No Room in an Ambulance for a Boardroom

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In a former life I worked in Corporate America. Since defecting and taking refuge in the world of emergency medicine and cardiac education, one thing has become abundantly clear. I’d rather be working in the back of an ambulance than in the boardroom.

I found that the corporate environment distorts our perception of life, clouds our judgment and mangles the rational mind. The result is an inability to recognize true emergencies and respond appropriately.  Exaggerated jargon in the workplace creates a “constant state of emergency.” Whether specific terminology is used to motivate and stimulate an emotional response from employees or used because it creates a sense of self- importance within leadership, the impact leaves us less likely to recognize and then willingly and effectively intervene in a crisis. In addition, we overestimate other situations and, as a result, our response is one of panic rather than purpose.

The ability to be mindful of others and effectively cope is replaced by a lack of awareness and dysfunctional actions and emotions. It makes sense, right? If the fact that the delivery of widgets didn’t arrive “by the drop-dead date” to the customer is treated like an “emergency,” then how are you supposed to react to that annoying pressure in your chest? What, if anything, are you going to do when your colleague begins choking on a piece of steak during a business dinner?

Corporate America seems to thrive on the Western culture of exaggeration.  In our culture, stress is often created on purpose because it gives us a sense of importance.  How is the employee who is late for a meeting, yet not running and crashing through the conference room door and apologizing profusely viewed by his boss and colleagues?  He is seen as lacking a good work ethic, passion and energy.  He doesn’t care about his work.  However, your other frenzied colleague who breathlessly takes her seat, scrambles to find a pen and whose heart rate and blood pressure are elevated is seen as a “real trouper” and a “valuable member of the team” despite the fact that in this state of self-created stress, she isn’t able to listen to what is being said, hear the information being shared or make decisions.

We enter a situation with the immediate ability to not only listen to the patient and bystanders, but to really hear what we are being told. Regardless of the seriousness of the situation, we make every attempt to conduct ourselves in a manner that says “business as usual.”

In fact, one of the quietest and calmest emergency scenes I have worked was a cardiac arrest.  The only voice that could be heard was that of the Paramedic.  We worked on the patient with fluid transition between chest compression and ventilations, switching roles every two minutes to ensure quality physical performance.  When we were unable to resuscitate this particular elderly patient within the prescribed amount of time per protocol, the Paramedic instructed us to cease our efforts and time of death was called. Prior to leaving, we gently lifted the man off the floor and placed him in his bed, his head on a pillow and a soft blanket neatly draped on top.

When we leave a scene like that, we feel everything.  We hurt.  We feel empty.  There is tremendous physical and emotional stress in being a first responder and the incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide and substance abuse are high.  But this stress is not manufactured so we can feel important or prove we are motivated.

Personally, when I pick up the kids from school, I am just grateful to see them and nothing else matters. There is no yelling over spilled milk or shoes left in the hallway because having shed my misguided corporate persona, I am able to appropriately define priorities and respond as necessary – truly necessary.  How different from the days of picking the kids up at daycare after a day at the office, still “having a heart attack” over that late delivery of widgets and oblivious to anyone but myself.

Come into the ambulance and enjoy the ride.

The Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation.