Doing The Unthinkable: On The Frontlines With A Paramedic
Jordan Emery once held a dying man's heart in his hands, manually pumping it, in a desperate bid to save his life.
The Intensive Care Paramedic was assisting a doctor who had just performed a Clamshell Thoracotomy -- where the chest is cut open horizontally like a clam -- on a drive-by shooting victim in Sydney's west.
It was a shocking day at work that has never left him. It's the type of incident that begs the question -- how do our emergency workers deal with the horrendous trauma they experience?
"You might be a paramedic but it doesn't mean seeing a child die or going to a horrendous car accident where someone else has passed away or some of the other unimaginable trauma we see, it doesn't mean you are not affected by it," Emery, a Duty Operations Manager with NSW Ambulance, told 10 News First.
"But taking a moment to sit in that space and let that wash over you is a really important part of the healing process."
10 News First went along for a night on the frontline in Sydney with our paramedics.
Within minutes of buckling in, Emery was driving us expertly through peak hour, at times on the wrong side of the road and through red lights, to a priority one on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Triple Zero call said a man has had a heart attack.
It's a white knuckle ride. But a life is on the line.
"I think the thing about this job, if you believe it's all blood and guts and gore. you're wrong," he said.
"It's not always life-threatening emergencies but that doesn't take away from the profound impact you can have on someone's life as a paramedic."
"A lot of this job are the quiet moments in people's houses. The elderly lady who is experiencing a medical problem and she's home alone, or the child with a respiratory problem and his parents are worried."
We experienced both such callouts during our few hours with Emery.
A three-year-old boy struggling to breathe is a priority one. On our way, we're forced at one point to drive along the footpath, with sirens and lights blaring, to get past heavy traffic.
"This time is really precious if this child is critically unwell," Emery said.
While our hearts pump hard against our seatbelts, Emery is calm, and within minutes of arriving, he has stabilised the young boy and is comforting his distraught parents before the child is taken to hospital.
"I think for me the real privilege is being able to go into people's homes or into their lives in that really dark hour and make a difference," he said.
"Ten-and-a-half years of doing this job, the humble privilege of doing that hasn't worn off."
When he was a young boy, aged around 12, his brother was hit by a car and an ambulance was called.
"I remember thinking he was going to die and I remember feeling quite relieved by the presence of the paramedics when they arrived," Emery said.
His brother was seriously hurt, but recovered, and the memory triggered another one that makes him laugh.
"I was this kind of weird kid -- I used to take a first aid kit in my bag when I went to stay the night at my friend's house," Emery said.
"It was this weird combination of worry, like what if something goes wrong and then wanting to be prepared."
His caring nature has turned into a priceless public asset.
But he understands the need for everyone -- even himself -- to be taken care of.
"I'm cared for by my incredible family, I'm a total mumma's boy and my partner," Emery said warmly.
"Another thing is the camaraderie between us as paramedics."
"We've been through a lot of the tough times and horrendous trauma together and we know we can count on each other when we are struggling and that's something really powerful."
Holding each other's hearts in their hands.
Featured image: 10 News First
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