My "New Reality"

This morning I woke up more groggy than usual.  

Waking up on any other day of the week I roll over, drop my heavy legs over the side of the bed and meander my way to the coffee pot trying to figure out which way is up.  Today, however is not that day. Today I had no gumption to move out of bed and laid quietly staring at the spinning ceiling fan for a disproportionate amount if time. Ugh.  Maybe I’ll just stay here all day. Who would notice if I didn’t? Then I feel the cold, wet nose of the younger of my two quadrupeds, Belle pushing up against my arm. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle.  “Morning, Mom! Your up late! WE ARE HUNGRY, FEED US!” Yes, I talk to my dogs and YES they talk back. Don’t judge.

Today is the day I will have to dig deep and get it done.  Today, I have to come back to the one thing that above anything else provides me clarity.  Running. Today is the day that after the dust settles of having been on a Medic truck for 24 hours I am given time to process and realize sometimes, I HATE MY JOB.  You see, in my world, like many other “PARAMAGICIANS” there are two realities. Life before Paramedicine and life AFTER. If you are or have been in my shoes, then you are now shaking your head in agreeance.  If you have not, it is something you can only try to understand but I’ll try to explain my BEFORE and AFTER.

After I left college I worked in the corporate world for a Fortune 500 company, making crazy good money. I had stock options, fantastic benefits and financial stability.  I was a hustler. (My Father used to say I could sell a Ketchup Ice pop to a woman in white gloves). I was relatable, I was honest, I was good at my job and people liked me.  (What's not to like??). But I genuinely felt something was missing and I had more to offer the world.

In 1993, My employer at the time was looking to send people through an EMT class, it seemed intriguing so I signed up, finished the class and with my bright orange jump bag in hand I was on my way.  On my way home from work one night, I drove past a sign saying “members wanted”. I turned the car around and walked into the open bay door. I was met with a smile, witty sense of humor, a handshake and introduction of “Hi, my Name is Nick.  Can I help you?” The first words of many and the start of a lifelong friendship.

Nick Curcio and I became besties in every sense of the word.  He was quickly someone I could confide in and seemed to have an “old soul” vibe about him.  Nick had been through more medically in his short time on earth than most could ever fathom.   He became my protector and I in turn became his. Through him, my Mentor, I quickly found my purpose in life as a “helper”.  A few months into being a “squaddie” we were dispatched to a motor vehicle accident on one of our towns interstates. Enroute to the scene, bumping down the road we were advised that this was a “fatal” and where to stage on scene for our safety.  We arrived and the scene was a blur. Sirens, people moving, cars moving, smells of smoke, fuel and oil, Medics shuffling intensely yelling medical orders on a wireless box and with a sense of purpose, radios squelching, bystanders gawking. Then Clearly. THE SCREAMING. It’s a primal scream, one that can never be unheard. That is all I can distinctly remember.  The screaming.

On the way home, Nick and I were quiet.  Nick was seasoned, I was not. Nick spoke first as I stared out of the Internationals window bumping down the road.  “This is terrible. It is the worst thing another human being can see. It hurts. Tracy if your going to do this from here on out,this is your new reality.  This is not the movies or TV, this is real life, some things cannot be fixed. Bad things happen to good people who don’t deserve it. Here’s the thing though.  These good people need good people like us to help them.” My new reality? I thought….what does that mean?? We sat with our compatriots at a CISD (Critical Incident Stress Debriefing) meeting and discussed, cried and processed with other “helpers”.  Bill Voelkel, Captain of the North squad pulled me aside. “Your a Hawk too. (a reference to being a Monmouth College alumni) Welcome to the family.” Thanks Bill. “Find an outlet.” he says. “Walking, running, swimming, knitting, whatever it is. Do it. Don’t drink. Talk to others and find your outlet.”  “I will, Bill, thanks.” (I miss you every day, Bill. Every. DAMN. DAY.) It took me years to figure out what he was talking about.

In 1996, I felt compelled to leave my crazy secure, good paying job to go back to college and become a Paramedic.  My Parents thought I was an insane person. (Insane? No.  This was my: “Wait, Hold my beer” moment)

I married a man who was also in public service, he was a police officer.  In my early days of being a Medic he sat me down (I am stubborn and obstinate but I think I covered that in an earlier blog) and with kid gloves Bill had a talk with me. “Tracy, your job is changing you, it’s’ making you a different, unhappy person.  I think it’s time to start talking to a CISD or genesis counselor to help you develop a coping mechanism”

Ok, now Bill had a world more experience than me so I listened and I went.  It helped. Over the course of time, I learned coping mechanisms and how to live life with my “new reality”  The Paramedic’s new reality, the one that we as EMS providers know all too well: We only see the worst things that life has to throw us.  911 medical emergencies are never called to someone’s house to celebrate the good, only to help ease the burden of the catastrophic. Those primal screaming kinda calls.

So one day I figured it out.  Running. Running gives people endorphins.  Endorphins make people happy. Happy people can cope.  So I started running. I ran, I processed, I healed. I had the best, cheapest and most effective way of coping.  Loud, angry music, just me and my feet hitting the pavement, breathing in and breathing out and time to figure out all of the worlds problems.  I was fast and lean and was capable of running long distances.

Then, in 2010 I broke my leg. Another "new reality": “You will never run again, you have hardware in there now."  Well, SHIT.

Fast forward to 2015: I am Lion, hear me ROAR.

I was able to get my coping mechanism back and it was glorious.  I was slow and I will now always be slow. It was painful and it will always be painful, but I was back.  Damn Straight I was back.

There are days on the truck where, like the last two days, I know it’s going to be super hot and busy and in an effort to conserve my energy, I will not get up at 04:00 and train.  I try to save my energy for the shit storm the universe will throw at me. The downfall to this thought process is, I don’t get my pre shift endorphin dump.  This is where you hope for the best and try to make it through the shift with little to no drama. The last 24 hours, however that is all there was.

The bad things happened.  Then the worst things happened.  Then, the SCREAMING.

I arrive and take control of the scene, like I always do and has come to be expected of me.  I take control of everything and everyone in my presence. I take control to slow things down, to let everyone know the emergency is over, the cavalry has arrived.  

I take control to stop the SCREAMING.

The literal screaming stops, but the proverbial sound still echoes through my head.  I punch out at the end of my shift with yet another little piece of me left like a crumpled up piece of paper on the floor and I go home.  My co workers, who stand in the trenches with me, text, message and call to make sure I am ok, because they get it. “I will be, thank you.” is always my response. I shower, eat and crawl into bed after my good nights and I love you’s, grateful for another opportunity to have made a legitimate difference in someone else’s “new reality”.  

Today, I wake up and I am grateful that now, more than ever I get another day on Earth.  I will bike, run and swim, because I so desperately need those endorphins but most importantly, I run because, I NEED it.  Because someone once told me I would never run again. Most importantly: I run to remind myself that today, in my “NEW REALITY”: The only one stopping me is ME.

Today, Ironman LP 70.3 is now just 10 days away.  Well, SHIT.

Stay safe out there and be good to each other. ~ T