by Frank Myers
Originally published in MultiBriefs
Over several years of being a crew member and then officer on an ALS (advanced life support) rescue unit with my former department, I could quickly determine what is real and what is not real. I could not immediately judge anybody about the way they were feeling until I and my crew did our assessment and heard the patient out.
There are times that we were called out because a family member was seeking attention for whatever family dynamics were taking place. Many times, we just provided "counseling" or advice with no further medical treatment or transport needed. This type of dynamic became more frequent especially around the holidays and when family members were visiting.
Practically anyone can tell when a person has a sincere concern about what they are feeling or that they are truly in pain. As a crew, we learned how to "weed" out the minutia and get down to the nitty-gritty of the situation. A necessary skill that we honed with time is that we became good listeners — allowing the person to speak without interruption.
Hearing a person’s tone of voice and being compassionate is a skill or natural ability that some of us have. It’s important to listen carefully and intently to truly understand what they are saying and avoid to a "cut to the chase" tendency. A lack of attention or patience happens often, especially when there are many responses in the day and fatigue starts to set in. It can also occur with experienced personnel who have spent many years in the same position or job function.
There is no doubt that people in general have their unique way of showing their feelings — whether they are very overt about it or humble and meek. No matter what, you need to exercise "patience" and not reflexively respond back to a person in the same way they are presenting themselves to you.
You need to be "confident and professional" and "kind." The person/family/patient called you to their location because of a concern; therefore, we cannot be "judgmental" even when you have pretty much determined that your services are not needed.
Once a determination has been made with the person/patient/family, they need to feel that their issue, for whatever reason, has been resolved. It is possible that you may need to address the same incident by being called out again for the same reasons. At that point, we need to take a definitive course of action to solve the issue and bring closure to that incident.
By becoming a good listener, we also become an "interviewer." Healthcare professionals call this "patient assessment." One skill we learned is to ask "exclusion" questions to rule out issues or make a more precise determination about the true event that is occurring. Once again, taking in all the factors presented will develop a clearer picture. It is almost like being a detective.
These skills are the most challenging, especially when it comes to "domestics," a term commonly used among law enforcement. Police officers also learn and acquire these skills to bring peace and tranquility to a sensitive situation. In other words, we become problem solvers.
As absurd as it may sound, deciding and taking a course of action is easy when a person is experiencing real pain, whether it be from a traumatic incident or medical issue.
This is what we have been trained to do. It is immediately obvious because we have been drilled on the signs and symptoms of different medical issues. The diagnostic tools given to us help us to affirm the underlying condition and render the appropriate and correct care. It is all accomplished by a predetermined plan, guideline, protocol or standard operating procedure.
Not only did I find these skills useful for work and serving the public, but also when dealing with my family, comrades at work, upper management and friends. It is also useful for your social life and those activities you participate in. The funny thing is that whether you are a doctor, attorney, firefighter, etc., people want to get advice from you.
It also creates a good topic for conversation. The one thing to remember is, if I didn’t have alarms to respond to, I would not have a job. We want to project to those we serve that we can be trusted and will give the best service we can provide, even if it is "just to talk."