Continuing on the 12 n ’12 Reading Challenge for EMS Professionals, my EMS book for May was Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine by Peter Canning. The book takes readers through the up’s and down’s of the first several years of Canning’s EMS career. As a former political speech writer turned paramedic, Canning is the quintessential medical author. However, these talents don’t offer much protection on the streets. Though he came into EMS with more education and life experience than many young medics, he finds that he isn’t immune from the trials of internships and earning the respect of his peers.
“I am glad that they have confidence in me. I do not feel it is warranted. The call has scared me – reminded me that there are calls ahead where I will stumble and won’t have someone there to get me back on the right track.”
In time, Canning hits his stride and joins the ranks of the urban EMS professional, only to find that there were a lot of topics not covered in his training. He finds himself challenged both positively and negatively from shift to shift.
“Before leaving I go to wash my hands. In the men’s room, I look at myself in the mirror. Who am I? What are my true feelings? Why can’t I see this woman for what she is – a scared, poorly educated mother who’s probably had a hard life full of defeats and prejudices against her, who loves her daughter and just wants her to be all right? Where is my compassion? My understanding?”
Canning manages to capture both the vivid, tangible details of EMS calls and the dynamic, intangible emotions that prehospital providers encounter. Through all the chaos in his shift work, Canning eventually finds an inner calm and satisfaction. His thoughtful reflections are too numerous to list here, but my favorite was this…
“Around six every night it gets very busy. We clear the hospital and are the only ambulance available in the city, and the dispatcher says to us, “You are covering the world.” I think I may not be a senator, or the right fielder for the Red Sox, or a rich man, but here I am covering the world. And no matter who gets sick, whether a poor man in the projects or the governor in his mansion, when they call for help, I will come through the door.”
Canning offers readers some more insight into his EMS writing during this interview on the Medical Author Chat. If you find Canning’s writing as engaging as I did, then you can also check out his most recent blog entries at Street Watch: Notes of a Paramedic.