Public Safety Ministries has a mission to provide and promote Spiritual Health and Fitness in all public safety professions; Law Enforcement, Fire Service, Emergency Medical Service and Military. Having spent the last 30 years working in Law Enforcement, my focus obviously has been directed at that discipline. However, the issues and challenges we face are clearly universal to all these professions. With permission, below I share a message that was written by a colleague who works as a full time chaplain serving those in the EMS profession. It contains some of the “universal truths” that I often speak of that impact those of us whose lives are embedded in the “human condition”.
“Growing Into Your Profession”
by Russ Myers, Allina Medical Transportation Chaplain
Cumulative stress, critical incidents, and the emotional weight of our work are familiar to all of us whose jobs involve caring for people in crisis. We know how important it is to be intentional about taking care of ourselves and keeping our lives in balance.
So it may come as a surprise when we begin to notice that we’re not bothered as much by difficult cases as we used to be. We may wonder, “am I getting cold and calloused?” A fire fighter EMT spoke about having clear memories of a call he was on more than a dozen years ago, while the details of a more recent, equally challenging call were not so clear. He asked, “should I be concerned?” Others have made similar comments, and asked the same questions.
A family member of a patient who was coding in the ICU at United Hospital noticed that I was able to be with his loved one without appearing to be in much distress myself. He commented, “I suppose this kind of work gets easier over time.” Easier? No, I told him, it doesn’t get easier, but it does get more familiar.
In response to these conversations, I dug a little deeper into it this year. One of the things I’ve come to recognize is that our responses to critical incidents involve more than one emotion. A normal response to loss is to feel grief or sadness. A typical response to trauma is to be frightened. With experience, the “fear factor” is less than it used to be. Situations that used to scare me aren’t so scary any more. I still experience some initial anxiety as I make the mental shift necessary to respond to a crisis. I notice a heightened sense of awareness, faster heartbeat and other physical responses, but I’m not as frightened.
I believe that, with experience and support from co-workers, family and friends, we can increase our skill at coping with stress and trauma. The fear element is reduced. We have a broader base of experience to draw on, and even though the current situation isn’t exactly the same as something we’ve seen before, we gain confidence in our abilities. It’s not easier, but it is more familiar.
Should you be concerned if you don’t get overwhelmed by a challenging call? I don’t know. One way to explore it is to ask, do you experience normal emotional responses in other areas of your life? Do you tear up at sad movies, laugh, cry, and care for your loved ones in appropriate ways? If yes, this is healthy and you’re probably doing OK.
Others may interpret our lack of fear as meaning that our jobs get easier over time. We may still be sad, but not afraid. If you notice that you’re able to be in the midst of a very tough situation without feeling overwhelmed, take it as a clue that you’re growing into your profession. There will be times when your ability to cope gets stretched, and I encourage you to take advantage of support resources and critical incident debriefings. But there will be other times when you recognize that you do feel sad about the situation, but it’s within the scope of your normal work, and you’re going to be OK.
Russ Myers, D.Min., BCC, is chaplain at United Hospital and Allina Medical Transportation in St. Paul, Minnesota. In his work with Emergency Medical Services he provides staff support to EMTs and paramedics.
I like reading the paper. It’s part of my morning ritual, right there with having my morning coffee and doing dog chores. My wife and I have a routine when we read the paper, not a routine as much as a system. I usually get up a little earlier than she does, but by the time I start the coffee, go out and do dog chores, and hike out to the street (not really a hike, more of a 100 yard jaunt) to get the paper, she is up and enjoying her first cup before heading off to work. Therefore, we read it at the same time and need a system in who reads what section when. Today was no different, she starts with the front page section and I get the local… and so on.
So how is this relevant to spiritual fitness and my ministry work? Well today we were a little off sync. When that happens I go to the Sports section, which she doesn’t read, and I usually just skim. Except on days like today when I have some “paper time” to kill. So I read with a little more depth. And here lays (or is it “lies”) the message. When you go a little deeper, a little more deliberately into whatever it is you are doing, sometimes you uncover something that brings you some joy and happiness. In this case it was a really nice memory.
I was reading about Jim Thome and where he will end up playing next year. (For those who don’t know, he’s a great baseball player who spent last year with the Twins.) Towards the end of the article by Joe Christensen there was the following paragraph:
“The biggest home run of the Twins season came Aug. 17, when Thome hit a two-run, lead-changing, game-ending blast off White Sox lefthander Matt Thornton.”
Minneapolis StarTribune 12/03/10, Photo by Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune.
And we were there! All five of us! Me, my wife, my 24 year old from Alaska, my 21 year old form Minneapolis and my 14 year old still living at home. We were all there on a beautiful summer night, extra innings, outdoor baseball, and a walk-off homer that landed about 20 feet from where we sat in the right field bleachers! It really was a great night together.
Now, I hadn’t thought about that night for quite some time. It was a great memory, but we get busy and our lives get cluttered and we tend to forget all the good stuff that we experience, the stuff that feeds our souls with happiness and joy. The stuff that keeps us spiritually fit. But this morning, by going a little deeper into our simple routines of life, my soul was fed and I’m a little healthier today because of it. (And I hope Thome comes back again next year!)
