Russ Reina experienced the early days--and it toughened him. His EMS life began as an ambulance attendant in the Big Apple borough of Queens in the early 1970s. He later grew to EMT and, through an early pilot program, MICU paramedic in Daytona Beach, FL. In 1978 he rode west to Santa Barbara, there cofounding the California Paramedics Association. He burned out on the politics, if not the work, and left the field in the mid 1980s. Subsequently he explored areas including alternative medicine, counseling and personal growth programs, ultimately becoming a minister in the Universal Life Church and developing a workshop, "The HeART of the Healer," that uses acting and improvisation exercises to strengthen healers' "ability to use heart-consciousness, complete presence in the moment, and connection" as tools of their craft.
Against that medical/spiritual backdrop comes his self-published book, Moments in the Death of a Flesh Mechanic...a healer's rebirth. Completed after Reina moved to Hawaii in 2003, the work chronicles defining instances in his progression from detached streetwise technician ("flesh mechanic") to the fully spiritually, emotionally integrated and involved "healer" he finally became. "The truths I learned," Reina relates, "had more to do with relationship than technique. My lessons were not about medicine, but about myself." For purchasing information, visit VirtualBookworm.com.
I'm sure lots of EMS providers struggle against just being "flesh mechanics." What does your book have to tell them?
My overall goal is to expand the conversation within emergency medical services. In my experience as a medic, we very much relied on the TV show Emergency! as our touchstone. And Johnny and Roy were quite competent flesh mechanics, but they didn't have an ounce of wonder in their bones. My experience was that I was being barraged by very human experiences while being asked to perform as a competent mechanic on human beings. That rocked every aspect of my world. I wanted to convey that because back in the station, back in the hospital, such things are not spoken about. Such things may be joked about, may be laughed about, may be mocked. But when people's worlds got rocked in areas beyond the technical part, they didn't have much of a venue to talk about it. I was one of the maybe 20%, 25% of medics out there curious about exploring some of the more esoteric aspects of what it means to be a healer in the back of an ambulance. Part of the motivation for writing the book is to help give some permission to people in EMS to be able to expand the conversation and talk about the very human experiences they have in the backs of ambulances.
How did that sort of awakening and rebirth happen for you?
It was kind of forced upon me. I'd gone into emergency medical services as a green first aider in the 1970s. Without any tools to work with, I found emotions were a very important part of the work I did--my connections with patients were very important. But then, after paramedic training, all my focus went up to my head, and I built a hard shell. Gradually that got chipped away, and part of the challenge of the book was to show that happening in moments that were very challenging, and through experiences that called upon me to go into deep reserves.
I'm trying to show you can maintain your sensitivity as a human being and still do the work. This is one example of one guy who managed to do the work and have an emotional life in the process. But that can't happen in a vacuum. The book is not enough to do it. The book needs to be a springboard for medics to take responsibility for themselves and, at the very least, listen to each other and respond honestly when one of their partners or peers talks about stuff that shakes up their world. Give them an audience, and people can work through this stuff--that's my point.