When you call 911, you’re looking to be saved. But at the end of the day, who saving those who save?
For a paramedic, the job can be one call after the other. Especially in a busier city, paramedics can go from scene to scene.
It was May 2, 2012, when advanced care paramedic Natalie Harris was called to a Travel Lodge in Barrie to attend the scene of a double homicide. Mark Dobson was the patient of Harris, who suffered from deep gashes in his neck and wrists.
Harris recalls sitting with Dobson in the back of the ambulance, unaware of the circumstances of the case. Dobson was a part of a satanic suicide cult that went wrong and has since been charged with 2 cases of first-degree murder.
“I’ve seen a lot of very traumatic things in my career. But this was different. I couldn’t understand how anyone could do that to a human being, let alone two.” Harris says explaining her experience. “For two years my alcohol use started to increase. My anxiety at home started to really get bad…I was still quite functional at work so I really didn’t think about it.” Harris continued on with work as nothing was wrong, as that is what was expected as a paramedic.
“But in 2014, I needed to go to the trail to testify and see him again. And that’s when my PTSD symptoms really erupted.” After the trial, Harris overdosed and attempted suicide which then leads her to get professional help.
Harris now travels across Canada sharing her story and advocating mental health. She started up a blog to document her journey through her hospitalizations and programs she attends to get help. Her book Save-My-Life School has just been published and shares her story of battling PTSD.
“I still have my daily battles. I still isolate myself a lot.”
Symptoms of PTSD don’t immediately occur after the incident of trauma. It can take weeks, months and even years.
Symptoms of PTSD
- Angry outbursts or aggressive behaviours
- Being on constant guard for danger
- Feelings of overwhelming guilt or shame
- Self-destructive behaviours
- Trouble concentrating or sleeping
- Easily startled
- Difficulty sleeping
Harris shares her stories in hope to educate and help those with mental illnesses, whether they are in the first responder field or not. By doing so, sharing her story helps break the common stigma of paramedics not being able to react to traumatic situations, to avoid appearing weak.