I was sitting on the curb by the ambulance entrance to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I must have been holding my head in my hands. An ED nurse just coming on duty asked me: “Are you okay?” Knowing the firefighter “code,” I said, “I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t. It was my third year as a firefighter-EMT. A mom of two kids had just died in our ambulance of a massive abdominal bleed, a bleed we had missed, a bleed we couldn’t have done anything about. A seat belt dissected her descending aorta in a motor vehicle collision (MVC). The kicker was I had told her kids that their mom was fine, and she would see them in the hospital. Then, she bled out and died right in front of us.
I felt unmoored for weeks; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I dreamt about it and thought of quitting. (“I’m not tough enough to do this work.”) I was irritated and irritating.