As I’ve traveled down the road of career transition these past two years, the one thing that has been constant throughout the journey is the experience of discovery. I had the opportunity last week to share the mission and vision of Public Safety Ministries with the Ramsey County Chiefs of Police Association at their monthly meeting. It was a great experience and I was overwhelmed with the response of support I received from them. I gave an overview of the ministry, the mission, the outreach and the services projects we are involved in. As I was talking about the Chaplaincy Services Coordination project that I am working on in partnership with The Minneapolis Police Chaplain Corp and The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, I used an image to describe the project that I had never used before.
The day before the presentation I was reading for a book that I received from one of our police chaplains, Father Tim Power, at my retirement from Eden Prairie PD. My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. holds a regular place in my collection of books I use for meditation and devotional reading.
In one of the stories she shares she tells of how she struggled with an assignment she had where she was supposed to “build community” among the employees of a hospice organization. They set aside one morning of a retreat to accomplish the task. When she sought out advice from a colleague she was give the following advice: “You don’t need to make that happen (building the community), Rachael. You just need to make it visible.”
As I described the efforts we have made towards identifying and coordination chaplain services around the state I have found the same thing to be true. We don’t need to create a chaplain services community, we just need to make the existing one visible. Of course there is a lot of other work to do as we strive towards building continuity of services, standards and identities and professionals in police chaplaincy, but the community is there and it is active. Making it visible, first to ourselves and then to others is a great first step.
There always seems to be plenty of visibility in our society of the problems and challenges we face. A simple story in a book has given me an image, an image of making visible all that is good in life, that will become a guiding light of this ministry.
Here is a simple message to all of the public safety professionals out there who wonder “Am I making a difference?” The answer is yes. As we go about our daily responsibilities I think we all know, in the big picture, that our jobs have an important purpose. But often we forget that and just see ourselves performing a task and then moving on to the next one. Well I got an e-mail last week that reminded me that, although our duties sometimes become routine, what we do and how we act does have a lasting impact on those we deal with.
Some time ago I shared this story with a good friend who is a 27 year
veteran of the DeKalb County department in GA. He suggested that if I was
able, to send you a quick thank you note for helping me years ago.
During the summer of ’83 we were involved in a high speed fleeing incident.
I was on the motorcycle. Thank you for your diligence to stop me that
morning then your kind “hello” 1 week later near the 13th tee at Dahlgreen
Golf Club as a buddy and I played through your threesome on the par 3.
You were doing your duty as an officer but also participating in the
kingdom plan for my life. It’s been more than a couple years since my
friend suggested I write the note and I’m not sure why it came to mind this
May God continue to bless you and your endeavors,
We have all received a message like this, or like the cop in Georgia, heard one about one of our partners in the professions. I remember the incident, it ended with him dumping his bike on a gravel road, no significant injuries, no resistance, just a kid making some poor decisions. The thing I remember most was that the chase entered a neighboring community and I became a bit “misplaced” (ok, maybe it was lost in a tangle of streets through a lake community tangletown). Fortunately a guy in his yard pointed me in the direction of the speeding bike. Anyway, I’m glad things worked out for the kid and I look forward to having a cup of coffee with him the next time he’s in town.
What you do matters. At work, at home, even on the golf course. It may be 26 years before you have the “proof”, but do your job with a healthy spirit of service and it will matter.
It’s Saturday morning as I write this post. Fall is in the air this morning after a hot summer day of 85 degrees yesterday. It is in the 50′s this morning, a cool mist hanging over the yard, gray skies, light breeze, and my coffee couldn’t taste better. As I sit in my basement office, surrounded by my books, pictures, memories, and with family upstairs …. this .875 acre plot in Shorewood Minnesota is my haven.
“Adventure and a safe haven, that’s a good mix”. I love words and I love the stories that they tell. Over the years I’ve got in the habit of saving quotes that inspire me, words that are good for my soul. The “good mix” quote comes from James A. Michener’s Alaska and it has stuck with me ever since I first read it over 20 years ago.
As I sit in my haven this morning all I can think about is the “adventure” that surrounds me. I see it in my two oldest kids who have picked education adventures in opposite directions and opposite sides of the continent. They have had success and learning experiences in those adventures, but I’ve always seen the importance of the havens in their lives as their adventures unfold. I think about the adventures of the law enforcement professionals I serve as their chaplain. The challenges they face in crime, politics, leadership, career decisions, personal tragedy… all adventures that depend on their skills and abilities to keep our communities safe. And I look at my own adventure, leaving the haven of a career I loved to pursue another that calls to me.
This is what life is all about folks. Often it seems to complicated and overwhelming, but if you work at it you can pare it down to “adventure and a safe haven…a good mix”
Today I pray for blessings on your adventures and I pray for your awareness to the wonderful havens that surround you. Often they get lost in the clutter, but they are there and they are “safe”.