Updated: Oct 17, 2017
A lifetime ago, when I was brand new - entering a fledgling profession in an impossible environment, I walked into a sea of blue. Industry icons even then, if you wore the patch then it meant something. It meant you were expected to be resourceful, thick-skinned and better at your job than the average person. If you could manage those things, you found yourself standing on pillars of strength found nowhere else, and a wall of blue at your back when you needed it the most. If you could not manage those things ... well then you would either get better or get out.
It's all well and good to talk about "the good old days" but they weren't better or worse than now, just a different dynamic and a different generation. Because we were forced to work without a lot of resources, we made our own - we were our own. You did not have unit tracking, you had peers who could reserve a portion of their brain just for keeping track of where all the other units were - if you called for help someone had paid attention. If you were going to a disreputable location, there was no concern that you would be alone - another truck would slide silently up and wait quietly outside, just in case. If you screwed up (and we all did), you faced the gauntlet of blue that let you know in no uncertain terms that what you had done was not about you - but a reflection on everyone dressed just like you. And that ladies and gentlemen, was simply not acceptable.
We were the leaders in the field, the state. We didn't go to conferences, we hosted them. We wore our battle scars proudly, demonstrating clinical expertise that was hard won. It didn't matter what the outside world thought, because we knew what we had to do to get through each shift and we expected the person sitting next to us to do no less. It was a fraternity where the expectation was excellence and being a part of it meant you had earned some swagger.
If you wore the patch it meant something.
Time marches on and with it comes change. The generations and priorities change, procedures and practices change even though the job itself does not. Frustration from within and without takes its toll, and apathy and exhaustion erode even the strongest landscapes. Faces come and go in rapid succession and the old guard is too weary to lift its head to invest, the bar begins to lower under the weight of having to carry all these strong spirits faced with adversity from all sides.
Over time it has lost its meaning, becoming merely part of your uniform and no longer a facet of your professional identity. We have been looking for meaning that has been lost, buried under a pile of bureaucracy and trapped in the throes of a struggling institution. Despite all that, the job has not changed and neither has the patch - the morale and camaraderie is a completely different story. In losing that we lose our pride and some of our strength.
When Billy said he wanted a team in the METI games, it's nothing we hadn't considered before. Previous feelers met with apathy and this is something you cannot force people into doing (except maybe for Glenn Vogel). Then we got contacted by OEMS who said that they had almost no competitors registered and would any of the projects step up to help. Shortly after he put the email out asking for interest, I got contacted privately by someone who was interested. It was not someone I would have considered as being interested, but they said they felt that this is just the thing that would be a "shot in the arm" for the department and they wanted to throw their hat in and try.
Before we knew it, we had eight teams willing to give it a shot and the games were on. All of a sudden it was the topic heard everywhere; with us trash talking on the inside and the people on the outside looking on in absolute surprise. We were the buzz around the state ... and not for a bad reason.
These guys came on their own time to practice, studying protocols and doing sequences over and over again, trying to do it better each time. And with each passing week, there was more support from both inside and out. NorthSTAR opened the hanger and spent hours working with their simulator and then with the teams, working together and bridging the natural distance that often happens between us and the flight team - even though we all wear the same patch.
As this week grew closer the support became even more palpable, people long gone who had worn the patch offering words of encouragement and support and resurrecting the sense of pride that we all once shared.
Thursday morning, with the sun barely over the horizon, the gallery opened for orientation. When Billy and I walked in there what we saw was a sea of blue. Eagerly clustered around the simulator, they mauled it and hammered the technicians with questions. I'm certain it was overwhelming to the other teams, I know I would be.
Professional, squared away, obviously taking this seriously. As Bill and I stepped back and looked on, an unbelievable amount of pride swelled up in me. One of the people from the state came and stood by us to watch for a moment. We said to him, "those are our kids." He looked at all the blue, all those patches moving over the simulator and all he could say was "That's really f***ing cool." He's right, it really was - and we hadn't even competed yet.
The rest of the day was a blur, a flurry of non-stop activity. As we were learning the flow and preparing the first team to go on, as I was pinning the mic to Joe Sapienza's chest I kidded that it was like getting your kids ready to go to prom. It really was more like working backstage at a Broadway show, with so many teams we had to get them out, restocked and the next ones set up and in, ready to go.
When the first team went on it was a new experience for every one of us and we had no idea what to expect. As they moved through the scenario, I don't think we could have grinned any wider. It was immensely satisfying to watch our guys go in there and settle in and roll with each quirk of the simulator and the situation presented.
Supporters moved in and out of the viewing gallery all day. Dr. Scott made it a point to stay for every team; her grin was even bigger than ours. By the end of the day the viewing gallery was packed. As teams came out the sea of blue would roar to life in support, team photos and smiles all around. They mingled with the other teams, making new friends and proving that we're not unapproachable or anti-social.
Team Honey Badger set the mannequin on fire. Brick City Medics electrocuted it and made a pretty light show. The Little Bricks threw the wrench in the works by speaking to the hostile bystanders in Spanish. Team Angina held it together in the face of some unprofessional behavior and provided awesome BLS care. Every single team went out there and did their best; it was obvious and great to watch. The whole day will be one of my best career memories.
At the end of the day, two of our BLS teams occupied spots in the finals. While the ALS teams did not place, the judges said that the scores were extremely close and the results were determined by a matter of mere points. With only a few weeks to prepare, no simulator experience and wearing the patch, we were absolutely a force to be reckoned with and the mark of it was present throughout the competition and the conference.
The feeling has carried over - there was new life in everyone there. The M*A*S*H Bash was a blast, everyone enjoyed themselves and as we clustered in the back hallway for group photos it occurred to me that we have not had such department pride in years. The words of support and encouragement we have received from alumni, friends and professionals all over have been amazing. We have had compliments from vendors, officials, outside agencies and individuals.
We are back on the professional map after a long silence, and it is all due to the work and absolute courage it took our eight teams to step into that arena or onto that stage and perform under the microscope of peers and beyond.
I salute each and every one of you and you will never realize how much it meant to me personally and I'm sure Billy as well - to see us carry it through with such success.
You wear the patch. It means something again. Thank you.