Death By A Thousand Cuts

The big question we’re almost always asked, the one that we dread when we’ve been on the job for a few years, but when new and still eager we love to answer, is, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen?”

If you are a first responder of some type, please, oh god please, do not feel the need to answer that question in the comments.

When I was still new and eager and idealistic I would answer honestly and I’d get shut down pretty quickly because people were eating. I eventually figured out that nobody wanted to hear that shit, so I chose to tell the story of working backstage at at The Rogers Centre in Toronto and having to listen to a horrible band while dealing with teenagers experiencing syncope and dehydration. It still ranks as one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, but that – my distaste for the band – was not what the people who asked the question wanted to hear. They wanted the most horrible war story you had to tell but would fold whenever you began to tell it.

To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve heard the question, and although I now avoid telling people that I had been a paramedic, it still surprises me that I’m not asked it more often those times I do. Maybe people are learning not to ask, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the look on my face when I say what I used to do.

There’s no real top ten for us, mostly. There are memories, and there are those that stand out above others, but for most of my colleagues – medics, police, or firefighters, trying to single out one incident, call, or event that really fucked us up is just not really possible.

I was, and my colleagues still are, so constantly exposed to so many traumatic things that it becomes difficult to pinpoint that one moment when we truly lost our shit and caused cute cat food commercials on TV to make us burst into tears.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is defined as PTSD, but rather than one incident, it is a result of multiple traumatic exposures over time. It is most prevalent in those who’ve experienced multiple episodes of sexual or physical abuse, however the criteria for it can apply to anyone who has witnessed or been the subject of a life threatening event more than once. I refuse to tell war stories anymore, but that’s me, and probably many of you, as well.

I know many police officers and paramedics who have that one story they tell, over and over again. I will not invalidate them for that, that is not my goal here, but despite my memories of some incidents, there are many I can’t remember details of that also contributed to my injury. This is why it’s called complex.

Never feel the need to pinpoint one thing. Your injury is still an injury if it is a result of many experiences over time.

Death by a thousand cuts.

As an aside, I have tried to remember who it was that was performing that night at The Rogers Centre, and even tried using my normally excellent Google-Fu. I was found wanting, and failed. That shame is a weight I will bear for eternity.

3 thoughts on “Death By A Thousand Cuts

    • It’s a subject that’s been on my mind for awhile now. Inspired mostly by that one person we both know who tells the same story over and over and over again. At first I’d think c’mon, buddy, you did this for 20 years and that’s the only thing you have? Then I realised it was the one they went to because they thought they needed that one thing. That they didn’t really have the injury unless they had the one thing. I’ve got dozens of the things, some worse than others on that civvie scale, but each one a cut. I was hoping, in a much more succinct manner than I have in the past, to let people know they can have all those cuts, and that all of them contributed. They needn’t pick out one because they think the world expects that of them.

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  1. I like your writing style, and I enjoyed your story very much. I was a paramedic many years ago, and currently my son is a paramedic. I can certainly relate to your words. Thank you for this great piece.

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