This is an old EMS adage from my ambulance days that I’ve always liked:
"Who’s the most important person on a call scene?" I am.
"Who’s the next most important person?" My partner.
"And after that?" The patient, and then the bystanders.
Basically, it speaks to the idea of staying safe, of remembering that as much as you’re out there to help people you can’t help anyone if you don’t keep yourself and your partner whole.
When I moved into the dispatch box years ago, that concept changed.
I get yelled at on occasion, and cursed at sometimes…but I am no longer out there where people can shoot at you, try to hit you with a car, or cover you in various bodily fluids.
I am always safe - in that sense.
Now that my interaction with the public includes Fight Club, I find that I’m reconsidering what “safety” means.
One of the lovely people I sat with on a recent observation shift in the counselling center spoke about trying to find the balance of how much of yourself you share with callers. I found myself talking about the scene safety example in response to her thoughts.
My framework in 911-land has always been that this is not MY emergency. It is the caller’s emergency. My job, what the caller is asking of me, is to re-establish calm and control, and to send help.
In crisis center land, one of the understandings I’m gaining is that it is my job to listen and reflect the caller’s own experience so that they can re-establish their OWN calm and control.
But in neither case are they asking me to give them a piece of myself, to endanger my own wholeness.
You can’t touch people and not be touched, but you can remember that you are always the most important person in the conversation - so that you can be in the next conversation, and the one after that too.