Have you ever Saved a life?

Posted: December 21, 2011 in News and Articles

Have you ever saved a life?  I have been in EMS now for less than two years, and have been asked this question at least 50 times.  It’s a question that is as naturally asked as much as the other question, “have you ever seen someone die?”

In the EMS field, I learned early on (my second call) that death is certainly a big part of what we deal with.  My first experience was an elderly gentlemen that woke up to find his wife had passed away sometime during the evening before while he was asleep.  It was an odd feeling for me.  To be in this man’s house as our first responder pronounced the woman dead.  To be there at such a personal and sad time, as the man started his journey of life without her.  I had a terrible feeling of sadness come over me.  But soon we jumped back in the ambulance, left the gentleman with the Police, and went back to headquarters.

This was an early morning call, and I found it quite surprising that when we got back to HQ, my co-volunteers continued on with life as if nothing happened.  They prepared breakfast and began to eat.  I was unable to eat – still uneasy with what I just saw a few moments ago.  Many people may throw in the towel after an experience like that and say “this isn’t for me!”  I felt that way for just a few minutes, and realized the reason I am doing this is to help prevent injuries, and death when it IS possible.  That poor woman had no chance to be revived.  She had already been gone for hours prior to our arrival.

So to answer one of the questions,  yes – In my short time, I have seen plenty of death.  Now for the good question – have you ever saved a life?  “What do you consider saving a life?”, I ask.  Most people reply “CPR – Bringing someone back from Cardiac Arrest“.  Well yes – Once, and it was not glorious.  Actually the patient never made it out of the hospital.  She just lived long enough for her family to say goodbye.  Maybe 2 hours.  Is that actually saving a life?  Maybe.  But in my eyes I have been involved in many other life saving calls.

I have treated many patients that were in respritory distress.  Many patients that were hemmoraging, overdosing, assaulted, and even a gun shot wound.  Even the patient that may be depressed around the holidays.  Lonely and having suicidal thoughts.  Wouldn’t coming to their aid be considered saving a life?  I think so.  And that’s what keeps me going.  That’s what makes the loss of life a little easier to take.  Every patient taken to the hospital alive, is a “life saved”.

So during these times of question, all EMT’s, Paramedics, and Firefighters should remember that what we do – whether volunteer or paid – Makes a big difference.  Never doubt that you save lives EVERY DAY!  Happy Holidays!!!!

  1. In 1980, I was hired by Grady Memorial Hospital Ambulance, Atlanta, as a new EMT-A, assigned to a training unit, with a paramedic and RN. The first call was a double homicide, execution slayings. A husband and wife had been shot in the head. The RN directed me to verify absence of pulses and breathing, by ausculation, as both, were prone on their kitchen’s floor. Later in my EMS career, my partner and I witnessed another EMT standing over a patient, eating a sandwich ….

    Yes, thankfully, I been able to save lives during my career; learning, some can not be, regardless of our actions

  2. fireemsworld says:

    Aaron Burns • with 23 years as an EMT-I I can say yes to this question multiple times, But never enough to cover the ones that didn’t make it. It does and will change you, and if they live or die you just keep on until next call.

  3. fireemsworld says:

    William Moening • I have been in this field for what is nearing 18 years, currently as a Critical Care Paramedic. To answer your question is very personal because of the fact that it calls into question not only what do you consider saving a life but how do you define life. Here is an example. You respond to a 45 year old male with CPR in progress, after doing everything in your power you check your patient and he has a pulse. Most would define this as a save, but what if you were to find out that your 45 year old husband and father of two is now and forever will be brain dead. Would you still feel the same?

    To me my duty is not to save lives but rather to restore and preserve.

  4. F.E. "Skip" Hall, Jr., BS, NREMT-P says:

    My EMS career started in 1973-74, as a volunteer in a rural rescue squad with about 30 active members. My future father-in-law (John) was an “Advanced First-Aider,” and one of my many mentors during this period, as were many of the squad’s charter members. We were discussing this subject once, a small group of us, and he said something I’ve always considered profound; something I’ve carried with me throughout my years of service as a urban, inner-city medic, flight paramedic, fire/EMS supervisor, peds/neonatal transport medic, and now as an EMS instructor in our local community college system. John said, “I’ve never ‘saved’ anybody. It’s not up to ME who lives and who dies. That’s God’s decision. I just do the best I can, and do whatever I can, whenever I can. But if it’s this fellow’s time to go, there is no power on this earth that’s going to keep him here. And likewise, if it’s NOT his time to go, there’s nothing I can do that will send him on his way. I figure I am an ‘instrument’ in all this, and nothing more. Because God’s will WILL be done, regardless of what I do or don’t do. So I just keep going on the calls, and doing the best I can, according to my own training, and my own capabilities… I don’t think God expects more from us, than that… so long as our motives are just, and our intentions are right. If you take every death as a personal failure, then you might be missing the point, and you won’t last very long around here.”

