When I think of emergency medical care, I think of those situations where seconds count and every decision made means life or death. How can someone actually prepare for that? Ten years ago, as a Practical Nursing student, I would have given a great textbook answer that included advice about drinking plenty of water, getting 8 hours of sleep every night, and staying in good physical condition. Those are all fantastic ideas. In the real world, very few medical professionals are able to follow this advice. There are, however, several little things you can do to give your body and mind the best possible chance of holding up to a medical career.
To prepare physically, the number one rule is to use good body mechanics and posture. You will be in odd and uncomfortable positions, but you won’t feel it until later on when you are trying to clean the blood and other fluids off your clothes and shoes. Don’t try to lift more than you can safely lift. Use gravity to help you reposition patients when possible. Encourage your patients to do what they can for themselves. This fosters independence and healing for them and conserves energy for you. Sit when and if you can. Sleep when and if you can. Do your best to follow the medical advice you give your own patients. Empty your bladder every chance you get. Hydrate often. Give your body foods that fuel it and allow it to function well. Considering the physical aspects of emergency medical care, one should accept the fact that sometimes your hands will be shaking as much as your voice. Your heart will be racing. Practice thinking and problem solving when your body is completely exhausted, because you will have to be capable of making important decisions when your body is fatigued. You can also practice calming yourself when you are physically taxed, for example, taking slow deep breaths after a run to slow your heart rate and breathing. You will feel bones crunching and cartilage separating as you perform chest compressions. CPR will absolutely exhaust you, so switch off with a partner when you can. Get massages or chiropractic adjustments as needed. Take time to be the patient when you need to heal.
Preparing yourself mentally to provide emergency medical care is more difficult and possibly more crucial than the physical preparation. Some of this advice might not seem applicable to emergency care, but it may be helpful. I have heard many people say “don’t get attached” and I want to be the first to tell you that is terrible advice. Get attached. That is exactly what they need and it is those attachments that will keep you going. The days when you feel completely burned out it will be the smile on the face of that patient that means something to you on a personal level that will keep you from quitting. It will hurt when you lose one. Feel it. Feel every bit of it. This is the beauty of life: to connect and to feel. Be a passionate advocate for your patients, but when policies or adversaries prevail, do not allow it to make you bitter. Continue the fight for what is best for your patients and your team without forgetting why it was important. Make their fight your fight and carry it personally but do not allow it to consume you. Not all of your patients will be kind. People will likely require your care because they are facing a health crisis. They don’t feel well and they are probably tired, afraid, and confused. This will make them cranky at times. Be kind to them anyway. They need it now more than ever. If they abuse you in any way, report it and refuse to provide care until the situation is appropriately resolved. This applies especially to sexual harassment types of situations. The vulgar comments or gestures may truly not bother you in any way, but each of us sets the standard for how all of us will allow our patients to treat us, so even if you aren’t disgusted by this behavior, hold firm to appropriate boundaries and speak up immediately so the patient will know this won’t be tolerated. In emergency situations you will feel desperate. You will not be able to solve every problem or save every life. You will feel defeated when you don’t succeed. Do the best you can, and accept that your efforts were enough, even if the result isn’t what you wanted. Please, do not go into the medical field intending to avoid your feelings. Accept that you will have these feelings, and allow yourself to process them when they develop. Embrace all the beauty in the process of helping others heal, and enjoy the growth you will notice within yourself along the way.