My name is Jessica. I’m 36 years old, I have severe hemophilia, I am a transgender woman and I’ve been an EMT in the South Hills of Pittsburgh for almost 12 years.
I was raised in a Marine Corps family. The two people closest to me are my step-father, a WWII veteran and my brother, a retired Gunnery Sgt. I grew up in awe of the Marines and always wanted to become one. Due to hemophilia, this never happened. Hemophilia is a genetic bleeding disorder that causes me to bleed spontaneously, usually into my joints. It’s also extremely painful.
Another “problem” of my youth is that I never really felt comfortable in my own skin. From my earliest memories, I thought I was a girl. I remember around the age of 5, I thought that this feeling was “wrong” and I needed to make it go away. I pushed these feelings so deep inside that I didn’t know who I was. In my teens, I was a quiet, introverted loner and an awful student. I just hated everything about school. Looking back, I might have done better if I was true to myself. It was another 25 years before I put all of this together. But that’s a different story…
When I graduated high school, reality hit me hard. Around this time, I rebelled and had a pretty wild youth. I ended up gaining responsibility when I became part of the management team at my local drug store. With the added responsibility, I calmed down quite a bit. But overall, I hated my job. I felt trapped in that store day after day. I longed to have a job that “mattered”, where I wasn’t stuck indoors all day. Stocking shelves and developing pictures just wasn’t fulfilling for me.
One night, I went to the movies and saw “Bringing Out the Dead”. This night at the movies changed my life. This is a very dark movie about a burned out paramedic and I knew it wasn’t entirely accurate. However, it gave me the idea that being an EMT is an important job that doesn’t require me to be in a store everyday of my life. Within two months of seeing this movie, I was volunteering at my local EMS agency and enrolled in EMT school. In March of 2001, I was hired full time at my local EMS agency and I felt like I fulfilled part of my dream. I would never wear those fancy Marine Corps dress blues, but I got my own uniform to be proud of. I made it.
Within two months of seeing [Bringing Out the Dead], I was volunteering at my local EMS agency and enrolled in EMT school.
The first year of full time EMS work was probably the most memorable of my career. I remember my supervisor telling me, “We’re throwing you to the wolves”. To top it off, my first partner was Josh, a man known as “The Grim Reaper”. Every EMS agency has somebody they refer to as a “black cloud”. This means that bad things follow them everywhere. I swear that the wildest calls I ever had was when I was still learning how to run calls.
I like to say that learning in these “trial by fire” conditions felt like I was drowning. I was desperately trying to keep my head above water. Josh gave me a piece of advise that stuck with me for my entire career, he said “Learn to relax and have fun with it, this can be a very fun job if you let it be”. He was right. Eventually, I caught on to all of the details of my job and I think I became a good EMT. I think it took me about two years to feel that I earned being an EMT. It was now time to relax and enjoy my job.
At the end of the day, EMS really shows you how fragile life is and it’s always in the back of our minds.
I have learned that EMS providers are very unique people to say the least. Most of us become very good at separating ourselves from any situation. We are able to sit in the truck and close the door like the past hour never happened. While families are barely starting the grieving process, we are en route to Wendy’s and talking about a TV show. It’s not that we don’t care or we are made of stone. Each one of us has to deal in our own way but none of us want to dwell on anything. I assure you, thinking too hard about some things will drive you crazy. I assure you that if you take things too hard, you will not last long in the field. Over time, we all become cynical about our jobs. People need to understand that this is our 40 hour workweek. We all clock out and go home to our lives and our loved ones. At the end of the day, EMS really shows you how fragile life is and it’s always in the back of our minds.