Angry Joe

 

joe

Joe Kovalski is a brother of mine. Not because we have the same parents, but because we share a common story. We are both Firefighters, we both love Pipe and Drum music, and we both could have very easily not been here to tell our stories. What follows is an article that has appeared in the NFPA magazine “perspectives”. It tells in graphic detail about his struggles, and his realization that he needed help. It is the hardest decision a public servant has to make to say the words: I can’t help myself any more. Brothers and sisters, remember that true brotherhood exists, and if you need to talk… Lets take a walk.   PTSD NFPA Article

When anxiety builds

Anxiety… we all experience some form from time to time. Sometimes it’s about a promotion, or a mortgage. This kind of anxiety is usually easy to manage. You are anxious about a promotional exam? You study harder. Anxious about your mortgage? Talk to a financial professional. These are normal situations that cause us to worry, followed up with what a rational person might do to fix the situation.

What happens, however, when you find yourself worrying about the small details of life and work? Maybe you, like me, suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. I know that it’s a struggle but there is help.

About me

I am a fireman and a paramedic. For me, I found (and sometimes still find) myself in a state of worry over the little things. For instance: If my crew went on a simple abdominal pain EMS run, my whole day would be ruined by a missed IV. I would feel down until the next time I was able to “redeem” myself. Lord help me if I missed again! If I was running a pumping exercise at the station, I would beat myself up about every little fault in my execution of a hydrant connection and getting positive water. Never mind the fact that I’m not even an engineer! Even down to a base level. If an interaction with a brother or sister ended with me being told a better way to do things or being told I didn’t do something right, I might find a situation that would allow me to do better so our last interaction would be positive in my favor. Eventually I realized that I couldn’t live like that forever.

Through counseling I discovered that I wasn’t upset about an IV or a conversation, I was struggling with my past (see my previous post Entitled my demons). I was worried about letting that little blonde haired girl and her family from my past down again. With help I am making huge strides I still make slip ups from time to time, sometimes more than I wish to admit. Every day isn’t puppies and rainbows, but by recognizing the problem, every day is a way to improve.

If this post made you say: “that sounds a lot like me!”, please understand that help is available, your brothers and sisters care, and you can get through this, and if you need a brothers advice on where to seek help, or what worked for me… let’s take a walk.

Congratulations on being human!

We are soldiers, we are medics, we are firemen, we are police officers, and guess what? YOU’RE ALSO HUMAN! I would be worried if you didn’t have an emotional response over some of the events we are called to. Like it or not, it’s part of life. The good news is you are not alone. Countless others, maybe even the people you work with every day, feel the same way.

But I’m a medic! I see this all the time!

But I’m a soldier! We don’t have feelings!

But I’m a police officer! I’m trained to handle this!

But I’m a fireman! I’ve been through this before!

The problem with these ideas? They have NEVER been true! We as public servants have spent too much time trying to be superheros, and not enough time allowing ourselves to be human beings. You have the right to care, to feel, and when it comes down to it, to cry.

For those of you suffering in silence, you are never alone. Others suffer too. I suffer! If you need help, get help. It takes a strong person to say I hurt; they are not easy words, but they are essential. I am not a professional, and I can’t give treatment. But I can lend an ear. And always ready to take a walk with you.

My demon is an angel

What follows is something I rarely talk about. But I believe it’s necessary in order to heal. I also believe that if this story helps just one person come forward and want to seek help, then it’s all worth it.

It was June 26th of 2010. I was in medic school and had been a firefighter for only 5 years with a part time department at this point. I came into work eagerly hoping a call would come in as I needed the experience to finish my medic ride time for class. I remember it very clearly because this would be the last time that I ever hoped for a call.

Nothing happened during the first part of the shift at station 2. Nothing new, especially since I needed the points. I went to my bunk somewhat disappointed. That lasted till 0200. Ambulance abc respond for the 5 year old having a seizure.

En route to the address I remember being apprehensive as I didn’t have much experience with pediatric patients. Suddenly I hear the radio come alive with the voice of a concerned dispatcher. She is telling us that she is issuing CPR instructions and the patient is turning blue. It wasn’t more than 20 seconds later that the station 1 Lt. Comes on the radio saying if we needed help we better call mutual aid. He followed up with we are busy. It was way too early for my brain at the time. All I could think was what in the F#%k was more important than a 5 year old not breathing!!

