Why I Volunteer
One of the most common questions I am asked (along with ‘Are you paid for this?’ and ‘What’s the worst thing you’ve ever dealt with?’) is ‘How do you do this for free?’ This usually happens about the time when I’m trying to stop a drunk student from drowning in their own vomit, while avoiding getting vomited on myself, and their friend is on the other side trying not to vomit. My stock answer is ‘Because it’s fun!’
Even more often, when I’m knee-deep in the worst of the politics and fighting against the people who are too quick to tell us what we are incapable of doing and the people who don’t care and the people who don’t want to lose their power, I wonder why I do it. I spend hundreds of hours a year doing work for a cause I passionately believe in, and in return I get people try to work against me because I want to improve things and they don’t want to leave the happy little rut that they’ve dug themselves.
A short time ago, I dealt with a patient at a Half Marathon, while working on a bicycle. They weren’t particularly unwell, but they had fainted and were a bit shaken up. They hadn’t run anywhere near that distance before, and weren’t used to all the sensations of their body saying ‘that wasn’t such a good idea, let’s not do that again’. All put together, they got a bit worried, and worked themselves up in to what I’m pretty sure was a full-blown panic attack. And I don’t just mean a bit of hyperventilation that quickly cleared up. They were genuinely terrified, kept fainting from the unbalancing hyperventilation does to your body, which just kept making things worse.
In the end, I called an ambulance for them and got them shipped off to the main treatment center, where someone would have the time to care for them and help them calm down properly. As soon as they were sent off, I was sent to another collapse, and I put the entire incident out of my mind.
After the spending the rest of the day zipping up and down the course, I was stood down and headed to the main First Aid post to grab some personal kit and help pack everything up.
While I was there, I bumped in to my patient from earlier. They had just been discharged and were going home with their mother. They both stopped when they spotted me, and my patient asked if I had been the person with them out on the course.
“Yes, I think so. How are you now?” I replied.
“Much better now, thank you.”
“Do you know what was wrong?” The mother chimed in.
“I can’t say for absolute certain, but I think you had a panic attack.” I went to explain how a panic attack was a scary condition, but usually self-limiting and nothing to be overly concerned about. My patient nodded along with my explanation, and then commented that she couldn’t really remember what happened.
“I just remember being convinced that I was going to die, but I remember you being there, and talking to me, and holding my hand, and I knew that I would be okay.” I didn’t really know how to reply to that.
To me, the treatment didn’t seem that much. A simple, non-life-threatening condition that, even if I did nothing, would most likely pass on its own, which I passed on to someone as soon as it looked like it would take a long time to deal with. Fifteen-ish minutes on scene, before moving on to the next job, patient already out of my mind.
But in those fifteen minutes, I helped out a terrified person, taking away some of their fear just by being there. And to that person, I made all the difference.
This is why I volunteer.