For most of us, seeing an ambulance rolling by registers briefly, a noisy distraction of scary, loud, shrieking persistence. Some people are annoyed and angry at the disturbance, and quite a few cynically remark that the sirens are probably on “just to get around traffic” or “to go grab lunch”.
But when you’ve been in it as a patient or have had a family member taken away in one it triggers vivid memories of what is often times the worst day of our lives.
People are shocked when they find out that I worked on Wall Street for more than a decade before going in to EMS. They are even more dumbfounded when they find out what I did there, at least if they are familiar with finance. I was a derivatives trader on the floor of the commodity exchange. A giant stadium type building that housed “pits” and massive billboard style screens flashing symbols and numbers and images from news feeds from around the world. Wild times, fortunes being made and lost in seconds, stress and tension, tempers flaring, greed and fear a thousand times over. It was the wild west of finance and I loved it.
But it wasn’t everything. As traders, we lived a very detached life from the rest of the world. Ours existed in the bubble of Wall Street, banks, interest rates and profit and loss statements. We had friends outside of finance but the global markets were an all-consuming, 24 hours, almost 7 days a week grinder that chewed people up and spit them out.
I had felt a crisis of identity many years ago when a friend of mine in the Marines had passed after a struggle with cancer. Something was telling me I wasn’t in the right field, that trading was a temporary career, and I needed to be connected to a higher purpose. In the Marines, you are part of something much, much bigger. You wear the same uniform and fit into the unit or battalion in a very specific way. When you see how the Corps operates, especially during large scale operations and exercises, it is an awe-inspiring feat. I decided to volunteer through NYC.ORG and see what was out there. Ambulance/EMS dispatch seemed like an exciting thing to do, so I looked it up.
A few months after I was in EMT class at the encouragement of my Volunteer Ambulance Corps Captain, a former Wall Streeter himself. Class was all very interesting, and the ambulance ride itself was another eye-opener. Witnessing the drama and tension that punctuated a normal day or night. People from all walks of life, rich or poor, black or white, they all were having very, very bad days. Police were our co-witnesses to this play, sometimes actors in it themselves, sometimes just the audience. My first few jobs were stabbings, emotionally disturbed twins fighting each other, an octogenarian having his last breathes. It was heady stuff.
And then my world turned upside down. My father suffered a fatal heart attack over the course of maybe 12 hours… he ended up passing away before he could have been stabilized. It happened in the very hospital where my mom had worked for almost 20 years, the same hospital I volunteered in…and coincidentally one of the hospitals I bring my most critical patients to now.
For some of us, losing a father or mother can make you grow in a way you never imagined. For me, it put everything into perspective. My dad gave a lot of his knowledge and time to those who needed it, pro bono as a lawyer and without any desire for credit. He helped in whatever way he could. It was a wakeup call. I had a clear purpose.
6 years later I’m working on the same streets I grew up in. I keep learning more about the field of emergency medicine and going the next step of becoming a Paramedic. The world outside my ambulance window looks much different from the view from the exchange in the World Financial Center. Being an EMT and a Paramedic you get a direct chance to engage in a battle for life. You don’t always win, but you always keep fighting.
As part of the Black 6 Project, we get to take this amazing field of paramedicine and bring it to places in need all over the world. I look forward to having you follow along with our adventures!