Vinyl Wrapped Slacktivism

Sharpen up those pitchforks and round up your posse. It is time for some more unpopular opinions.

The “Tribute Ambulance” by Emergency Vehicles Plus (EVP) is nothing more than hero worshiping slacktivism. [1]
“Slacktivism can be defined as the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism.”[2]

The Tribute ambulance  shows a picture of a crying firefighter holding a teddy bear and an angel  that I assume was a living child a few minutes ago and states, “Your Life is our Life.”

“We do care about our communities. That’s why we came up with that saying, ‘Your life is our life,’ because that’s what we live and breathe each day,”-Adam Thompson

Adam Thompson, a firefighter with Zeeland Fire Rescue is also the head of his newly founded business Graphix Gurus which wrapped the ambulance. [1]
tribute-ambulance
To any patients who read this blog, your life is not my life. Sorry. I don’t care that much. I really don’t, you see I have something called healthy professional boundaries.

I go to work and do my job and I try to be good at it, I try to care and be empathetic, to treat you well no matter what, to give all patients the proper care and to alleviate pain as best as I can.

I like to help people. I will do whatever I can to help you, (within reason) when I am at work, I will listen to you, I will be patient with you, I will treat you I would like my family to be treated. But, your life is not my life.
I’m not a hero, I’m not that selfless and truthfully if I wasn’t paid to do this job I would not do it.

If it is an especially bad call I might think about it for a while but honestly, patients are my job and if I am thinking about them too much when I am not at work, my work-life balance is skewed.

I am a professional health care provider. I am not making a distinction here between paid and volunteer services, professionalism is a mindset.

If a patient’s life is your life I have bad news for you, you are doing part of your job wrong.

Nurses have really figured out a lot of stuff and EMS should learn from them. They have codes of ethics and talk about professional boundaries. There is a continuum of professional behavior; you must find the balance point with patients between too involved and too un-involved.

professional-behavior
From A Nurse’s Guide to Professional Boundaries [3]

“The ambulance is very much a head turner, but moreover, it is designed to draw attention to the difficult work and emotional rigors of the work EMS professionals do on a daily basis”– Dave Shuell, of EVP

…who’s attention are we trying to draw here?

Anyone working in EMS knows what we see. Do those not in EMS (the public) need to have their attention directed to the fact that our job can at times be difficult?  What is the point of that? There might be one group who does need to know what we see, but this ambulance and this whole campaign is not going to address them.

The people who decide what workers comp insurance pays for might benefit from knowing what we deal with so they are willing to pay for mental health services as work related injuries.

But that isn’t going to happen at the EMS World Expo where people this vehicle will be displayed. What will happen is people in horrible EMS t-shirts will view it and feel a sense of belonging because we can all commiserate on how we believe “a patient’s life is our life” and any other catchy phrase like “always on duty” or “everyday heroes.”

There is no call to action with this campaign; there is no solution presented. What are the makers of this ambulance trying to do with the raised awareness of, I don’t even really know, emotional rigor?

There is nothing brave or heroic about PTSD, depression, insomnia, divorce, a substance abuse problem or anything else…it is the same as a fire fighter getting cancer. It is a work place health hazard and we need to grow up and start treating it like that.

We don’t need “awareness” being spread. Spreading awareness is bullshit. I know people feel like they are doing something wearing bracelets or wrapping ambulances to spread awareness, but you aren’t.

Spreading awareness is the lazy way to alleviate guilt and make yourself feel like you did something. I’m aware of lots of things: feline AIDS, breast cancer, global warming, starvation and genocide in Africa, but do you see me doing anything about it? The answer is no, with the exception of occasionally recycling when my wife makes me. I’m lazy and will admit it gladly, and I don’t care enough about any of those issues to take any meaningful action. I do put effort in to the causes I champion but I am not out spreading awareness of them, I do things, I put in work.

The tribute ambulance is nothing more than sympathy “slacktivism,” the same as when we all changed our facebook profiles to rainbows or the French flags to show our support.
I’m not telling you to not care about patients.  You should care, but not too much.
EMS providers are suffering from PTSD, EMS providers see some bad things and EMS providers are killing themselves at an alarming rate. A shiny wrapped truck with an angel or ghost on it is not going to do anything.

Some EMS providers will get PTSD and some won’t, no one knows why some do and some don’t. If you really want to do something towards fixing this we need to move past awareness campaigns and maybe do things like start talking to each other, start sharing how we feel about things and encourage each other to take care of ourselves and our coworkers. We also need to realize that it is not normal to have PTSD, depression, etc.

It may be common, but it is not normal. It is not just part of the job; it is not something we all deal with. There are many of us out there who for whatever reason do not have those issues.

What is needed much more than a tribute ambulance is for those who have dealt with their own struggles to start speaking up, to encourage others to do the same. Providers who have or had PTSD and are treating it and winning need to talk about it, providers who have or had depression and are getting better need to tell others about their experiences. Silently nodding our heads while looking at a tribute to the emotional rigors and difficult work of EMS is not going to do anything.

Want to actually do something more than wrapping an ambulance in some graphics? Talk to your coworkers after a rough call, share your feelings with them and support them, if you find someone is struggling encourage them to get professionals involved. Let them know you care about them and seeking counseling or other services if they are having a difficult time is something you encourage.

Or maybe not, I’m not anything more than an armchair psychologist and this blog should not be substituted for professional psychological advice.

If you are in EMS/Fire/Law enforcement and struggling with mental health issues and don’t now where to turn to, start here: The Code Green Campaign Resource Page

  1. http://www.hollandsentinel.com/news/20160908/memorial-wrap-designs-rally-support-for-emergency-personnel
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slacktivism
  3. https://www.ncsbn.org/ProfessionalBoundaries_Complete.pdf
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