bleeding control, basic trauma treatments etc., while paramedics are trained to perform advanced life-saving maneuvers such as: intubation, EKG interpretation, administration of emergency medications, etc.

5. It's not OK to call an ambulance when what you really need is a prescription refill or a ride to the doctor.

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We do not give rides to hospitals ~just because~, and we don't give rides to the doctor's office — we go to the emergency room only. We're trained to save lives and assist people in need who have medical emergencies (which unfortunately doesn't include headache, toothaches, medication refills, etc.). Also, we don't refill prescriptions.

6. We're literally a mobile emergency room, so we start treatments for really sick patients immediately.

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Some people might think that our main job is to get patients to the hospital to start treatment, but we're actually equipped to start treatment as soon as we get our hands on a person/get them in the ambulance.

Depending on our level of certification, we can administer medications, start intravenous lines (IVs), provide advanced airway management for patients — basically opening up their airways — and resuscitate and support patients with significant problems such as heart attacks and traumas.

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7. Sometimes people call us for ~serious~ non-emergencies.

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Though they might not realize it, people who call 911 for things that don’t require our assistance are taking resources away from others, or preventing us from getting to the people who really need our help.

Real stuff we've been called for: Someone getting a sex toy stuck in his butt for three days, someone getting food poisoning and wanting his sandwich taken to the department of health to get tested, someone who picked a scab off his head got freaked out when it started bleeding. None of these situations really required our help.

If we arrive and find someone who doesn't need our assistance, we often educate them on this and then give them options (driving themselves or having family drive them to the hospital, calling their primary care doctor to set up an appointment, or even going to an urgent care clinic). If we feel confident that the patient does not need an ambulance, we will say so.

8. Okay, that being said, it's ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry.

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If you truly believe something is life-threatening, call 911. No one is going to fault you for calling if you think you have an actual emergency.

9. We see and help people who are at their lowest points and in the middle of an intense struggle.

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Sometimes the patient may be covered in their own feces and/or urine, or are infested with bedbugs. Sometimes a patient will be going through painful or violent alcohol withdrawal. We've seen people having seizures, we've seen horrible car accidents, and we've seen bad drug trips. People call us when they're going through their worst, and it can be really hard to bear witness to so much suffering.

10. We are often verbally — and sometimes physically — assaulted by patients or their family members.

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Some patients aren't doing it on purpose; they may be in an altered level of consciousness due to a medical emergency. Emotions are always running high during life-threatening situations (understandably), which means it's much easier for people to get upset or angry.

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11. The job rarely gets boring because you never know what type of calls are going to come in and when.

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Sometimes waiting for calls can be a normal part of our day (some days are busier than others). But we still get anxious wondering when a call is going to come in, and when it does, what type of call it's going to be. You never know what you're going to get, which always keeps things interesting and keeps you on your toes.

12. You never get over the feeling of being able to save someone or make a difference in someone's life.

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Some of the most rewarding parts of the job are when the little kid you're helping relaxes their face when you tell them you've got them and will take care of them, or when the family member of a patient hugs you because they know that the patient is in good hands, or when you receive a thank-you from someone who you thought was just another patient — but to them, you were the person who helped save their life.

We don't think being able to give back to the community will ever get old for us.

13. One of the hardest things about the job is that we can't save everyone, even though we tried everything we could.

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The thing that affects us most on the job is dealing with death and feeling like we've let our patients and their families down. We try our best, but we can't always save everyone. All we can do is give our patients the best possible chance and outcome by doing what we've been trained to do.

Some people say that if you go in expecting to save everyone, you will fail. But if you go in expecting to make someone's life a little better, then you can actually achieve that every day.

14. And it's equally as hard to break bad news to family members.

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One sound that is truly scarring is the scream of a mother who's lost her infant child. It's heartbreaking to watch a family grieve over the loss of a loved one. It's one of the hardest things that we have to witness.

A saying that keeps some of us going is: “Not everyone dies, and not everyone lives.” We do our best, and try to give each patient the best possible chance for a good outcome. But we sometimes lose that battle.

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15. Trying to figure out what happened when patients, family members, and bystanders are yelling at you all at the same time is the bane of our existence.

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We understand that we were called for an emergency, but we don't just throw people in the ambulance and speed out — we need to assess, treat, transport, and then transfer care to the hospital.

It's difficult to show up to a scene and try to help someone when others are yelling at you to "just hurry up" and "just go." The best way for us to understand what's going on and do our job as efficiently and effectively as possible is to have one (calm and collected) point person to give us the the details on what's happened.

16. A lot of people don't know that, depending on the state or region, we sometimes work 16- to 24-hour shifts.

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Sometimes we have to work a normal eight-hour shift, and then have to stay for another eight hours because they can't find us relief to go home. Every state has its own rules, but sometimes people can be on call for up to 24 hours.

It's an inside joke that we should never make plans for after work, because you're just going to end up having to cancel them. You also have to work a lot of holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and so forth. It's hard, but it's part of the job.

17. And if your shift is busy, it can leave the whole crew hungry and frantically searching for the nearest bathroom.

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You really learn how to hold your pee (since you obviously can't just go to the bathroom when there are emergencies) and eat decent-sized meals when you can get them, since you really don't know when you're going to get the chance to eat next.

18. The call that no paramedic wants to hear is the “pedi-code,” which is when a young child or baby goes into cardiac arrest.

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We get calls that involve pediatric patients that are sometimes less than a year old. Sometimes no matter how many chest compressions we do, how many medications we administer, or how much oxygen we intubate them with, we still lose them. It's horrific.

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20. And learned how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

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Sudden cardiac arrest — when your heart just stops beating unexpectedly — can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any age. We wish people knew how to work an AED because it's not complicated to handle and it could save someone's life.

An AED is a device that analyzes your heart’s rhythm and will deliver an electrical shock (known as defibrillation) to help get your heart back on a normal rhythm again.

21. The most annoying part of the job is the paperwork, especially when a patient changes their story every few minutes.

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Even though documentation is necessary and important, the most tedious part of being an EMT/paramedic is charting (filling out paperwork). The paperwork is what we pass on to the nurses and doctors once we transport the patient to the hospital.

Some patients change their stories — maybe because they're nervous or disoriented or in an altered state, or maybe because they're worried about being punished for something — which can be frustrating and confusing when trying to treat them and complete the necessary paperwork.

22. Every day we come to work prepared for literally anything, and are expected to make life-saving decisions in split seconds.

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For every emergency that we get called into, we have to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

On the job, you have to depend on instincts (intuition) and trainings, and they're not always telling you the same thing (because your intuition may differ from what you've been trained to do). When you’re responsible for someone’s life, it’s really hard to decide between the two, but in that split second, you have to do what you think is best for that patient, given their situation.

23. People think we're adrenaline junkies, but most of us do this work because we have an innate desire to help others.

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The adrenaline of driving fast with the lights and sirens only lasts a few months before it starts to die down. So it can't be the only reason you want to do this job.

Most of us get into this line of work because we all want to help others and give back to our communities.

24. You get to interact with people from all walks of life and it really broadens your understanding of others.

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You meet a lot of different people, and it's almost always when they're at their worst. So you get to a very personal level with them and their family members very quickly. We treat everyone, which means we care for wealthy patients, homeless patients, ethnically diverse patients, and sometimes patients who don't even speak the same language as us.

It really helps put things in perspective in our own lives and gives us an understanding and tolerance that we may not have had were we not EMTs/paramedics.

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