I listened intently to my T’ai Chi instructor as he shared with me some of the more memorable experiences from his trip to a martial arts event on the West Coast.
While a significant part of his time at the event was spent getting additional instruction relative to moving from a third degree to a fourth degree black belt in Ninjutsu, an art he practices along with T’ai Chi, he also had the opportunity to meet and interact with other martial arts practitioners from around the world. In addition, there were many demonstrations, displays and short seminars offered each day that were free to participants.
In particular, the demonstration/display that really touched him was that of a master swordsmith from Japan. Some of this man’s samurai swords were fetching six-figure prices in the rare moments they came up for auction, and he had almost a dozen of these swords with him for people to see. As he was now in his 90s, the man’s health had been failing for several years. While he was clearly as passionate about his craft as he had ever been, he now spent most of his time in a chair, under a canopy out of the sun, as he visited with those who came to meet him and admire his work. My instructor watched in awe as one of the man’s swords was used to cut the barrel off an M-16 rifle. After the feat, a close examination of the sword blade revealed that what had just transpired did not even put a nick in the edge of the sword.
Impressive as the demonstration was, even more noteworthy to my instructor was the fact that this swordsmith had been declared a “national treasure” by his countrymen. All his food, lodging and medical needs were paid for by the government. When his health allowed, they also paid to fly him to martial arts venues such as this one, again paying all expenses as he showcased the incredible craftsmanship associated with his swords.
Compare this man being declared a “national treasure” with how the elderly are viewed and treated in our country. Many are considered a burden, an inconvenience, or just a hassle. They are seen as overusers of healthcare system resources—a far cry from being declared a “national treasure.”
In truth, nearly all that any of us have in our life today is the result of those who have gone before us. The hard work and commitment of the folks now in nursing homes and extended-care facilities accounts for our quality of life. And yes, it is those same people whose care makes up a huge part of the daily EMS workload. They were our parents, our teachers, our coaches and our caregivers when we were young. They worked sometimes-brutal hours for minimal compensation and built our country into what it is today. But instead of seeing their value, our society frequently focuses on their “overuse” of healthcare resources. Do they use a disproportionate amount of those resources? Absolutely! Do they deserve it? Yes, they do!
It is critical that we take time to make absolutely certain that the folks entering EMS today understand what EMS is all about and bring the right attitude when they enter the profession. While saving lives and resuscitating the dead are admirable and honorable goals, both are frequently impossible to pull off, given the dynamics, instability and limited resources in prehospital care. The lion’s share of EMS in our country doesn’t have diddly squat to do with either saving lives or bringing the dead back to life. Most of what we do is simply taking care of people, and that, more often than not, is a blend of excellent basic life support and outstanding customer care skills.
Holding your patient’s hand, actively listening as they try to explain why they called
9-1-1, going out of your way to make them as comfortable as possible, all the while providing care with empathy and compassion, is the foundation of both our medicine and our profession. Collectively, it adds up to some of the most powerful and meaningful medicine any of us may well ever practice or provide.