WVAC 911: Lessons from EMS — elderly care

When I was four years old, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I recall feeling loved and protected in her care. When I was frightened she let me sleep in her bed, and she let me twirl her hair like I did my mother’s. She went above and beyond simply feeding, bathing, and tucking me in. She listened to me and engaged with me.

Now, she’s a 101 years old. As I write this, she’s in her same room on the farm where she’s lived for the last 51 years. She gets around pretty well, but needs someone to help her up and to the bathroom at night. An aide comes during the day. My aunt stays with her at night. In order to give my aunt a much-deserved break, I’m taking care of my grandmother tonight.

I can honestly say that I might not be here if it weren’t for my EMT training. I wouldn’t have offered to relieve my aunt so she could get a good night’s rest. It’s not that I was otherwise inconsiderate. I think, like most people, I just wouldn’t have been comfortable taking care of an elderly person.

When I became an EMT, I naively imagined myself on adrenaline-filled trauma calls, rushing to rescue folks in accidents. The fact is that most calls, including trauma calls, are to help elderly patients; the traumas are typically from falls.

As an EMT, I’ve been on many calls to nursing homes and I’ve been to many calls in private residences where family members provide primary care. I’ve also been to many calls where an elderly couple is taking care of each other. In most cases, the healthier of the two is the caregiver.

Prior to becoming an EMT, I’d criticize the lack of priority and attention given to our elderly population. However, when it came down to it, the effects of aging made me uncomfortable. Even the sounds and smell of aging bothered me. I didn’t want to even think of issues like incontinence, let alone help with an accident. It was even harder to see my grandparents, who were once so strong and capable, growing feeble.

Volunteering as an EMT has changed me in many regards, and this is a very clear one. I’m no longer afraid of others’ aging, illness, and death. I feel honored to help. Of course, I’m still somewhat new, and I’m not spending day-in and day-out with my grandmother or any of our elderly patients. Nevertheless, I get the opportunity to be of assistance when they need it most.

A ride in an ambulance is often scary for them, and many times it is the only time they get out of the home. Sometimes, a conversation with an EMT is the only time they speak to someone new. While they are sometimes challenging, they are typically sweet and grateful. While I can’t be there often for my grandma, I get to do my part in helping elderly people where I live in Wilton, providing them with care, tucking them in, and listening to them.

I hope after reading this article, you’ll think of how you can be of service to elderly people. If you’d like some ideas on small ways you can help, I suggest you visit a nearby nursing home. If you have an elderly neighbor, maybe check up on them occasionally. And of course, if you’d like to do your part as an EMT, we’d love to have you join us as a volunteer at Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corp.
Joseph Bryson
Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps

The Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation.

Information: wiltonambulance.org, facebook.com/WiltonVolunteerAmbulanceCorps.