I was a paramedic because I wanted to help; I wanted to make a difference. I have dreamed of being in the medical field for as long back as I can remember.
After high school I went to university, then college, then ran my own business for a while, but medicine still called. On a whim, I applied for the Primary Care Paramedic Program at Algonquin College at the age of 26, and to my surprise, I was accepted. I enjoyed school and the learning came easy (other than Pharmacology). As first year ended, I started to prepare my schedule for the more practical part called “ride-outs”, the opportunity to learn the ropes in the field under the watchful eye of a team of medics.
I had amazing mentors in the field…truly amazing, top notch people to model my approach to patient care after. But nothing prepared me mentally for a call I did while still a student and it eventually led to the undoing of my chosen profession.
A single call…about 60 minutes of time that changed everything and resulted in a PTSD diagnosis.
After that call, my then boyfriend of about 4 weeks (who later became my husband) moved in with me. Ben made me eat, convinced me to sleep, watched me cry and tried to get me to talk.
I was scared, I was still a student and needed to finish my program. There was no room for failure…I had to do this.
I pushed on and was quickly hired along with most of my graduating class by a large paramedic service. I tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Then I lost my grandfather in a single car collision, and a few months later had my own rollover on the way home from a night shift.
Those events paired with the difficult call-out as a student became too much to bear. I started yelling at my work partner, crying on calls and mostly blanking out when I was in the back of the ambulance, arriving at the hospital praying my patient was still alive. I was having nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, moments of sheer terror. I had no idea what was wrong with me, I blamed it on stress, on night shifts, on anything I could think of.
A few years later when on maternity leave with our first daughter, our family was in a very minor fender bender. There is no other way to explain what happened next…I got out of the car and snapped. In the middle of a major intersection I lost it. I had a complete breakdown.
At that point my husband and I knew I needed help…badly. I called work and asked for help.
It was such an odd feeling, defeating in a way, to be the one who needed help instead of being the “helper”, but for the sake of my family I knew I needed to reach out.
I made that call in 2006.
After years in the “system” I was deemed unemployable, such a blow to someone who truly wanted to help, who wanted to work, who had tried so hard to make her dream come true.
I miss my co-workers, I miss the laughs and the tears, the sense of family. I miss the nutty calls and the fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants calls. But I don’t miss feeling angry, sad, depressed or scared.
Thankfully, things have changed since I was diagnosed in 2006. More people are talking about mental health and how to help those faced with the stigma of an invisible injury.
Thankfully, I still have my family, my husband (who is also a paramedic), our two girls, and our three dogs.
Thankfully, I have friends and family who understand when I forget their name, have an anxiety attack or cancel our plans because something has thrown my brain off-course.
Thankfully, I have found volunteer work that allows me to feel like a contributing member of society again after many years of darkness.
Keep talking, keep reaching out, keep trying. Take care of each other as well as you care for your patients…don’t give up.
– Julie Hindle