If it weren’t for bad luck and bad choices, John Crenshaw and his colleagues would probably be out of a job.
The 43-year-old Crenshaw works as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for Henderson County’s Emergency Medical Services. As of April this year, Crenshaw will have been on the job for 20 years.
During that time, he’s seen just about every possible kind of trauma, accident, medical emergency and just plain bad decision making. When those things happen, the EMT teams step in to clean up the mess and help people get on with their lives.
Sometimes, however, the trouble doesn’t end with the trauma. Frequently, it comes from the very people Crenshaw and the other EMTs are trying to help. “What happens is that you get older people,” he explains, “who have a disease process and don’t necessarily understand what you’re trying to do and so they resist because they think they’re being attacked…or maybe they just don’t want the service we’re trying to provide.”
On occasion, the resistance becomes violent. “It’s not necessarily a designated weapon like a handgun or a knife,” he says. “Maybe it’s a lampshade or a shoe or something like that.”
At that point, the EMTs have to resort to what Crenshaw refers to as “manhandling them graciously” to keep them from hurting themselves or somebody else.
And then there are the distraught citizens who become entangled in a domestic disturbance or involved in substance abuse of one kind or another. A crew of county employees can be a lightning rod for the anger and frustration the patient is feeling.
Through it all, Crenshaw and his fellow crew members try to keep a circumspect attitude. “The uniform does represent some sort of authority,” he notes. “Actually, I don’t ever recall it being a personal situation or a person vendetta. It’s just that we’re there in their business on what may be the worst day of their lives.”
Living in a relatively small town like Hendersonville, one might imagine that Crenshaw would run into old patients. That’s not the case, though. “Honestly,” he says, “people who do see you after the fact often avoid you. I’ve never personally had a threatening note or anything like that…and hardly ever a “thank you”…and that’s okay. We’re here because we care and we want to help.”
The profession carries with it a unique set of stressors that might have very little to do with the attitude or actions of the people the EMTs serve. “We’ll be sitting around for hours and we go out on the Interstate bending metal to get people out of wrecks. Or maybe we’ll be standing in the woods at 30 degrees waiting for somebody who was hiking the day before and hasn’t made it home yet. Maybe something’s burning.”
Handling the pressure can take many forms, he says: hypertension, bad eating habits, smoking, being irritable at home. The varying shift work can take its toll, too, he says. “Sometimes it’s night work and sometimes it’s day work. It does create some kind of deficit that takes some getting used to.”
“You just have to remember,” he says. “Currently the statistics on life and death are one hundred percent. Everyone who’s ever lived is dead or is going to be dead. Sometimes it’s a little sooner than you’d like or a little messier.”
There’s no way to make total sense of it, he insists. “Maybe you’re out hunting or you step on a nail or maybe you just step on a gumball. It doesn’t have to be a car wreck or a building collapsing…sometimes it’s just bad luck.”