Recent posts from DTXMATT12 and MedicChris have inspired me to tell my own story. It's long and complicated, but I will try and keep it as condensed as possible.
My mom is an RN. I've always had an interest in medicine. I had the "Visible Man" puzzle/model, I took apart my "Stretch Armstrong" doll, I watched "Emergency!" and I played "Operation". There was a theme early on!
In High School, I took a Sports Medicine class, and it was hands-down my favorite elective ever. The teacher taught us CPR (I've been certified ever since, 20+ years), and encouraged us to do ride-alongs w/EMS. This was the first time I expressed interest in being an EMT. Later on in High School, I got rather sidetracked with a misspent youth, and didn't get back around to the interest for another 10 years.
In my early 20's, I developed a life-threatening Thyroid condition. Between that experience and my best friend dying some years later, I decided it was finally time to pursue my interest. I just happened to live within walking distance of the station where I've now been assigned for 10 years, so I went down one Friday evening and signed-up. My whole life changed.
Due to scheduling, I didn't actually start EMT class till I'd been a member of the VFD for 3 months. In that time, I got my other courses out of the way, and became an Ambulance Driver (really-that's all I was at the time).
Once I got into EMT class, I moved away from the county where I volunteer, and haven't lived there since. I was working full-time in the Publishing industry and traveling 70 miles round-trip two nights a week to class. I was definitely serious about it! I remember when I took my exam, a Medic named Tim that I admired very much was the Examiner at my Trauma station. When I went a smidge over 10 minutes and failed, I was outside the Academy crying. He saw me. I almost died. But, he was kind, told me to stop crying, go back and re-test, and that I'd pass. I did just those things.
For the next 4 years, I ran as an EMT-B w/the VFD and kept my Publishing career going. Then I decided to become a Medic. I started classes at GWU, and that experience also changed my life.
I went through the pilot program for EMT-Intermediate in our state. Believe me, the fact that it was a pilot program was obvious. It was a big CF. We had 8 different textbooks, a number of instructors pretty close to 20, and every one of them contradicted each-other. It was so much harder than it had to be! Between the difficulty, the time commitment, and my tendency to be a perfectionist, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. But, I prevailed again. Out of 5 people in the class from my Dept., I was one of only 2 who passed the National Registry the first time.
Becoming a Medic (in VA, I and P are no different, which is why I call myself a Medic and not a Paramedic) changed me in a more profound way. I decided to give up my successful career in Publishing and work in Healthcare full-time. I accepted a job at a brand-new, free-standing, full-service ER. I still work there today. I credit the job for outrageous amount of clinical experience and knowledge it gave me every single shift for getting me through my Internship as a Medic quicker than anyone else from our class. I also credit my Preceptor, Leon-what an amazing person! He's been a Medic over 20 years, and is the most laid-back guy. He helped counter my borderline OCD, thankfully.
The family atmosphere that DTXMATT12 and MedicChris speak of was not a reality for me until about the time I became a Medic. I developed a few friendships in the Dept., and along the way I even fell in love with my partner (now my spouse). But those family-like bonds were not something I truly understood until I was finished with my Internship and had to rely very heavily on the Engine Co. at our station. The I/O on the Engine became like a father to me. He was on my first ever duty crew, as was the DPO, who I also became close with. There was one guy who was the younger brother of another who I'd befriended in the past, and I got to know him well, too. It was just me, my current spouse, and those three guys most days. The week after I finished my Internship, I was on my own-Leon was sent elsewhere. I was so vulnerable that I quickly forged those bonds that mostly eluded me in the past.
Becoming a Medic also helped me understand other Medics better. Class is like a Rite of Passage, and finishing is like entering into an exclusive club. You speak the same language, and have shared experiences that really, no one else can totally understand. EMS in general is pretty unique, as I'm sure Fire Fighting is (although I don't know that for sure-not my cup of tea).
Why am I not a member of a paid FD? Well, I have a lot of physical shortcomings when it comes to the street. I'm better off in an environment where I'm not as physically taxed, and don't have to work 24-hour shifts. I'm the first to admit I can't hack it out there on a full-time basis. I don't know how anyone could do that til they retire. I'm not even 40 yet and the thought of a 24 makes me want to go take a nap. So, I'm a wussy. But, I know my shortcomings, and in EMS, there is no room for ego. I'd just be a burden to myself, my colleagues and my patients, and that's the last thing I ever want to do.
I love my job, I love my volunteer work and the extended family that goes with it. I never regret taking a 50% pay cut to change careers, even when the bills come. I know I'm doing something important, and I'm proud of myself. I've got confidence I never had until I started this journey.
Here's to another 10 years w/the VFD-with it will come Life Membership, and no more working BINGO! =)