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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Reese Kusza

On New Year's Day

Today is a brand-new day, a new year. A blank slate.

I don't have too much planned for today. I might go to the range, have coffee, shoot the breeze, shoot some paper plates. Maybe meet a friend for lunch. If the weather cooperates, I might even drive out to the beach.

I am looking forward to it. From now on, I don't need to be responsible for anyone except myself.

I have spent most of my adult life keeping other people alive -- my children, hundreds of patients -- or at least feeling as if I am responsible for doing so.

Starting tomorrow, I am fortunate enough to have a job where it is less likely someone is going to die if I screw up. There is something freeing about that.

When I started my training and I came to the section on emergency procedures, I asked the manager on duty where the SOP book was. He thought that was an odd thing to ask.

What do you need that for?

Good question. I don't. When the fire alarms go off or someone goes bananas or drops on the floor in cardiac arrest, I am no longer responsible for clearing the building or calming them down or even doing CPR.

If the fire alarm goes off, I just get to log off the register and lock up some stuff and go outside and wait for the Big Damn Heroes with the big red engines to show up and save the world.

If some customer is pissed off that he or she didn't get what they wanted, I can certainly try to make them happy, but I can also send it up the food chain to a manager if I need to. I don't have to be assaulted or hold them down or give them sedatives to shut them up.

If someone drops on the floor for whatever reason, I am not there to be a first responder, or a nurse, and try to keep them moving air and blood until someone smarter or with more credentials shows up to take over. I can just call 9-1-1.

I'm not saying I wouldn't be tempted to help. That will probably be the hardest thing for me to learn to do. To settle down and not try to fix things. To sit back, to walk away, to not be what Mr. Rogers would call "a helper".

After 9/11, Fred Rogers was asked how one should explain tragic events to young children. He said, When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping".

He was right. Tragic events have the potential to bring out the best in people. Some of us are trained to do that and have no problem leaving the kids at the dinner table on Christmas Eve to go out on a call. We'll work weekends and holidays and take care of miserable people even when we feel like crap ourselves.

Our own kids, spouses and other family members may resent us for it, but we do it anyway. It is hard to get out of that mindset.

Tragic events can also bring out the best (and worst) in those who aren't trained for it.

Sometimes people are most generous when they hear someone, even a stranger, has suffered from illness or injury or lost their house or something. Donations pour in, "thoughts and prayers" pour out on Facebook. It is lovely.

And people can also be judgmental bastards when others are suffering. I have yet to figure out what the deciding factor is. Why is it one person's tragedy T.V. generates benefit hockey games and GoFundMe's and another's yields scorn and ostracism?

Not my problem anymore. Maybe it never was. I just made it my problem because I worked in "helping" professions for years.

How long it will take me to learn not to think about it?

I need to spend more time at the beach.

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