Arriving on scene, we arrived at the same time as a local police officer. I begin pushing on the chest of a little girl with gorgeous blonde curls. I switch between the gravity of the situation and asking the police officer for equipment and telling her where it can be found.

We found out from her parents that she woke up her parents saying she didn’t feel well. She had a strong fever so dad put her in a cool bath. That’s when she had the seizure. Shortly after she stopped breathing.

We did all we could in the house to stabilize her. We began moving to the ambulance. I remember every single step I took in the house. I remember the police holding onto my back as I walked down the stairs, I remember the feel of the cool morning air. I also remember the sound of her dads voice when he said “that’s just great… she’s dead!!”

We drove like hell to the hospital trying to get as much done en route as we could. Several times I would see the pt going from asystole to what looked like a sinus rhythm. Each time I allowed myself to get my hopes up only to find that its PEA. Then finally I had a weak pulse… right back to PEA. No matter what tried, she wouldn’t hold on. I could also see that she wasn’t quite ready to give up.

We arrive at the hospital, do the turn over and my partner goes to write the report. I was glued to the room. Could have been 5 minutes, could have been 5 days. I didn’t move. I was just fixed on the little girl that should be in bed getting the sleep she needed for a long day of playing with her friends.

45 minutes later, they stopped working. Said it was enough. My heart fell out of my body. I started walking. Mechanically moving to pick up supplies, then returning to the ambulance to clean. I told the guys that they called it. She didn’t make it. I could see the eyes drop to the floor but they didn’t let on that it bothered them.

Later back at the station, there was no talking, no tv, and no eye contact. I tried to bring up something and was told we weren’t talking about it. That’s how it stayed. For years… in the shadows. Something we didn’t talk about. I have done a lot and seen a lot. I have cut dead bodies from vehicles, my entire company came within a minute of falling Through a floor into a basement fire, but nothing has affected me like this beautiful little girl.

I became an insomniac, I didn’t want to lay in bed, my thoughts would get me. I was having horrible dreams when I did sleep. My wife kept telling me that I would swing my arms in my sleep and throw pillows. I also found myself excusing myself from groups as anxiety took over. For example, I once hid in a bathroom because a waitress told me they didn’t have a drink I ordered! And of course my anger… I didn’t recognize any of it.

Fast forward years later. I felt that I was in a good place with it all. Time is supposed to heal all wounds right?! What I wasn’t seeing is the way I treated people. One day everything came to a head. I had my wife ask me why I treated her like garbage over small things. I couldn’t see that I was mistreating her so badly! Not only that, but it had been going on for years! Then I had my son…my 4 year old son that I felt looked up to me like a god ask me “daddy? Why do you get so mad at people?” That was the moment I knew I had a real problem. I could now see my anger coming out, I could usually stop it, but now I was becoming withdrawn so as to avoid it.

Eventually I had a few good brothers and sisters tell me about myself and make me seek help. It took me several doctors to find someone that I liked, or connected with. I learned that not every doctor is a good fit. What works for one person may not work for the next.

Today, I feel I am somewhat better. I still don’t really sleep at night. But when I do, it’s sound and I don’t have the nightmares. I also enjoy being around people more. I’ve been told I am also more pleasant to be around. More importantly my wife and son are happier.

You don’t have to live in silence, you don’t have to get completely better in one week. It may be a long road to recovery, but every little victory is just that. A little victory! If your hurting, let’s take a walk.

Walk with me

Hello! Brothers and sisters, my name is Brian. I have been a professional firefighter since 2007. In that time I have witnessed some of the best in life, and also some of the worst. I have been in situations (much like you have I’m sure) that made me want to give up.  I was fortunate enough to have a few brothers pull me to the side and love me enough to make sure I got help before I did something I couldn’t take back.  I made this site as a testament to them. I want you to know that you are enough. It’s ok to NOT be ok, and I’m glad that you are here.

If you ever feel like life, career, family, or just your own thoughts are getting too heavy…Lets take a walk.

If you ever feel like you could have done more or just need a friendly ear…Lets take a walk.

But most importantly, if you feel as though your in too deep and you have no one to turn to… Lets take a walk.

This site is not meant to be professional help. Nothing can take the place of licensed mental health professionals (Lord knows I’ve had my share of time with them). I only want you to see my story, read something here that sounds interesting, or share a story that may help a brother or sister.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton