The Courage to Write.

Initially, I thought I arrived here by “accident.

I can be a bit rambunctious and not everyone can appreciate that, so I ran into a little trouble at work and avoiding a long story that will bore you, I found myself looking for a new gig. A few weeks later, I went on an interview at a place I did not really like or want to work at and afterward found myself trolling Marshalls trying to feel better. New shoes, clothes, purses, or household crap for you to dust can do that for a girl.

thWhile strolling through the aisle of various pots and pans, a friend messaged me and asked if I could read something. We had talked about our individual school work and research demands previously and I thought highly of him (hes kind of a big deal), so I was SO excited to be included into this exclusive club to check out his writing! I read it right there next to the All-clad frying pans, the Stepford Wives shooting me dirty looks for blocking up the aisle and all. It was a management article, but he was speaking about my life! Specifically, the trouble at work situation and the type of manager I just encountered. I silently wished he had written it a few years earlier and saved me some agitation.

I began to wonder, “How can I write like that?” So I asked.

Hey, how did you get started writing for magazines?”

This gentleman was gracious enough to tell me a little bit about his journey and even offered to review anything that I wrote. WHAT!?! ME?!? I was honored, but didnt think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say, much less felt that I could influence someone positively. Didnt I just get into trouble for opening my big mouth?

Honestly, I was scared.

courage

As time went on, this militant thought consistently reared its head, “Why not me?” I began to write a piece and shared it with a few people. To my surprise and pleasure, they liked it and were honest with me and told me how to improve it. Still I waited, unsure if I could really “do” this, I mean who was I to tell anyone anything? I had A LOT of “reasons.”

I don’t have a degree.

Im only an EMT.

I don’t have a fancy job as a platform.

I just ride on a truck.

Who would listen to anything I had to say anyway?

Another good friend with a flair for the literary and a silver tongue encouraged me to build a blog. I thought, “Uh, arent blogs for people with nothing going for them?” I received a quick education on EMS blogging and got lost in the internet for many hours finding amazing writing ranging from clinical topics to florid tales regaling the family that is EMS. More talking myself out of writing ensued after I read some of these authors who left me in stitches unable to breathe and others who made me shut the computer off heart broken and crying, knowing I could NEVER write like that.

c3d4fe411b27e8acd660c1509e0babc2I didn’t get here by accident. Life, destiny, the Universe, whatever you want to call it has been setting me up for years. As a little girl, I got busted sneaking books to bed and still I stub my toes on the stacks that don’t fit on the shelf. As a young hellion, I met a new friend whose mother was a writer and preacher and despite my alternative and undesirable appearance (which she still talks about in front of the congregation when I am in town at church) let me wait in the wings and watch. I learned how to speak to people in power. I learned how to write and speak and back up my position, so I did not just have an opinion. She let me learn how to serve others by imparting parts of myself via her example. She laid the foundation that others would build on during my creation as a writer. This was no accident. Neither is your journey.

speakingLike most FNGs in EMS I decided to fake it ’til I made it. With a lot of help from an accepting and encouraging EMS writing community, I built the blog and posted that first article. Then another and another and another and THEN I got my first piece of hate mail! That sealed it for me, people were listening!

I will tell you a secret. I am still terrified.

We do this every day. We speak to people and influence their healthcare decisions as a provider. We uplift our friends and family when we offer messages of encouragement or commiseration. We make strangers smile when we offer a pleasant word and smile of our own. Writing is just life via our fingers.

It is easy to listen to your inner critic knock you down and silence your voice. Its easier to turn a blind eye and keep your head down and get by, but what the hell will you have at the end of your life then? A bunch of “I should haves” and no time left.

pablo

There are many things that will try to slow you or distract you or stifle your voice. Dont let them. Your voice is important, what you have to say can only be said by you. You never know who your words will affect and improve or inspire or save.

Yes, the power of life is in your words. Use them.

How many A-holes work at your agency?

I was recently reading a piece by a gentleman named Olivier Blanchard called Brand Management: The Asshole Effect.  I was so excited while reading it because in a parallel life to my EMS career, I worked at a popular coffee emporium.  I was expected to and enjoyed providing awesome customer service (it’s possible that my caffeine addiction helped me fulfill that achievement).  About half way through the article, I had an “AHA!” moment. I realized that this is not just about business as we traditionally recognize it, but can also be applied to agency reputation and customer service within EMS.

 

Whether popular culture in our field regards EMS as a business or not, it is a business and we need to keep the money coming in to continue operations. We are a service provided to citizens.  Smiling at a patron while wearing my trademark green apron and handing them a paper cup filled with their caffeinated prescription is the same as smiling at a patient seated on my stretcher while wearing my clean and neat uniform bearing my agency patch.  I am representing my brand.  I am promoting my agency’s reputation.

 sbuxThe author in a parallel life

Mr. Blanchard posits that every “customer” facing agency with the least amount of a-holes wins.  Essentially, this means that people make a positive association with an agency for every positive experience they have with that agency.  Similarly, for every negative experience, people make a negative association with that agency.  Traditionally, if a customer has a great experience with a company they may tell 1 friend.  If a customer has a bad experience they will tell at least 10 friends. With the advent of the internet the 10 friends receiving bad information about your agency has increased exponentially. This theory does not only apply to customers we interact with directly, but everyone in the vicinity that might witness the event.  One glaring example involves modern technology. I am sure most of you have had some experience in the street with witnesses or family members with cell phone video cameras.  Some are just busybodies who want something cool for YouTube, but others have malicious intent and ambulance chasers on speed dial.  Civilians are not our only “customers.”  Our fellow responders such as police, fire, emergency management and hospital staff are our customers, too.  What if an asshole (I know you have one in mind) was on that scene representing your agency?

 ambchaser

I used to work at an agency that was regarded as “elite” by some in our area.  We had expensive uniforms, nice ambulances with cool reflective lettering, and more toys than you could count in our garage.  Our positive reputation as an agency didn’t last long because no one checked the a-hole count.  One fine afternoon, my per diem partner and I responded to a little old lady with flu like symptoms at her home.  She had difficulty walking more than a few steps and lived on the second floor so we had to carry her down the stairs.  I set up the stair chair and assisted her to a seated position and secured her to the chair.  My partner and I move toward the stairs with our equipment and patient in tow.  I positioned myself on the stairs to carry the bottom of the chair and let my partner know I was ready.  I waited about 30 seconds and stated I was ready again.  30 more seconds passed, I leaned over and looked around the chair to find him texting away at the top of the chair.  He was totally checked out of reality. The police officer and the bystanders on scene saw it, too.  Our real “customers” now viewed our agency as a joke.

 

Customer Service at its Finest

Pride. Respect. Professionalism. Honestly, those are not adjectives I conjure immediately when I think about EMS. The adjectives that come to mind when I imagine describing my chosen profession are: lazy, slovenly, and unqualified.  Let me make a disclaimer: There are some shining examples of pride, respect, and professionalism among EMS agencies and individual providers, and looking disheveled does not make you unqualified for your job, it makes you LOOK unqualified for your job.  Being an a-hole is not limited to verbal communication. Visual communication speaks volumes.  Every time you wear your shirt wrinkled or untucked, every time your boots aren’t tied, every time your truck is dirty, every time you text while you are on a call indicates that you don’t care about the “customer’s” experience.  It indicates that you, and your agency by proxy, are a-holes.

 

Resolving this issue should be important to EMS agencies, although experience shows us this is not always the case.  (This is when people start to send me hate mail.)  The reputation of an agency is of the utmost importance because it influences all aspects of the organization.  The most obvious of these is related to securing funds.  If your agency uses fundraisers to secure operational funds for continuity of operation, you must have awesome “customer” service.  Who is going to GIVE their money to an organization they regard as a bunch of jerks?  The same goes for attracting new members or employees and retaining your current staff.  People volunteer or work for and agency for a variety of reasons, one of which is to belong to a group they believe in and identify with.  Even one a-hole can cause others to find new employment or volunteer at another agency or lead to a dedicated member resigning.  Now you don’t only have to find a new “body,” you have to pay for pre-employment checks such as a background check and a physical and new uniforms and training.  If you think the politicians in your town aren’t your customers, then you need to talk to agencies that have been cast aside, not by poor clinical performance or low response statistics, but because of poor customer relations.  Some politicians will reroute 911 service to the provider of their choice and then your agency is nothing more than a social club with fancy jackets.

 1781436_10202196788858772_1855065837_nThe best agency I ever worked for, felled by politics.

Mr. Blanchard proposes the awesome service you provided 10 years ago is soon forgotten, what is important to people is what you did WRONG last week.  We must provide awesome customer service continually! 20 years ago, before the widespread use of the internet and smart phones, it was easy to contain the fallout from the a-holes that afflict your organization, but now one small misstep can tarnish your agency exponentially.  Be aware of your behavior, and if you are part of the leadership structure, be cautious of who you hire or accept for membership in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Your Face Will Freeze Like That!”

It’s funny how days have themes. Usually, a series of awful things happen to us during the day and they just seem to consistently work against us. On blessed occasion it’s a stunning, temperate day with perfect clouds and not a care in the world. It seems like you could drive forever and nothing could take your bliss away. Today, is something different. Today, there is an undercurrent surging … a “vibe” if you will.
“Granny” of Warner Brother’s Fame
 
I woke up to a message from my partner asking me to come in early for my shift because someone was sick. Yes, I already sense your collective heads nodding, “Oh yeah, I’ve had those days.” Believe me, I know no good deed goes unpunished and when you do something nice, you will usually get something you wanted no part in. Despite this knowledge, I happily agreed! I then had a stimulating, intellectual conversation with a good friend. All before coffee! I got to work and shortly after I was dispatched on a job to the nicest little old lady (very similar to “Granny” who owned Tweety Bird). She even called us before she was very sick! You know, the same day the symptoms started, not a week later. We took care of her, I got back to my primary and “Murphy” allowed me to wait in the seriously long Starbucks line AND get my coffee at the end. It was while I was waiting that I noticed the surreptitious undercurrent of joy I had been floating in all morning.
 
Some days it’s necessary.
 
Let me interject dear reader, your mother was not lying, your face WILL freeze like that. I found the woman who did not listen to her mother’s warning at the Starbucks counter. She was impatiently awaiting her latte. Bundled like the rest of us in an oversized, black, wool coat with an equally oversized hat atop her head, her eyes squinted and peered out from behind retro, cat lady eyeglasses just above her mouth which was drawn together in an aggressive, tight line. This lady was angry.
 
Disclaimer: Not Actual Angry Starbucks Lady
 
She really disturbed me. I could not help but stare at this woman. If this was Star Wars she would have altered my force. That is how angry she was.  It occurred to me that sometimes in EMS we act this way. It occurred to me that in many areas this is acceptable and even venerated. It occurred to me that some days at work I wear that same face.
 
Things happen in our job, terrible things. Patients or their family members project their fear of the unknown via angry or violent voices. We work hundreds of hours and ends still don’t meet while our loved ones rail in our ear about never being there. Not every moment will be a cacophony of angels trumpeting of our ecstasy. However, not every moment is agony and angst. How many situations could we prevent if we were pleasant from the beginning? How many angry letters to your Chief or supervisor and visits to their office could be avoided with a smile and friendly voice? How much could our patient’s outcome improve without the added stress of our grumpy attitude? How much could our lives improve without the stress of our grumpy attitude?
 
Just some food for thought. Not everything is that simple, but if the above sounds like you perhaps listen to this song before your shift…