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Thanks,

HM

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A Quick Update

I wanted to provide a quick update with what has been going on in the last (almost) 2 weeks. Firstly, I have joined a network of other blogs. This just helps me get my story out more. You can follow me and my journey at www.ordinarymedic.com.

I’m also going to be doing 2 posts in the near future. First one will catch you up with what is going on with me. The second, I’m going to focus on WSIB a bit. I have a bone to pick with them. And it’s not even about my case. A friend of mine. I want you to realize why we don’t go running for help when we need it. If you manage to get past the stigma, or just don’t care anymore about it, then you have to deal with some pencil pushing D-bag. More on that later though.

Again, thanks for taking a moment to read my ramblings. At last count, over 27,000 views in over 75 countries. Thank you for sharing. And please remember, Keep The Conversation Going.

HM

My Demons finally have a name

Finally. They have a name. What I mean is, I have a diagnosis. Not just what I think, or my family Dr. agrees with, but an actual diagnosis. I went through a range of emotions today. At first was relief. To be honest, I was thinking that maybe the Psychologist was gonna tell me I was fine, and I should go back to work. I mean, that is the goal of the WSIB. To get me back to work.

But that’s not what happened today. Today was my second “assessment” appointment. Today was more about feelings, my current lifestyle, my mood in general, past history, and alcohol use/substance abuse. I did a few questionnaires. Now she has to send everything to WSIB for approval. I was told by my case manager I was approved, but it’s not official until all of the paperwork is in. So now I wait. Hopefully about a week. Then the official Yes should be in, and I can start CBT.

My demons have a name. PTSD. Officially. Moderate PTSD. I’m not severe. I never though I was, based on what I read on the internet. But I also got introduced to another demon today. Major Depressive Episode. Apparently common with a diagnosis of PTSD.

After the relief, was some happiness. It’s not all in my head. It’s not something I can just “shake off”. I am broken. And I need to be fixed. And now they know where I’m broken, so now they know how to fix me.

Very quickly, the happiness faded away. As it often does. This time it was replaced with defeat. The last 14 months have been tough, especially the last 2. At first it was like looking up at Mount Everest. This huge thing called PTSD. But then I kinda realized, I’m not at the bottom. I have already started my journey. That started back on Nov. 9, when I first booked off work. I have come a ways since then. I’m blogging (writing my feelings, who’d ever of thought), I asked for help, I’m off on WSIB, I have been approved for treatment, and I’m about to start treatment. That wasn’t so bad. So if I could do that, then I can do more. One step at a time. And a plan. That’s how people conquer Everest. And that’s how I’m going to conquer PTSD, and be a survivor.

HM

Frustrating

So I have always tried to be optimistic, and “professional”, for lack of a better term, while writing this. I try to keep my emotions out of it. I try to just tell a story. I figure if I keep the emotion out if it, people will be able to relate to the story, without having to try to read between the lines of emotion. Well, not in this one. It’s 1:21 AM for me. And I’m tired, but unable to sleep again. Stupid insomnia. I thought that being off work, and staying on a normal schedule, (awake in the day, sleeping at night), would make it better. Well, it’s not. And it’s frustrating. And it pisses me off. And then I get worked up cuz I can’t sleep, and well, that makes me stay up longer.

I’m not bothering anyone at this hour, cuz I can’t sleep. So I needed to vent a bit, and here I am. I don’t know what else to say. This is a rather normal part of my life. At least once a week, this is the crap I deal with. And I’m tired. I WANT to sleep. I just can’t. And as my career has gone on, it’s gotten worse. I usually chalked it up to shift work. Messing with my sleep patterns. But I have been on a “normal” sleep schedule for 2 months. And it’s happening more often. Seriously?? WTF??

Well, without going into a full blown rant, complete with way more then necessary F-bombs, I got nothing else to say. Coming on here served 2 purposes. One, was to vent a bit, and hopefully go to sleep. The other, was to express some emotion, and maybe give you a better sense of what I’m feeling. I feel that I have tried my best to keep my emotion out of my blogs, and focus on the story. Well, tonight, (alright, way too early in the f****** morning) my emotion IS the story. This is one of the things I deal with a lot. And while it’s not the worst emotions I feel, it just adds another level of frustration to everything else.

