‘Om’ Our Way to Best Practices in Paramedicine
As paramedics we are well-equipped to deal with physical trauma. It goes with the training. But what about the debilitating wounds of emotional trauma? How do we care for those parts of our patients that exist behind closed eyes? What about ourselves? Once the uniform is off, how do we mentally and emotionally “switch off” in a healthy way? I can no longer claim to be among a minority who meditate daily to cope with the stress of frontline work. New attitudes are gaining ground. What I didn’t expect was so many positive effects would find their way to the patient.
We are more than just physical bodies. Just because we can’t cannulate emotions and memories doesn’t mean they can’t be cared for. Some meditation techniques encourage us to become still, empty our minds and focus on the breath. The first time I closed my eyes to meditate, I felt as if I were in a surround-sound movie complex with “Saving Private Ryan” and “Loony Tunes” cartoons playing simultaneously—and very loud at that! The world behind my own closed eyes was frantic, traumatic and unpleasant. If you saw my “non-physical” self, you would have seen a battered, bruised and worn-out woman, and yet on the outside I looked just fine. I rarely felt overwhelmed in my role as paramedic, but when I closed my eyes and looked within, the noise was almost deafening.
Given this rocky internal landscape, I needed to find a style of meditation that suited me. What is meditation anyway? It is a focused awareness and a process of disengaging from the “monkey mind.” When I meditate, I consciously release unhelpful emotions, thoughts and beliefs. I use breathing to do this. I visualize my exhalation releasing all unwanted negative energies. Then I fill myself up with revitalizing, uplifting and helpful energies, thoughts and emotions. I notice the positive effects immediately, but this has taken time, consistency and practice.
As technicians and clinicians we are repeatedly exposed to life’s gruesome side. Mental images and unprocessed emotions can build up within us and contribute to a general feeling of fatigue and burnout. The black humor, cynical attitude and intolerance for malingerers can start to dominate. Before long paramedics may wonder just where their love of the job has gone.
When we turn up to a new day’s work in a neatly pressed uniform, how much of yesterday’s stress is still with us? Sometimes it’s more than just heavy gear we carry into the job at 0400 hours. Do we ever consider how our own emotional baggage might rub off on the patient?
The quest for less stress in the workplace and in our lives is fueling a push toward integrative healthcare practices for our patients as well. Meditation is on the crest of this wave. A skeptic by nature and lover of evidence-based research, I am the first to admit I have been both humbled and greatly rewarded through this process. The benefits from a daily meditation practice are not limited to boundless energy, greater happiness, more compassion, better sleep and increased enthusiasm. I feel refreshed and inspired every day, and this has a positive effect on my patients and colleagues. But we can go even further. Why should we acknowledge the personal benefits of meditation for the caregiver but deny our patients the same benefits?
As an intensive care paramedic in the Sydney metropolitan area with 16 years of experience in prehospital care, I have seen many changes in our practices. We have incorporated new procedures and pharmacology, and witnessed exciting breakthroughs in our collective thinking around caring for patients and colleagues during this time. What if addressing both the patient and ourselves beyond the physical is modern medicine’s next big breakthrough? This is an exciting idea, but it feels buried and I’m not sure how many people would reach that point.
I have come to understand there can be far more to health issues than meets the eye. For example, a patient’s chronic back pain may have emotional or thought-based causes. Are they depressed? Recently divorced? Struggling with financial insecurity? Do they feel unsupported in their relationships? Acknowledging these concerns can encourage the patient to face their underlying issues, deal with them and recover their health. If the root cause of an illness lies within the non-physical self, addressing this cause will prevent recurrence and the repeat presentations that place a huge burden on the healthcare system.
When we close our eyes to meditate we open our inner eye to many other aspects of ourselves—factors that Western medicine has so far largely ignored. Our inner world is not an unchangeable reality to which we are bound; there is vast healing power in the mind and an increasing pool of evidence-based research supports this theory.
This inner world is quite possibly the next frontier in health, medicine and prehospital care. What was once the domain of hippies, yogis and eccentrics is swiftly making its way into the mainstream. The bio-psycho-social model of healthcare and the new trend in integrated health has just become even more exciting.
Sandy Macken, also known as Shanti Dharma, is an extended care and intensive care paramedic in Sydney. She is an accredited Ignite Your Spirit Energy Healer who has trained extensively with Australian spiritual teacher Shakti Durga. Shanti Dharma also teaches courses in meditation and energy anatomy.