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Why I Became an Ambulance Driver/EMT

I never overly applied myself in school, which resulted in some mediocre finals and had the astounding consequence that I could not study biology, the only science that held any interest for me. Fortunately I had some artistic talent combined with a good amount of creativity, and successfully embarked on the long path of becoming an artist.

The upshot of this development was that other than learning French in my mid twenties I never challenged my brain much, and comfortably settled into the notion that the right side of my brain ruled my destiny while the left side needn’t be bothered.

AntoinetteVonGroneAfter moving to the valley 10 years ago, my husband Thom told me that he wanted to volunteer either with the Fire Department or as driver for the ambulance. He explained to me that living in such a small community came with a civic duty to engage with it on some level.

Wow, what a brand new idea in my universe. I had spent the majority of my life living in places where the government paid for such services and so I did not waste much time thinking about them.

I supported Thom’s decision but still did not connect them to my personal life. After all I was a woman just turned 50 without enough physical strength to run fire hoses up and down our steep terrain. And as to driving the ambulance, heck, I was not a racecar driver.

So the day came along when I ran into the late Bruce Longstreet (then manager of the ambulance) at a party. We talked about Thom’s upcoming training and then he surprised me by saying: “And what about you?”

“Ah…. I don’t drive fast”

“Well that’s not what we want anyway, we need drivers who drive safe. You never have to exceed your comfort zone and once you have a patient on board we need you to drive very, very carefully.”

I guess this small conversation was a point in my life where it took one of those unexpected turns. I just did not know that yet when I agreed to become an ambulance driver.

David Severn was my driving mentor and before long I did my first shift. I remember crystal clear where I was on that first run when that feeling of being deeply alive came over me and I thought: “It took 50 years to get here!” It was at mile marker 10 on Hwy 253.

My initial concern that I would not be able to take the sight of blood proved wrong because as an official part of EMS you take on a professional attitude that provides a barrier between your private feelings and the task at hand. So for the next 2 years I enthusiastically drove, showed up to help on many scenes as an extra hand to get more exposure and witnessed the mysterious actions of the EMTs.

My enthusiasm went so far as to jump out of the bathtub and leave my husband there to go to someone’s aid. Well I learned quickly that that was not a genius move and that it was important to balance my home life more delicately.

Then the biannual EMT class was offered and while I thought that my memory capacity was not great enough to become one (remember my slumbering left side of the brain) I thought I could be a much better driver and help to the EMTs if I actually understood what they were doing. So I signed up.

To my surprise I was hooked from the very first day onward and developed a drive to excel I had NEVER had before. Wow, learning was fun and medicine was a new universe! A different world opened itself to a very hungry left side, I had starved it for way too long.

Along with all this excitement came a number of wonderful bonuses:

To help and experience how much comfort you can bring to people in emergency settings, sometimes simply by holding a hand and being gentle and calm.

To meet and appreciate my co-volunteers who come from all kinds of different backgrounds but have in common the commitment to this community. I think of them as my brethren, a true brotherhood.

To acquire the ability to stay calm in difficult circumstances.

To live more consciously and experience the poignant beauty of life in the face of emergency.

To see the CalStar helicopter fly straight into the full moon one night (that was amazing).

And last but not least to feel the adrenaline rush that still comes with every call I respond to.

So here is the point where I have to admit that I have become an Emergency Services junky. I listen to the EMS radio during the day, which covers all of Mendocino County. It is as if listening to the pulse of a community. I go online and read articles about EMS, go to all trainings I am in town for, because we don’t get that many calls so there is not enough repetition. And I have to also acknowledge that if I don’t keep at it my now 60 year old brain forgets too much. The insights into people’s lives are more than interesting. And while traversing the multiple layers of society in this valley my overall “medical” assessment comes always to this conclusion: when we are sick and in need of help, we are all the same.

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“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” — Goethe 

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