That’s it for now. Gonna try to actually get some sleep. It’s not gonna happen, but sitting here on my iPad sure is not gonna make me sleep.

I’m out. ‘Night

HM

My First Session

Hi. After a short, but needed break, I’m back. I needed a few days away from all of the attention I was receiving. I appreciate every single one of you that has read, shared, or contacted me personally. It has made me feel at I am NOT alone. It has also made me realize how important of a topic this is. It seems I have opened Pandora’s box. I hope this is a good thing.

So I had my first session with my psychologist. It was mostly a Meet and Greet kinda thing. She asked questions about my history, some of my symptoms, and we talked about other times I had taken leaves off of work. We did not get into anything specific. She was just feeling me out, and seeing where I was at mentally. I like talking to her, which is a good thing. I felt comfortable with her. That is key, I think. If you don’t feel comfortable, I can’t see how you can really open up to someone. I was really nervous when I went to the appointment, and pretty relaxed when it was over. 2 reasons for that. One, it was over. Two, she was easy to talk to, and I felt that this is someone who will be able to help me. It also helped that my wife chose to work from home, so she could accompany me. I guess I was a ball of nervous energy in the few days leading up to my appointment.

So, this is where I stand. I have been off work for 2 months. I have another appointment next week with my psychologist. After that appointment, she will devise a treatment plan. She told me, the I will be going through a trauma based CBT (Cognitive behavioral Therapy). Initial treatment plans will be for between 12-16 weeks. That will be re-assessed as we go. I’m nervous about getting into all that is bouncing around in my head, but I need to do this.

So, maybe I could elaborate on my symptoms. It’s kinda hard to do that, as these symptoms are part of my current personality. What I mean is, I have changed. I’m not the same guy I was when I started my job. Slowly, over time, I have changed into the guy I am now.

Mood swings. I can be in a great mood, and then, BAM, I’m not. And it’s quite possible NOTHING even happened. I just suddenly am in a sour mood. And it rarely goes the other way. I rarely go from being in a crappy mood to good mood in the blink of an eye. In fact, I don’t think that has ever happened. But it goes the other way All of the time.

Sleep. Ahhh sleep. I remember that. When I could have a great nights sleep. No waking up, no tossing and turning, no insomnia, and no nightmares. Well, I have to be honest, I THINK they are nightmares. I never remember my dreams. I don’t want to say I never dream, but I never remember them. So how do I know I’m having nightmares?? Easy. Ask my wife. Screaming. Punching. Kicking. These are thing I do quite regularly. She wakes me up, nice and gently, and tells me I’m dreaming. I wake up enough to realize I’m in bed, and then I’m back asleep. The next morning, I may recall she woke me, but I sure don’t remember who I was screaming at. And they have gotten worse over the years. And they always seem to be worse after I do a really bad call. So, based on all of that, I would say I have nightmares.

Insomnia. That happens a lot. Some of it I can attribute to working shifts. But most of the time there is no rhyme or reason. BOOM. I’m awake. And will stay that way. It sucks. I hate it.

I don’t know how to describe the next one. It feels like, on most days, that I’m going through the motions of living life, but not enjoying it. I just feel numb. It’s like I can’t leave work at all. I just walk around like a zombie. Even on vacation in the summer, or if the family and I are out doing something on my weekend off. I try to enjoy myself, but there is no joy to be had. I feel that way most of the time.

Alcohol. Alright, that’s not a symptom. It’s a coping mechanism. But when I used it, I could normally pop out of my “negative” self for a bit. I would become chatty, and at least feel in a better state of mind. Sounds good, right? Well, it isn’t. My wife was not thrilled that I needed alcohol to feel “Normal”. But because I enjoyed feeling a bit normal, I started drinking more often. I would only drink after the kids were in bed. I did not want them to see me drinking. But once they were in bed, I was able to. And it went from some nights, to most nights, to every night. It didn’t take long to get there either. Then it turned into me NEEDING it, as opposed to anything else. I would get confrontational with my wife every time she would say something. I also wasn’t just drinking at night, but when I came home after a night shift. I would drink before I went to bed. I was drinking every day, without fail.

