Intro to Paramedic Studies

The staff sergeant instructor paced at the front of the tent classroom during his introduction, "Inside your ribcage, you each have two lungs. If you do not have two lungs, see the supply sergeant immediately and we will issue you a pair…"

The class was Combat Lifesaver certification (or CLS), and it was taught to every soldier and civilian deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The goal of CLS is to expedite stabilization of a traumatic injury during the "Golden Hour," or the hour after injury in which, if treated by a physician, most trauma victims survive. It taught Basic Lifesaver protocols (The ABCs of Airway, Breathing, Circulation) as well as stabilization measures for penetrating chest wounds, tension pneumothorax, amputations, etc. Each person deploying was issued a CLS bag (later called an IFAK or Individual First Aid Kit) which contained a tourniquet, some bandages, and a needle for a needle thoracostomy ("needle chest decompression" was the term then used).


It was the first time I'd ever received any legitimate medical instruction, and it definitely stood out as interesting among all the other mindless briefings and lines of pre-deployment military processing. "I would love to study this more," I thought, but I'd just spent a small fortune on a graduate degree that landed me the job heading to a war zone in the first place. Ultimately, I underwent this pre-deployment process on multiple occasions as a civilian consultant to the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My background is in security studies and intelligence analysis, and those skills were in high demand during the high optempo days of OEF and OIF. Deployments were available for the asking if you had the right bullets on your resume, and the compensation was effective enough at persuading some folks to go for a year or more.

I recently read a doctor's response to the question of what it took to become a physician: "Your twenties," he/she replied. That certainly appears true, but it also applies to what it took for a large number of folks to support the US and NATO endeavors in the Middle East and Central Asia, myself and my peers included. What does all this have to do with first response? The first response community may be the only group of people in the country aside from military personnel to intuitively understand the deployment lifestyle. A large number of the common concerns are the same: safety and security, necessary force, lifesaving measures, interaction with people who have no desire to interact with you, large amounts of boredom, brief moments of terror.

Some of you reading this may have no idea why these would be things that anyone would actually pursue, but others of you are likely getting a wistful look in your eye and remembering cigars smoked on top of Hesco barriers, laughs had on the bumper of an ambulance, or verbal jabs traded in a squad car. For me, when I returned after almost two years deployed and attempted to seamlessly transition into an office job, I found myself craving the structure, intensity, and friendships that I'd enjoyed overseas.


For a variety of reasons, none of which are germane here, the job market (CONUS and OCONUS) is not what it used to be for analyst types who typically work with the military and intelligence community. So when I got laid off late last year and was unable to immediately find a spot somewhere else (something that always happened easily in the past when a contract ended), I was forced to take a step back and reassess things.

One day several months ago, I was stopped at a redlight and saw an ambulance turn left in front of me; the female driver waved at another ambulance behind me, and envy flooded my mind. My thoughts went straight back to yelling at buddies in the gym, laughing over crappy dining facility chow, and all the things that make a hard job great. The next idea I had has proven to be one of the best I've had in a long time: "Why not now?" I thought, as I remembered sitting in combat lifesaver class. That question initiated the second phase in my official medical instruction. Within a few weeks I was enrolled at the local community college, and my media consumption has shifted from international news to medic lecture podcasts.

I am currently taking a Certified Nursing Assistant class because of guidance from a trusted advisor (and medical professional) who says it will teach me a great deal about patient care and communication. The content is quite different than anything I've studied before, and much less 'medicine' than it is 'how to care for a human being who can't care for themselves'. Nevertheless, it's enlightening and encouraging to be taking steps forward into being a better EMT and a better person. I begin the process of EMT certification in a few weeks as part of a Paramedic Studies degree. It is humbling to adventure into the world of formal education as a neophyte once again, but the excitement at learning a new "language" of medicine and of transitioning from a career where I said things to a career where I do things is motivation enough to start at the beginning.

My final destination remains unclear: paramedic, physician assistant, doctor, who knows? I'm excited to find myself in a fast-paced analytical field with others who vibe on intensity , and I hope to use this forum to discuss some of my experiences as I make may way forward into this new career. I will also likely use this platform to geek out on gear and anything else I find sexy about this vocation. Forgive me if I emphasize topics which are old news to the EMS veterans among you, but I will strive to be well-researched and to avoid sophomoric stereotypes. Finally, since Code 3 is in the Jalopnik family, I have this great idea for a post about the history and evolution of the ambulance. Stay tuned…

Zack is startled to find himself a lowly undergraduate again, but is enjoying all the student discounts. His words and opinions are not reflective of any person or organization (and sometimes not even himself). He thanks his wife, his dog, and Doug DeMuro for the mini-bio inspiration.