Your version of the Christmas holidays will be vastly different than mine. Guaranteed. Maybe we have known each other for years, maybe even our whole lives. Maybe we knew each other from high school, or when we both worked at Perkins together through college. Maybe we’ve never even met. But it will still be totally different, trust me.
You might pick the kids up from school on the last day before Christmas holidays start and spend it making gingerbread houses, watching movies and drinking hot chocolate.
I will go to work that same day and the first call I go on might be for a 15-yr. old boy who has overdosed on fentanyl the very first time he tried it. No one will ever know why he chose that day to try a drug he had heard so many times was so dangerous. The Narcan kit the police carry wasn’t enough to bring him back from his overdose, and mine isn’t either. I’m the one who gets to tell his older brother who just got home from basketball practice that I did everything I could, but his brother might never be the same again. I don’t even get a chance to even see his parents before we take him to the hospital.
The next day, you might take kids sledding and then go for a special holiday donut afterwards. Maybe there’s some last-minute shopping, family coming by for eggnog, and stories about Christmases years gone by while Grandma and Grandpa cuddle the kids.
That day I will be called to a collision caused by an impaired driver. I will spend fifteen minutes listening to my innocent patient scream as I wait for the firefighters to pry them from the mangled car. I have to take them out with a collar on their neck, and strapped onto a spine board and explain to them that there was nothing we could do for their friend who is left in the seat beside them, because there…just…. wasn’t…anything…. anyone…. could….do. I don’t know this at the time, but the image of that victim, holding a wrapped Christmas present adorned with a metallic blue bow on their lap, will haunt me forever.
After cleaning up from that call, I might be off to respond to a 10-year-old girl who has been accidentally burned by hot soup after her Mom bumped into her. The skin on her neck and shoulder will be peeling from her body as I try and get pain medication into her as fast as I can before she goes into shock. Blisters start to form and pop under my gloves as I carry her to my waiting stretcher. The scars will likely be deep on these burns.
Your Christmas day will start with Santa presents and waffles, and cousins coming over to play. The smells of turkey and stuffing will fill the house by the afternoon and toys will be played with and the fireplace will crackle with life. It will be warm and cozy, like a perfect scene from a Christmas card.
My Christmas Day will have a turkey too. First though, I will have eaten a squished granola bar I kept in my pocket for the past four hours on the way to my first call of the night. I get to go to someone’s house in my ambulance, where their turkey is on the table, the gravy and stuffing are sitting next to the mashed potatoes, and the only thing out of place is the fact that the carrots are all over the floor.
When Grandpa fell to the ground as he was bringing them to the table they spilled everywhere. With Grandma sobbing at my side, the grandkids watching from the background, and his daughter pleading with me to please, please save him, I start CPR while my partner attaches the cardiac monitor and gets an IV started. More sirens are in the background as another crew has been sent to help us try and get Grandpa back after having a massive heart attack.
We are both in the same place, and we have both have had two totally different holiday experiences.
Please, when the busy days of the holiday season are upon us all, give the first responders in your life, or see at the grocery store a little extra compassion… a little extra forgiveness and grace for the times they are short with you, or seem withdrawn. Not everyone gets to see the good side of Christmas. While any one of these scenarios is devastating for a single family, we are there for every single one of them – especially over Christmas and New Years – and they can also be devastating to the first responders who attend them. Delivering the news that shatters a family forever breaks a little bit of our hearts too. The sobs of the living and wails of grief are things not easily – if ever – forgotten.
So, if we come home, and just want to sit quietly in the corner and watch the kids play with their new toys, or snuggle with them just a bit longer before bedtime, please know that we probably need that. If you see us out and about in the community and if we look a little tired, please remember we have seen a different, darker side of Christmas this year than you have.
If you are a first responder of any kind that is struggling, I encourage you to talk to someone. Know you are not alone and there are people who care more than you know. Call a friend or co-worker or your local peer support team member. If you are concerned about someone you know, reach out to them and let them know you care. Take care of yourself and those around you so we can all get through this together.