It’s hard to remember specific situations, because it happens often, unfortunately. The first time I was verbally assaulted was during my first week of my mentorship.
A male patient was threatening to rape me, not that he was actually going to do anything. He was in a stretcher, and he was very, very drunk. I wasn’t in any physical danger, or at least I hoped I wasn’t. I was working with another female medic. The only reason I knew what he was saying was because he was speaking a language that I understood, which the other medic didn’t.
I just didn’t know what to do. I hadn’t been trained on what to do when I started work, so I never really did anything about it. I talked to some female medics, but I don’t think there were any steps that were given to me like, oh, this is what you should do.
Since then, I’ve been hollered at, grabbed, had terrible things said to me by patients countless times. It’s often not their fault because the person isn’t in a reasonable state of mind. But if they’re dealing with medical issues or addictions or whatever, we get the brunt of that sometimes. For me, a lot of the time, I just think about how the patients are struggling with something, and then that’s where the blame gets dampened.
I think workplace violence from patients is not highlighted enough for paramedicine. The reason is because, even if a patient does assault us—physically, verbally, sexually—the chances of going to court and winning are really low.
There aren’t a lot of female paramedics as well. When I was in my preceptorship, in my last 500 hours of fieldwork, both of my mentors were male paramedics.
It does make me a little bit jaded or burnt out. Luckily for me, I don’t think it’s affected me day to day, I don’t have nightmares or anything like that, but it does make me feel a little less happy about going to work sometimes, or working with certain types of patients. If I’m going to a call for someone who’s very drunk, I’m always a little bit more careful and a little bit more paranoid. I’ve had situations where, if someone is being very lewd with me, a male medic or a different person will take over the call because it’s too much.
I really like what I do—in some of their most vulnerable situations, I get to be there for people. I really appreciate that. I don’t think I’m going to leave. There are paramedic services that are creating working groups or organizations that are advocating to upper management, both for recognition and for the creation of strategies and policies at the workplace level to deal with assault from patients.
I would ask people who have faced assault at work as a paramedic to build and participate in those organizations that advocate to upper management. I also want people to advocate at the provincial level, because the more voices that we have, the more recognition we’ll get, the more that we talk about it, the more the public will see what’s happening.