    We shouldn’t minimize the impact it has, when we resuscitate a patient who only lives for 12 more hours on a vent in the ICU. Sometimes, those 12 hours are what it takes to bring a broken family back together, heal old wounds, and as the writer has noted above, to give them time to say goodbye.

    I don’t teach my students about “saving lives,” very much anymore. It happens so rarely, that to do so makes me feel like I’m selling them a “bill of goods.” I loved and was inspired by “EMERGENCY” in the 70’s, but Johnny and Roy did mislead us a bit. 1) They ran on one amazing, exciting, interesting (and sometimes even funny) call after another. I found if I got ONE such call during a 24-hour, 14-call SHIFT, it was remarkable. And 2) everyone J&R shocked, seemed to come back to life… ready for a game of tennis. This happened to me ONCE, flying at 1,500 feet, over the Chesapeake Bay in a BO-105 helicopter, with a witnessed arrest we were well-prepared to deal with. Otherwise, in almost 40 years of active patient care, I can’t say that I ever witnessed this result. And our patient was well into his 70’s, so he was happy just to look out the window and say, “I think I must have dozed off there for a minute!”… oh well, it’s not a game of tennis, but I’ll take it… ANY day!

    But as exhilarating as it might be to experience a “save” like this one, I found that I felt pretty fulfilled, when I delivered a baby (or 20!), and got them to the hospital warm, and with a nice clear airway. Or even better, when I was able to deliver an asthma or CHF patient to the hospital breathing easier than they were when I first saw them, thus possibly preventing them “buying a vent circuit” and spending a week in the hospital’s ICU.

    To paraphrase John Wesley, we just need to do the best we can, whenever and wherever we can, for all the people we can, for as long as we can. (And that endeth the lesson for today, my children. Now go ye forth, and do battle with The Grim Reaper… 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to read this.


  5. Donnie says:

    In almost thirty years of Emergency Response (fire, EMS, & hazmat) I have lost count of the number of saves as an individual and as part of a team. From delivering a baby in an alley, pulling a bridge jumper from the water, pulling burnt victims from a burning shrimp boat, CPR to many, plus many many more.
    Thank you GOD for putting this “Badge over My Heart”.
    I wear it there, because I care.


  6. Jim says:

    After a 27 year Army career, I have saved many lives. Most of them when off-duty. I’ll have to also note that others have saved MY life at least twice (or more) as many times. It’s funny how it has always ended with a thank you, a slap on the back, or watching the ambulance drive off; no fan fair and hardly a second thought…. no big deal. Then there are those incidents that get caught up in the news and the Mayor gives out the Keys to the City, letters of appreciations and awards, etc. Tens of thousand’s of selfless acts of kindness and courage happen every single day without hardly being noticed. The real hero’s are those that face death in the face every day. The Firefighters, EMT’s, Paramedics, Law Enforcement, and military service members. I’ve never been an EMT… just a grunt; Rangers Lead The Way!

  7. F.E. "Skip" Hall, Jr., BS, NREMT-P says:

    Well said, Jim. Well said.
    For every medal a fire and/or police chief, mayor, or company commander give to a deserving individual, there are ten (or dozens of) others who committed similar acts of selfless devotion to duty and honor, but did so when their supervising officer wasn’t around to see it.
    Every medic who has ever given a patient heart patient a nitro, or kept a trauma patient from going into shock, has almost certainly saved a life.
    Every nozzle-man (or woman) who has ever knocked down a hot room-and-contents fire has probably prevented a flashover, that might have killed the entire engine company.
    Every police officer who has ever made an unremarkable felony arrest, and taken a weapon off the suspect, may well have saved another officer’s life, or the life of an unknown citizen.
    And every “grunt” (soldier, sailor, marine, airman, coastie, etc 🙂 who has kept his rifle clean, stood his post and watched his sector, would just say he “had his buddy’s back…” but he/she saved lives every day, just by being there to do the job.
    It’s hard to determine who first said, “Character is what we do (or how we act) when no one is watching.” Ain’t that the truth…

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