I sat in a catatonic state awaiting the posting of my exam grade online. My heart raced as my body flooded with a sense of impending calamity. I refreshed the webpage over and over and over again. Following several minutes of this repetitive refreshing, my eyes began to drain like my life had fallen into a devastating tragedy; in reality, I had only witnessed one.
The truth of the matter is my grade held no value at that moment. For two weeks, my life had been down in the doldrums following the response to a 911 call. My experience within the realm of emergency medical services has been vast. I have witnessed a myriad of tragedies within my field of work as a paramedic, but this specific alarm engrained an abhorrent memory that manifested as an inexorable feeling of dismay.
The alarm dispatched as a “delta-maternity/childbirth.” Delta, referring to a high priority patient, and maternity/childbirth, referring to a complication with a pregnant female or imminent child delivery. I ignorantly sped to the scene with excitement. “I finally get to deliver my first child,” I thought. Chills abruptly coursed throughout my body as I gazed upon a 12-week fetus at the bottom of a toilet bowl. My heart stopped. Time stood still as I frantically scrambled to form words, but my clouded mind caused a momentary aphasia. I had never experienced this sensation within my line of duty. I choked up a few words (which was likely gobbledygook) and composed myself with the patient’s best interest at the forefront.
What felt like the longest ambulance ride of my career ended with a glimpse of emotional osmosis. As I concluded my interaction with the patient and husband, I noticed the husband’s entrenchment of defeat. The husband hesitantly shook my hand in gratitude as I departed from the hospital bed. I could not help myself but to reject the traditional gesture of professionalism and provide human compassion. Tears rolled down this man’s face as I held him tightly to myself. As a sentient being, I soon found myself wailing with empathy. The tragedy of the moment consumed me while consoling the father of an unborn child I had literally pulled from a toilet. Although my personal sense of devastation was transient, the tragedy I felt for this father deepened with every recurring thought of the incident.
It takes devotion and resilience to care for another person in health care — something that became especially apparent to me following this alarm. Health care providers are constantly challenged by the facets of inhumanity, yet they are required to muster the strength to show face by the time of the next patient’s visit. Excellence in health care cannot be measured by an individual’s knowledge, or by the external gratification of grades, but rather the impact left on one’s peers and community. The diverse knowledge and experiences held within a community, and especially within health care, are invaluable resources in advancing the capabilities of medicine. The present shift in medical focus towards patient-centeredness is what exemplifies excellence in health care.