When we deal with death, many providers build a wall or remove themselves emotionally in an effort to cope. Other times humor is used to deal with the passing of a public figure, celebrity or noted personality.
Recently my system saw the death of a legend. A person who every EMT and medic on every rig, every engine, and even some of the BLS truck companies knew by sight. Everyone knew this person by name and reputation.
They were one of the fighters, the biters, the urine soaked, feces covered 911 abusers. Sometimes you could predict this person simply based on the location and description of chief complaint.
It was confirmed recently that this person died.
I learned this news at the same time as a number of other ambulance crews and I was unsure of the reaction I would witness. Would there be cheering? A celebration that we would likely have 75-200 less calls next year, and less need to change uniform when dirtied by subduing this person? Or would these crews begin the humor response, laughing and joking about where this person was now and who was judging them?
These scenarios raced through my mind as silence took over the room.
Silence. A moment of silence for someone who rarely, if even once, needed an ambulance. A moment of reflection for someone who, as is said in A Christmas Story, worked in profanity the way some artists work in oils.
There were sighs and a few folks looked around saying, “Really? [name] is dead?”
I spoke later with a friend from the CoEMS community who shared a story about when one of their regulars/legends passed and he confirmed a similar reaction. What blew his mind a week later was when dozens of ambulance workers arrived at the person’s funeral, in uniform, to show their respects to someone they had seen so often, talked with so much, had become, in a strange way, a friend.
Part of me wants to watch the obituaries for a noting of a service and see if anyone else wants to stop by and say goodbye to one of the legends.
The worst part is that there are already 3 new arrivals to the City vying for the spot left open.