The Outside Agitator
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To place everything into context, I jokingly say everything I learned, I learned in the back of an ambulance…
It’s no joke!
I was on the first wave of Mobile Intensive Care Unit Paramedics in the US in the 1970′s. For twelve years I was part of the formation of a brand new profession that was breaking new ground in medical care. I was just a kid.
This newly emerging profession was really an indicator for a huge transition in the Western world’s approach to healthcare: It was a reflection of modern day medicine exponentially moving away from a “head, hands and heart” orientation into a system dependant on impersonal machines, medicines, protocol, specialization and technique; much of it litigation or profit driven.
The “system” that I was a part of (allopathic medicine at its technically richest) trained me to become what I call a “Flesh Mechanic.” In the back of the ambulance, however, I was getting barraged relentlessly by conflicts of a much more personal, emotional and esoteric nature.
Like most of my peers, I spent a lot of time donning layers of protection to insulate my emotional life from the assaults of my workaday world. The “culture” of allopathic medicine, in fact, the culture of most every healing-type discipline taught in the “Western- style” is a head-oriented approach to effecting change. Individuals are taken out of the context of their environment and connections with each other and related to in terms of signs and symptoms, interventions and therapies.
The “action” has been driven from the home and into the institution. People become a problem to be solved rather than a wonder to experience and be shared. Nowhere was this more evident than in the back of an ambulance!
I continued to cling to the idea that I was a human being who happened to be a medic. So I started to pay attention and test myself against my theories, and explore what was beneath my fears.
Before I was trained as a Mobile Intensive Care Unit paramedic, I worked at the basic level where the tools of my trade were limited to an oxygen bottle, a tackle box of bandages, and a backboard.
My bag of tricks ran out very quickly and all I was left with were my head, hands and heart.
Through that I learned about the power of connection. Once I started studying to be a paramedic, however, that route to healing was replaced with the bells and whistles of this newly emerging profession.
Though I didn’t anticipate it happening, when I left the field of emergency services I embarked on a lifelong journey to answer the questions about healers and healing that came up for me while I was in the back of the ambulance! The dominant “culture” of Emergency Medical Services discouraged such explorations. The theme that ran like cable through my travels was the metaphor of my major dilemma as a paramedic: How do I remain a human being in service to other human beings while the “industry” and culture pushes me to become a Flesh Mechanic?
But along my path, I observed that many if not most practitioners in allopathic medicine were facing the same kinds of conflicts as myself, and were trained to be silent as well. Burnout is rife in ALL medical professions and that crippling silence is, in part, where it comes from!
EMS epitomizes the beliefs generally embraced by the dominant medical paradigm: One cannot do the work and experience him/herself as a human being at the same time. I knew better!
It wasn’t so much about the ambulance anymore. It became a much more broad inquiry which lead me to a better understanding of what the concept of the healing arts is all about and how my working on the edge of life and death could be a lesson for others.
In my explorations into other modalities I found the more intimate I became with the people of alternative medicine, shamanism, and the arts, the more apparent it became to me that it’s a common challenge in all professions dedicated to effecting change in other human beings!
The conclusion I came to was that if I had to give the territory I was called to explore a name, it would be “Connection.” And that isn’t something you need to be afraid of. I was right back to where I started as a Basic EMT whose bag of tricks had run out. If that was all that is left when everything else fails; then that’s a good place to start, too!
What you see here is an amalgamation of more than forty years experience exploring the healing arts. Through it I am seeking to bring everything that I’ve lived into a package that is useful to many. I’m hoping to open up doors for you that will show you rooms you might like to explore further. I want you to dive in and then come back here to tell us about it.
But I’m a realist. I know the majority of medics do just fine not questioning the things that I’ve built my life around questioning. There is an incredible range of healthy coping mechanisms out there that do not involve the kinds of explorations that I share. In no way am I saying this is the way because, quite honestly, I’d estimate 75% of the medics out there, by disposition, simply do not need to go there!
The conscious intent of my work is to make just a little more room for whoever is so inclined to be able to share what rocks them with their peers without the fear of being looked upon as a piece of machinery that may break down because now and again it trips over its heart. The truth is, we all do.
Somewhere out there is a patient or situation or call or assignment that is custom designed to break your heart. My prayer is that my life’s work will spur all of you to build safety nets for each other, so no one will suffer alone with the pains that are familiar to many.