I also just wanted to be alone. Quite often. I mean, it was OK being at home with the family, but I wanted to just stay at home, and watch TV, or play on my iPad. When I wasn’t working, I wanted nothing to do with the outside world. Kinda hard when you have a young family. Maybe this is why I felt like a zombie, just walking through life, or I would go from happy to “bleh”, in nanoseconds.

The list goes on. Bad attention span. Terrible short term memory. Procrastination. The ones I have listed or talked about, are the ones the have affected me the most. This is far from a comprehensive list.

After my first blog post, I was contacted by a reporter at the Hamilton Spectator. She wanted to do a story. I agreed, and she wrote a great piece.

At first I was hoping to keep some anonymity. Well, it looks like that is gone. LOL. It’s OK. I chose to do the story.

And finally, at least for this post, I wanted to quickly talk about an article that was recently published in the Ottawa Sun. You can read it here. It talks about how approx. 4% of Paramedic make it retirement. The rest are injured out, or leave due to things like PTSD. 4%. That’s all. That’s terrible. I knew it wasn’t high, as there have only been a couple of people who have retired in my 10 years at my service. 3, if my memory serves me right. But now to see I have a 4% chance of making it to retirement, is a little scary. This is my career. My retirement (pension) depend on me staying until retirement. Of course, we as paramedics have a normal retirement age of 65, while police and fire a normal retirement age of 60. But that is a subject for another day.

Thanks for reading, and please share. We need to #KeepTheConversationGoing.

HM

Overwhelmed

Hi everyone. Happy new year. 2014 is here, and I know a lot of people who were happy to see 2013 go, myself included.

Firstly, I want to thank-you, from the bottom of my heart. I honestly did not expect the reaction I received. I guess I expected to hear words of encouragement from friends and co-workers. But even those words have blown me away. For 24 hours after I posted my blog, I literally did not put down either my iPad or iPhone. For the the 24 hours after that, I could actually put them down, but when I picked them up again, it took me a while to catch up. I have been overwhelmed with the amount of comments, Facebook messages, Facebook chats, tweets, private messages, emails, and texts. I NEVER expected my little blog to get so much attention. I have done my best to try to respond to people who have left me such heartfelt words of encouragement. I know I have not responded to everyone, but I am trying my best. But, I can tell you, I have read everything that you have sent. In the next few days, I will try to respond to all of you.

I did not think I would be writing again so soon. That last entry took me about 3 hours to get out. It was mentally exhausting. I think mostly because I was obsessing over HOW I wrote it. I was never very good at writing. I HATED it. But maybe it’s because the subject matter meant nothing.

Anyway, I have been through a whirlwind of emotion. The first comment on my blog was left by a good friend, and Charge nurse (well most of the time) at one of the local hospitals. Her comment made me get a little misty eyed, but I was also emotionally drained. I was OK with that. The first comment made on my FB page made me cry. And it only got worse from there. I kept hiding in different parts of the house, to read the next message that came in, so my family didn’t see me. I was hiding mostly from my girls, as I did not want to explain why I was being emotional.

And it didn’t stop. They just coming and coming. I stopped responding to every single one that come in. I couldn’t keep up. But what I can guarantee you, is that if you mentioned me in a tweet, sent me a message, made a comment, or sent me a text, I read it. And I cannot express my gratitude enough. I plan on responding to all of them. Just give me a bit of time. This has been a roller coaster of emotion over the last 2 days.

I have been contacted by people with as little as 5 years on the road, to well over 30. And not just paramedics. Police and Fire as well. I had just begun to realize how important this issue was, but it appears it is more important to more people then I thought.

