MIND OVER MATTER
June 12, 2014
By Veronica Corrigan
Some time ago, I participated in a group study regarding the effects of alcohol consumption in large quantities and whether taking a trial medication would keep the anticipated hangover at bay. I like to call it “overindulging socially.” We were provided drinks over a six-hour period and at the end half of the people in the study received a trial medication and the other half a placebo (sugar pill).
We were examined the next morning to see how the “special” medication affected us; the results were astounding. Almost half of the participants receiving the sugar pill felt fine, as if the “special” medication had prevented the impending hangover. About a quarter of the participants receiving the real medication didn’t notice any change from what they figured would happen; they felt as horrible as they always did after a night out on the town.
While the question of whether or not the “special” medication would prevent a hangover was yet to be determined, I saw a bigger picture. What did it say about the sugar pill half? Mind over matter is critical in the outcome of how we heal.
Recently, my daughter was running to the backyard and fell and skinned her knee. I cleaned it and put a Band-Aid on but she was still crying. I bent down and kissed it. “All better?,” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. Did my kiss really make it feel better or was it mind over matter? Was it the comforting tone in my voice, or the combination of both? I believe it was both. It’s not much different from what we do when providing caller management in Pre-Arrival Instructions (PAIs).
For the record, my daughter also thinks chocolate milkshakes make her tummy aches go away. A Proposal for Change regarding tummy aches and milkshakes might be in the works.
I had forgotten about the study until a recent PAI call. When converting a call from a public service agency (fourth-party caller), I reached a woman panicking on the other end. She was experiencing strong contractions, soon determined to be less than two minutes apart. Seventeen years of experience as a paramedic and the fact that this was her second child told me that this baby was ready to greet the world. The fear in the woman’s voice was palpable, and I found myself emotionally caught up in the situation. Her OB team was now her 14-year-old daughter and someone who was about to tell her “exactly what to do next.”
As a medic in the field, I was able to recognize relief expressed on a patient’s face. In this case I heard only panic. To her, she was alone, and I was just someone on the phone asking questions and delaying the ambulance. I needed this “mom-to-be” to trust me and know I was there with her. Drawing from the experience of having my son four ½months earlier, I used calming statements: “I’m going to stay on the line and help you through this” and “I know you’re scared that the baby is coming but we can do this together.” I used these early and often to gain her trust. The instruction to gather a safety pin, towels, and blanket kept her daughter focused even though her mom was in a clear state of distress. I continuously reminded mom that she was far from alone or helpless.
This is the part of being an EMD that I find so challenging. My mindset had to change, and this call was proof. I used every effort to help this woman to trust in the PAIs and me. I was so convincing that in the end I actually felt like I was there with her, and I know she did, too.
Paramedics arrived and transported her to the hospital before her newborn made a home debut, but we were ready if it had come to that. The experience helped me with a new perspective: As emergency medical dispatchers, we have to be so immersed in these calls that, upon disconnect, we feel as if we had been there. We are “right there with them.” We have the chance to help them feel relief when they are in pain and safe when they are scared. When we recognize these situations, we can’t be in a rush to hang up or assume that the caller or patient is fine and doesn’t need our emotional support. Having someone to listen can be the greatest comfort in time of need.
It’s our job. It’s what matters.
As a field medic, I was convinced that no other job could ever be as exciting and give patients such relief. Apparently, it was just mind over matter.