The world of service is filled with many wonderful people. They live their lives in order to make the world a better place not only for themselves, but for others. This is true of first responders. It’s also true for many others but today, I want to address some of the issues an unseasoned first responder might encounter.

You can’t save them all. That’s the toughest lesson to learn. I know this because I was a nurse for over twenty years, most of them in intensive care settings. No matter how good you are, no matter how hard you work, you simply can’t save them all. Sometimes the boo-boo is too great. You never know who is going to have the reserves to fight the good fight and recover and who will succumb, so you treat everyone like they can win the battle. But they can’t.

It hurts when you can’t save them all. We live in a world that expects miracles at every turn. Television has taught us anything can be solved in under an hour. The crisis is met head on and the hero manages to pull it off. But it doesn’t happen that way in real life and when you lose some, it’s horrible. We aren’t supposed to lose some.

But we have to lose some. There is an ebb and flow to life and it would be great if everyone could live a healthy life right up until they died suddenly and pain free on their hundredth birthday. But that’s not the way it is, nor is it the way it ever has been. There are accidents and there is always stupidity and then there is just bad luck.

In order to survive all this stuff, it is important to remember the good stories that accumulate with the years. The bad ones are going to haunt you anyway, so take the time to remember and tell yourself the good ones over and over so you can remember the ones that worked. We pass those over because we seriously always expect it to work so no big deal when it does. Except it is a big deal and you should remember you had a hand in it.

You have to protect yourself from the bad stories. Not because you are callous or shallow, but because over time, if you don’t protect yourself, you shatter into a million pieces. So there is a trick you have to learn. You have to build a shell around your heart – but just hard enough to keep it from breaking. There is room to care and still protect yourself and it is a very fine line indeed, but worth finding. If your shell becomes too thick, you can’t be effective because this line of work demands you remember each and every “victim” wasn’t a victim a few minutes earlier. They were a person, a fully functional person with all the hopes and dreams we all carry. You must treat them as people and not just as victim or patient or some distancing name. But you still have to protect your own heart.

This is probably one of the toughest things you will have to learn as you forge your way through these early days. But it is not only worth the effort, it is essential to your continued ability to serve.

Some of the stories I carry can still ruin even the best of days if I let them. I can still cry over the ones that most touched my heart thirty to forty years ago. It’s okay. I also remember there are uncounted people who are alive and well because of my efforts, too. I don’t believe I ever got too hard-hearted to actually care about each and every person who came under my care. And I also believe that although I may be a bit cynical and have some “get over it” attitude at times, I managed the balancing act.

I wish you, too, might find the tightrope that can carry you across any chasm.

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