I am humbled by you, the people who took a few minutes of their day, to read my rambling thoughts. I have been called a “Hero”, told my blog was a “game changer”, told I am the “new face of Paramedic Mental Health.” And all by people I greatly respect. I don’t know if any of those things are true. I’m just a guy, who wants to get better. A guy who wants to go back to his job. I don’t see myself as any different then any of my colleagues, from any allied service, anywhere in the world. As part of my healing, I wrote a few words, and posted them on the internet. That’s all. But it seems people DO care. And not just those of us who wear a uniform. From the public as well.

A few years ago, I had started a blog, I guess a way of getting things off my chest. I wrote about people with colds calling 911, so they would be seen faster in the ER. I wrote about the Line of Duty Deaths of Ryan Russell, and Garrett Styles. I posted my blog on Facebook, and between the 3 or 4 posts I made, I think all combined they had a few hundreds views. I did it through a site called Posterous. Don’t bother searching for it. It’s gone. Posterous was acquired by Twitter I believe, and emails went out to us to email them to get PDF’s of our postings. I never bothered. No one really read them, so I just let it go. This was earlier this year.

I started journaling maybe about a month ago. For my current counsellor, until I start my treatment with a Psychologist. I was writing about calls that haunt me, calls I have never let go, and the ones I drowned in whiskey. But this was for me, and me only. To help me properly process these events, and start my healing. I’m never going to share what is in my book with anyone other then my counsellor or Psychologist. But I wanted a way to share what I was going through, with my friends and family mostly, so they knew what I was going through. And only have to tell the story once. And my blog was born. In 48 hours, my blog had been viewed 9,467 times, and has been viewed by people in 43 countries. In case you are wondering, WordPress keeps stats, and those are the ones I’m quoting.

So thank-you for reading. Thank-you for caring. This is something we can no longer take lightly. It must be taken seriously. We have to make sure these people are cared for, so we may continue to care for you, when you need us most.

I will continue to blog. It seems there are a few of you who are interested. 🙂 I will blog when it feels right to me. As much as I want to help, I also need to make sure that I’m healing. I did not expect to be thrust into the spotlight like I have. I will take on this role to the best of my ability, but not to the detriment of my healing. All I ask is that you keep the conversation going. Together, we WILL enable change.

Sincerely,

HM

A Long Time in the Making…

Hi there, and welcome to my Blog. Thanks for taking the time to check it out. First off, I guess I’d better say that everything contained in my blog, represents my opinions only. Names and story details might have been changed to maintain some sort of privacy.

There, now that that’s out of the way, I can tell you what the purpose of this blog is. It is to get a glimpse in the life of an Emergency Responder in Southern Ontario. A Paramedic to be exact. But the things I have gone through can be applied to anyone in the Emergency Services field. Police. Firefighters. Nurses and Dr.’s in the ER. It is not a place where I will be sharing my gory stories, or grim details of calls I have done. The purpose of this particular blog is to show the effects that these calls have on us. Ordinary people, doing an extraordinary job.

A little about me. I’m a married father of 2 beautiful girls. I have been married 13 1/2 years. My girls are both under 10, just under 2 years apart, and 1 year apart in school. My amazing wife works a regular Monday to Friday day job. I have been working as a Paramedic for 10 years, in a larger urban service. I’m certified as a Primary Care Paramedic. That means I’m certified to use drugs such as Epinepherine, Ventolin, Glucagon, Nitro Glycerine, and ASA. I can also use a few different pieces of equipment to aid/assist breathing. King LT’s and CPAP. And of course, a defibrillator.

I went to a Community College for 1 year, to receive my education. But that was back in the mid 90’s. Now it’s a 2 year program. On top of that, you have to “apprentice”, or ride 3rd on an ambulance for approx 450 hours. If you manage to be a successful graduate, you then have to write a 6 hour provincial exam. Once you have completed all of those steps, you are eligible for employment in Ontario. Once hired, you have to be certified by your local Base Hospital. Just as you think you are done, and good to work, you have to constantly attend Continuing Medical Education (CME) sessions. And you have to re certify with your base hospital yearly. It’s not the most difficult process in the world, but it takes a lot of work and dedication as well.

