Tim Morrison decided to become a paramedic while working with a volunteer fire department in Mississippi. Occasionally, he and his fellow volunteers had to pull victims from car wrecks on the highway. "At one point," he recalls, "we realized we could cut these people out of a car, but we didn't know what to do with them after that."
Morrison's dilemma really hit home one day when a friend's brother broke his back in a car crash. "When we arrived at the scene, we had no idea what to do for him or how to take care of him," Morrison says. "Fortunately he made a full recovery. But at that point, me and two other people from the fire department decided to take an Emergency Medical Technician course. Before I finished the course, somebody offered me a job working on an ambulance and I'm still here."
Morrison began working on an ambulance crew after receiving his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Basic certification. While working he continued his training and eventually acquired both his EMT Intermediate and Paramedic certifications.
He describes a typical day in his profession: "It goes from complete boredom to utter chaos. A lot of us work in what's called a substation. Most places supply you with a TV or something to keep you entertained. One minute you're doing that and the next minute you're running out the door because somebody's having a heart attack, or there's been a motor vehicle accident, or somebody's been shot or stabbed."
"We go out and do whatever we can to comfort, to soothe, to try and make the victim feel better. Sometimes we have to use all our medical skills to keep them alive," he says.
"The first three things we look for on every patient are: Airway, Breathing, and Circulation," he says. "If they're not breathing, we have to make them breathe. As a paramedic, we can do what's called intubation – where a tube goes down the throat and into the windpipe, allowing us to breathe for you. We can do CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) if you don't have a pulse. And if you're bleeding we can usually control it."
Communication skills are critical, especially when trying to help patients who are short of breath or who cannot speak. Sometimes family members can explain what's wrong, but if not, "you learn to ask yes and no questions because the patient can shake their head yes or no," he says. "Or you write a question and they shake their head."
Communicating effectively requires patience and politeness. "When you walk into somebody's house, when they're deathly ill, you have to remember you're still a guest in their home," he says. Rude, arrogant behavior will only make the situation worse – the victim may simply tell you to get out.
"Learn to be sympathetic. Even if you don't consider it an emergency, the patient does," he says, recalling a time he encountered an old woman suffering from depression. "She needed none of my advanced training or skills. All she needed was some compassion, somebody to talk to her, and some encouragement to see a doctor for her condition."
Math skills are also important. "A lot of our drug calculations need simple math," he says. "If you take something that's in one milliliter of fluid and you add nine more milliliters, it changes the medicine's concentration. You have to know how to give someone the right dosage."
A downside of his job is the lack of respect he sometimes gets from the rest of the medical community. "A lot of nurses and doctors still call us ambulance drivers," Morrison says. "But we consider ourselves professionals. We think we do a good job."
His favorite part of the job is "the immediate gratification of helping another person. When I do it right, and everything goes right – not just for me but for the patient – you can see it immediately."
Sometimes a patient's death is unpreventable. In such cases, Morrison has learned to appreciate the gratitude of the victim's family. "It's the fact that they look at you and thank you for what you did. Sometimes I think they shouldn't be thanking me if I didn't succeed, yet they know I did everything I could do."
Working as an EMT or paramedic requires a great deal of dedication. "You don't get into this field to get rich," Morrison says. "We make a modest living. We make enough to pay our bills and keep our kids happy. We deal with a lot of people that the rest of society doesn't want to deal with: the elderly, the diseased and the injured. If somebody's hurt, we come in and take care of them. You need to have a love for the job. You need to love taking care of other people."