What I Wish I Knew in Medic School- Ed Bauter
by Ed Bauter
This series so far has focused on clinical applications and knowledge gaps between the classroom and the application of medicine in the pre-hospital environment. Certainly, these are important topics, and it’s something we at The Overrun will continue to explore; but I wanted to take a slightly different approach to this entry. I’m going to take about the social aspects, and indeed the life changing aspects that medic school had for me.
See, I have never planned on pursuing medicine. It was something that was in my family (grandmother was a nurse, both parents were medics) but it was exactly becauseof that that I didn’t want to go into medicine. Sure, it was cool stopping at motor vehicle accidents with my father and discussing scene jobs when he came home from work, but I never wanted to do it. I used to visit my grandmother’s patients with her when she made house calls, and the people she served were phenomenal people and treated us like family. But I was perfectly happy to know them in that context. I never wanted to do the bedside thing, or be surrounded by the scent of sodium bicarb three days a week (my grandmother was a dialysis nurse, you see).
When I was younger I would spend a lot of time at the first aid building and see the comradery that existed between the members. My father was a life member of a volunteer agency in a town near where I grew up and we would often visit, or he would bring me to meetings when we couldn’t find a babysitter. The people of that organization were good enough to make me an honorary life member after my mother died, which was a gracious offer that they absolutely did not need to make. Honestly, it was kind of cool to be a life member of an organization when I was four. But despite all the time spent at that building, and all the people that I met, I never wanted to join. I didn’t see myself as an EMT, or a medic, or a healthcare provider at all. I wanted to play hockey, make TV shows or movies, or paint. That was the plan, at least.
When I was thirteen, I experienced my first real foray into the medical field as a patient. I was diagnosed with Large B-Cell, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. An aggressive, but super treatable blood cancer that manifested with a large abdominal tumor. This story isn’t about my treatment, though I’m sure I’ll write one about it someday. It is, however important that my first exposure to medicine that wasn’t familial was in the care of some of the kindest, most knowledgeable people that medicine can offer. Truly, I owe my life to them and have a debt that I can never repay. But it was when I had a significant emergency that I first saw the kind of connection that an EMS family has.
One fateful night I managed to dislodge a blood clot from my central line that occluded my superior vena cava. Again, this isn’t about the significance of the clinical presentation, but it’s important to note the severity of the condition. The people that treated me were the medics that my father worked with for years. The hospital I went to was the hospital my dad worked at. The surgeons, doctors, nurses, techs, medics, EMTs, everybody were friends of my Dad’s, and by proxy friends of mine. Many of them had gone to my hockey games when I played locally. They all knew about my illness and (I learned later) would ask my Dad regularly how I was doing. I still get Christmas cards from one of the surgeon’s mothers every year. I remember noticing the adjunct family that my father had, but never really paid it any mind because I was too young, or too sick, or too ignorant to really notice it. I still had no real desire to pursue medicine.
The rest of the story has been told a thousand times by hundreds of different people. I went through my treatment, got better, and moved on with my life. Still, EMS was in the background. I went on to school, found I wasn’t happy, tried to start my own business, again wasn’t happy. There was just something that was missing, though I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was. I wanted to do something that had some kind of meaning, something that would positively affect people’s lives, I just didn’t know what it was.
Then it happened. Something that I’m sure has happened to you, dear reader, or someone that you know. I found myself in a position where I needed to work, because I’d grown very accustomed to having a roof over my head and food on my plate, but I didn’t have any real options. I called my father hoping that he might know someone that would have an opportunity for me, and he recommended the EMT class that was to start the following week. Now, again, this was still something I didn’t want to do, necessarily. I agreed to enter this class as a means to an end. I never wanted to be one of those EMS people.
When I entered my first EMT class, I noticed that I was greeted by many of the same people that I had known for so long. They were all so happy to see me, which was confusing. It was only much later that I would realize that they considered my entrance into this class as formally joining their family. It was not a concept that I was particularly comfortable with, but I was willing to ride it out, as I needed to put food on the table. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and this was something that I needed to do.
On the first day of class I would answer a question that I’ve since asked to countless EMT and medic students in the worst way possible. “Why are you here?” my instructor asked me. Obviously, I need a job. So, I’m here. Why else would I be at a firehouse at 8am on a Saturday? I only realized later how wrong that answer was, and how wrong I was to have answered that way.
The EMT class I took changed who I was and what I wanted at a very foundational level. Not the class, specifically, just the trajectory it put me on. After the class was finished I began to work as a transport EMT as so many of us do, and I found myself truly liking the job. At a visceral level, I liked going to work, I liked seeing the people, I liked the patient encounters. The rare 9-1-1 calls we would get would offer the opportunity to truly change a person’s day. And one day, like a light switch, my attitude and desire toward EMS and pre-hospital medicine changed. I wanted more. There was a world of knowledge that I didn’t have, and frankly that annoyed me.
So, I moved up. I began to work on a critical care truck, I started reading studies; and, if I was lucky enough to be posted with a medic unit, I would spend hours asking questions and exploring what more the world of medicine and pre-hospital care had to offer. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of this family, this tribe that I had only tacitly been aware of so many years before. These same people encouraged me to take a medic class. This was an opportunity to learn more and apply more knowledge, to work more closely with the medics I had known for all those years, and to actually, maybe make a career out of helping people. How cool is that? You get a chance to change someone’s day as a living. That’s rare in today’s world.
If there is one thing that I can say has changed what my life has become, it was my medic class. In a medic class, there is a kinship that simply isn’t seen in any other educational endeavor I’ve experienced since. Recently, a med school classmate of mine likened medical school to trench warfare. You develop brother and sisterhoods that few understand. That’s medic school for me. Two years of the most intense training I had received up until that point, and some of the best friendships I had ever made. I no longer was the person who didn’t want to be “one of those EMS people”, instead I had become one. In short order, almost every one of my closest friends were fellow students, or were already working in the field. Each day was full of inside jokes and conversations that only we would understand. Restaurants and coffee shops we would frequent would be full of patrons that were nothing but confused by the things would say, or the comments that we would make, but we were in our own world. EMS had become the thing that drove our day. I was lucky enough to be part of a group that wanted to work hard to change our lives and that of our patients. It was the luckiest, and arguably the best two years of my life.
I write this as a first-year medical student. I still talk fairly frequently to the people I went to medic school with. Some have moved on to other careers, or moved out of state, but the brother and sisterhood is still there. I moved on to medical school because of them. Because of the people that I so desperately did not want to be a part of when I was younger. It’s humbling in a way to have that knowledge and that fraternity all these years later.
This post was supposed to be a commentary about “What I Wish I Knew in Medic School” and the reality is, what I wish I knew was how much those days in EMT and medic class would change my life. The people and times we all had have shaped who I am today, and the opportunities I have now are a direct result of that. In all truth, this website is a direct result of that. I didn’t know then what I know now, which is a hurdle we all must go through in all educational pursuits, and what I’ve learned since has made all the difference.
Every class I teach now, I still ask “Why are you here?” and regardless of the answers I get, I tell this story in some form and explain the differences in lives that simply becoming an EMT or a medic can offer. We focus a lot on the power and ability we have to change other people’s lives, but we rarely focus on the power that we have to change our own.
Ed is a first year medical student, paramedic, and co-host of The Overrun Podcast.