Now you are ready for the road. Ready to put all of that knowledge and training to use. You’re pumped, and scared all at the same time. The tones in the base go off, the sirens wail as you drive. The adrenaline is pumping at max output. You arrive on scene, and this is where all of the schooling, and the time you spent riding out as a student, fail you. The one thing I was not prepared for, and in my opinion no one is properly prepared for, is the Critical Incident Stress.

When I was in school, we never talked about it. What it was, what it does to people, nothing. Of course, you know getting into this line of work, you are going to see horrible things. It’s part of the job. But the toll it takes on you, dealing with horrible situations day in and day out, can affect you in ways you never thought possible.

A build up of Critical Incident Stress (CIS) or an incident that is not properly dealt with, can fester in the back of mind for years. It can lead to things like burnout, mood swings, depression, and addiction (alcohol and drugs). There are more, but I’m only going to talk about my experiences. In my opinion, it affects everyone differently, so the list of symptoms is large.

A situation that bothers, or sticks with on person, does not affect another. Some people have a higher tolerance to what they can handle. Either way, if a situation that has affected someone is not debriefed, and dealt with properly, it will catch up to you down the road.

Asking for help is a hard thing to do. There is still a stigma that is makes you weak. And none of us want to appear weak to our peers. I have seen a change in the last few years though. Asking for help is not being seen as weak. People, at least in my service, are starting to recognize that we need help too. You can’t do this job everyday, with what we see, and NOT need some help coping with it. The purpose of me starting this blog, is so that my fellow colleagues can see that asking for help is OK. In fact, it’s NEEDED. If ONE person reads this, and gets some much needed help because of it, then I have been successful.

I am broken. I need to be fixed. I have been suffering for years, and I finally got to the point where I could no longer continue on the path I was on. I started to become concerned about PTSD about 6 or 7 months ago. Someone made a comment at work about a fellow colleague, and it got me thinking about myself. I started to do some research. I did a lot of reading. I filled out numerous on-lines “tests” for PTSD. I scored “extremely high” or “extremely likely” in every test I did. After a month or so, I made an appointment with my family Dr. My Dr. seemed to agree with me, and referred me to a Psychiatrist. In the mean time, I just tried to “power through” every shift. I took my job 12 hours at a time. It took a long time to get an appointment with a Psychiatrist. My day finally came. I was soooo hopeful. I went. Without getting into the details, it did not go as I hoped. There is a history of some mental illness in my family. This Dr. was more focused on that, then any of the concerns I had about myself. He was more concerned that I did not know what medications some of my family members have taken in he past, then the fact I have not slept well in years. He told me my drinking was “stupid” and that I should just stop. (More on that in a bit.) He also wanted me to at least double my antidepressant dosage. I was speechless. I was devastated. I got in the car, and called my Dr. I was able to get my Dr on the phone, and I was in tears. I scheduled an appt to go and see my Dr.

To back track a bit, I had been drinking everyday for a good solid year. I was an alcoholic. It was my coping mechanism. It helped me sleep. It silenced the “noise” in my head. It relaxed me. I had, on occasion, abused other things. But I did not think too much of it, as I was functioning. I never missed work because of alcohol use, I was never incapable of doing my job, or taking my kids to their sports. As much as I didn’t think of it, I also did not want to cut down. Maybe it was I couldn’t. I’m not sure. Anyway, as my journey to get help started, I realized that I needed to eliminate alcohol from my life. So I did. Cold turkey. One night, I finished what alcohol I had left in the house. I did experience some withdrawal, but over all it was not too bad. Some nausea, a headache, cold sweats, and the shakes. They weren’t too bad. I had advised my Dr of what I was doing, and she gave me a few Valium to help. It sure did.

So back to the Psychiatrist. I went back to my Dr. The Psychiatrist had told me to drastically increase my dosage. In the report to my Dr., he suggested I be careful and limit my dosage of antidepressants, due to other mental illness in my family. So now what?? All of that waiting for conflicting advice, from the same person. My Dr. was also quite upset with the way my appointment went. Oh well, no point in dwelling on the past. My Dr. told me not to worry, they were going to refer me to someone else.

