Coping with a Bad Call

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There are difficult shifts, and then there are shifts that pummel your body while shredding your heart.  Here are some ideas for coping:




Are you physically and mentally able to continue your shift?

If not or you are in doubt, contact your supervisor immediately and tap out, if necessary, even if it's just for a brief time or a quick rest. There is no shame in admitting your limits, and it helps no one if you become an additional victim.


2) Put yourself back together

Take things one step at a time and get yourself presentable again.

Pull out the SHTF bag.
Wash up or shower.
Change your uniform.
Clean your boots.

Whether you clean the rig beforehand or not will depend on the situation and the policies of your service, but go through whatever motions you need to get yourself back to your normal physical baseline.

A side note: sometimes the greatest act of service one crew can do for another is to clean a truck and get it functional again so the affected crew can focus on themselves. I have watched  as a supervisor told her crew to go get cleaned up and took the mop herself to clean the rig. THAT is true leadership.


3) Rehydrate and refuel

Drink a big glass of water.

Stress is dehydrating, and hydration helps you cope with stress.

Don't forget to get a solid meal as soon as you can as well. If you have trouble eating under stress like I do, then make sure there are people who help monitor that you take that next bite. 


4) Don't procrastinate

I know it's tempting to try forgetting the events of the call, but your run report isn't going away. Those details are going to fade quickly—all the moreso because you want to forget. As soon as you are able, get your narrative written and all the boxes checked. Sometimes that can even help you process what happened. Then move quickly to the next step...


5) Activate your support system

Notice I didn't say build—I said activate. That means you already know who you are going to call to support you. Find someone to talk to and spill it all.

  • your partner (caution: she/he may be having difficulty coping)
  • coworkers
  • your significant other
  • close friends
  • an EMS dinosaur
  • the leader of your circle of faith/or the on-call Chaplain
  • your service's mental health providers

6) Be a good partner

It's important to respect others' coping mechanisms, but it's also important to be there for your coworkers.

Check up on those around you. Talk to them.

ASK how they are doing after the call, on the next shift, a week later, a month later. Get through things together and have each others' backs.

Sometimes more peace can be found over beer and tacos than in any conference room.


7) Recognize if you need further help

Anyone can get beat down working in EMS, but if you notice

  • sadness
  • insomnia
  • chronic health problems
  • flashbacks
  • dissociation
  • depression
  • sexual difficulties

that last more than two weeks, interfere with your daily life, and/or you are having thoughts of suicide, contact a professional or your service's EAP.

If someone you trust recommends you get help, LISTEN.

There are also resources that can help:

Safe Call Now



Code Green Campaign