Why My Chronic Illness Makes Me a Better Healthcare Provider


As an emergency medical technician (EMT) and outdoor emergency care technician, I see patients when they are in their most vulnerable state. I may be called for everything from a hangnail to a fractured femur with fractures of the vertebrae in the back and internal bleeding. They may also have vague yet uncomfortable symptoms such as shortness of breath and nausea, to name a few common complaints.

Here is what stinks about shortness of breath and nausea. While some medications can help, nausea doesn’t usually go away easily. Sometimes, I just wish that I would vomit so the sensation would go away and my stomach would feel a little better. In cases of people with shortness of breath, it is challenging because unless their oxygen saturation is below a certain percentage, you aren’t supposed to provide oxygen. Then there are some patients with more serious injuries that are obviously life-threatening and time is of the essence.

The way I care for each patient is the same. In their mind, it is an emergency, so I am called to do whatever I need to, within my scope of practice, to ensure they are properly cared for while I am their provider.

Due to my extensive medical history and list of chronic illnesses, I, too, have been in that very scared and vulnerable position. I have been in a situation where I nearly passed out on my friend from low blood pressure caused by dysautonomia and the paramedics didn’t take my complaints seriously. In fact, they made me ride on the bench seat of the ambulance unrestrained, and they made me walk into the hospital when I could barely even stand. I stumbled a few times and nearly fell down the stairs. Fortunately, when I got to the hospital, the doctor took me seriously and got me the fluids I needed to stabilize me. But I will never forget how those paramedics treated me that day. It was a disgrace to the profession.

Chronic illnesses are unpredictable, so sometimes they complicate things and procedures go wrong. Imagine my surprise when I woke up in restraints, intubated and on a ventilator after a supposedly routine PICC line placement. I have been in those same situations where all I wanted was for someone to hold my hand and reassure me that everything was going to be OK. That is something the best health care providers of any level can do: reassure and calm the patient while dealing with the issues at hand. It takes a lot of practice, and it is something I work on with every patient.

Pain in various parts of the body are another common compliant. Because I live with the a painful medical condition, I try to take others’ pain as seriously as possible, because no one wants to be in pain. I always want to be able to fix my patients’ pains, even if I know I can’t. Being in pain sucks, and by living with it every day, I know firsthand. As an EMT, my ability to provide or assist with pain-relieving medication is very limited. Over the years of living with chronic pain, I have learned various deep breathing and meditation techniques that draw the mind away from pain. I always try to have my patients take deep breaths and I usually try to distract them with something like a conversation about their family, hobbies or favorite sports teams to name a few. If it is a young child, a small toy usually helps, too.

I guess because I have seen both sides of illness and injury, it has shown me the best and worst of health care providers. I have seen amazing examples of providers I want to be like, and I have seen providers who have no business working in the profession. No one is perfect, but when you are my patient, you will be treated the way I would want to be treated, because I have probably been in your shoes in one way or another.

I’m not perfect, but I will provide you with the best care I can, whether I can see your complaint or not. It is my hope that by the time I finish paramedic and medical school, I will be much more proficient at being the best all-around provider (after many more years of practice).

woman wearing EMT uniform
Meghan at work as an EMT

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