During all of this time, I was still going in to work. I was physically capable of doing my job. So I just tried to “tough it out” like so many of us do. I had some calls that really bothered me. And one that was a game changer for me. It was the call that finally broke me. On top of a pretty crappy year with some bad calls, this one changed me. I really started drinking. I was miserable. My amazing wife had been voicing her concerns to me for a while, but after that call, she also became more concerned. People at work were seeing a change in me to. People told me they were concerned for me and my well being. I told them I was fine, all the while knowing I wasn’t, but not knowing what to do about it. I was stuck in limbo. Waiting for a referral (help) from my Dr, and trying to cope until I got it. This was a pretty dark time. Nightmares, insomnia, mood swings…Taking it out on the people who least deserved it. My wife. My kids.

I finally had my snapping point. I went into work for a night shift. I hadn’t even started my shift, and I was already dreading being there. I could not mentally handle my job anymore. I could not deal with someone else’s problems. I blasted my supervisors that night, for something they could not control. I called a very close friend of mine in the service. My “Work Wife”. I didn’t know what to do. We chatted, and it was made clear I needed help, and I needed to do something about it. My Work Wife and my real wife are friends as well, and both of them told me that night that they were about to call the other and figure out a way to tell me to get some help.

I booked off of work that night, just as my shift started, on sick time. In my service, after a certain number of days off, we need some paperwork from our family Dr. I needed a copy of the form, and so being a bit proactive, I emailed the person who handles all of that paperwork, for a blank copy. A day later I got a call at home from the paperwork person. They asked why I was off, and I was hesitant to say anything. They basically explained that they wanted to make sure I was using the “correct” method for my time off. I explained what had been going on, and I was told that this should be a WSIB claim. I was rather shocked. I’ll have to admit, I never though WSIB would ever approve something like this. I have taken time off work before, for stress related reasons, and I always used my short term disability. I never considered WSIB. Well, to be honest, I guess I did, but figured they (WSIB) would never approve it.

I filled out the appropriate paperwork, and had a few conversations with my case manager, and an RN from WSIB. Both of them are from a department that deals with traumatic stress and mental health. I was eventually told that my claim had been approved. I was on the phone with the nurse, and she was explaining what was going to happen next. I was being sent to see a Psycologist who will assess me over a few weeks. At the end of my assessment, I would be given an official diagnosis, and a treatment plan. As she was telling me this, I was a bit confused. I had not been told if my claim to WSIB was approved or not. I stopped her and asked her if this means I was approved. Her answer was “absolutely. You need help, and you are going to get it.” I was overcome with emotion. I was finally going to get some help. I was going to be the person I was. I was going to get better.

Due to the Holidays, I was not able to start my assessments. I am starting in the very beginning of the new year. I am very excited to start. I know I have a long road ahead of me, but it’s one I can’t wait travel. I love my job, and want to go back to it. I also want a full collection of tools to help me cope when I need them. I want to be a better husband, a better father, and friend. I want to use my experiences to be able to help others who end up like I did. And this blog, to me, is a start. For all of it.

If you have made it this far, thank-you, from the bottom of my heart for reading. CIS, and PTSD amongst Paramedics, Police, and Firefighters, is a serious issue. It’s one that is rarely talked about. The attitude “It’s my job”, and “I’ll be fine” need to change. At the end of the day, while some people see us as heroes, we are just ordinary people.

I will continue to blog my journey. I hope that this blog helps eliminate some of the stigma about asking for help. While I’m a Paramedic, this issue also affects ER staff, Police, Firefighters, Soldiers and dispatchers.

Here is to 2014 being a better year for me. And for a lot of my friends who have had a terrible 2013.

Please feel free to share this blog. The more this gets talked about, the more the stigma of asking for help goes away, and the less likely we will see outcomes like this.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/ask-for-help-police-told-at-ian-matthews-funeral-1.2478634

And lastly RIP Ian Matthews. I’m sorry for the daemons you tried so hard to fight alone. They can no longer get you.

HM