Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Joining a first aid squad

When I was younger, I had a very weak stomach. Many of my car trips were spent with my head out the window splashing what I ate for breakfast down the side of my parents' orange '72 Chevy Nova as we drove from Point Pleasant to Red Bank. Seasickness was an element of every fishing trip when I was 8 or 9. My breakfasts often served as chum for the fish. After emptying my stomach, I would have to rest inside the party boat's cabin. Even into early adulthood, changing diapers sometimes would test my stomach. When I joined Metuchen EMS, my family was stunned. They weren't stunned by my willingness to volunteer for an organization or that I wanted to help sick people. They were stunned that I was willing to test a weak stomach in such a fashion.

I wanted to do something involving health care. I like the intellectual challenge, but I didn't have the grades for medical school. I did better in my English classes than my science classes, however, and started a career in journalism, eventually becoming a health care reporter. I also worked as a copy editor at the Daily Record. As the slot editor, I had to edit the obituary page. You can take stock of one's life and commitments when they try to boil it down to a few paragraphs. When it comes time to write mine after I'm in my 80s, I don't want it only to say "Bill thought South Park really kicked ass." I also don't want it to serve as some simple regurgitation of my resume. When the kids get older, you need to do other stuff to keep you busy. Those commitments outside the job may as well be worthwhile -- whether it's community service or just doing stuff that makes you happy.

This is ultimately about karma. Give and expect nothing in return except the feeling that you helped someone at their moment of greatest need. I'm not independently wealthy where I could do this full time, since EMTs make less per hour than an average Costco worker. I'm not one of those starry-eyed idealists who think they can save the world and cure hunger, fight disease and right all of the world's wrongs. I'm too old for that idealism and I have to cut the grass. However, I can get off the couch one night a week and the occasional weekend to ride on an ambulance. Metuchen is not as busy as some of the Edison squads, but there are still calls in the middle of the night.

I've been taking EMT classes since early September. Every weekend I spend 8 hours learning about how to respond to diabetes emergencies, cardiac, and respiratory emergencies. We take exams every few weeks. In a few weeks, I'll be doing clinical time at an emergency room in Perth Amboy on a Friday and again on a Saturday. It should be a real test and a definite change of pace from Metuchen.


1 comment:

Darcie said...

That's one of the best things I've ever read of yours.