In This Episode A reader tells how she was inspired to change her life. And that leads to a powerful thinking tool: running scenarios can save your life. I’ll show you how, and tell the story of how they probably saved my life.
034: I Have a Scenario For You
- To help support Uncommon Sense, see the Patron’s Page, or the form in the sidebar.
- The earlier episode I mentioned: 027: Think… or React?
- The story of the deer that jumped in front of me on an ambulance call: The Risks of Emergency Responses.
- The other story I mentioned about someone hitting a bear.
- Menu of all EMS Stories in this blog.
Welcome to Uncommon Sense, I’m Randy Cassingham.
This is a requested re-issue of a first-season episode that was spurred by a letter from a reader. Kellie in Pennsylvania wrote, “I want to thank you for being such an inspiration with your stories about being a medic. Every time I read a blog post about your experiences, it stirred something inside of me. I became a certified EMT last week.”
She closed with a smiley face, and now I have a smiley face. But that was a pretty brief note from Kellie, and I wanted to know more. I asked her if she was volunteering on the side or what. She replied, “I’m actually hoping to make it a full-time career. The school I went to provides the program in partnership with the local EMS. After doing a few field shifts with them as a student, I realized that I really wanted to be part of their team. So I busted ass in school, graduated top of my class, and after interviewing with one of the people present when I won my award for the best grade, I have a tentative full-time offer from them.
“I’m just waiting on the state to put in my credentials for my certification to drive the ambulance, and they are moving at the speed of government. And then I can hopefully get an official offer. I’m being super cautious because I don’t actually have that official offer in hand yet, but I’m so excited and happy because I’ve dreamed of being in EMS for years ever since I started reading This is True and following you, and I’ve worked so hard to make this happen. I actually took a huge leap of faith and quit my full-time job so I could focus 100% on school, even though it was all night classes, and my wonderful husband has worked super hard to make that possible. I can’t wait to start.”
She later confirmed she got the job.
When my wife, Kit, and I got certified, we had to keep our full-time jobs: This is True readers needed their newsletters! And I needed to pay my mortgage. Because I had been certified as an Advanced Life Support medic before, and worked in the field full-time for about six years, it was pretty easy for me to re-certify at a lower level, even though there had been a 20-year hiatus. Still, things change in medicine in 20 years, so I did have to read the book. I had to learn what was new and what the local protocols were. Still, both of us wanted to be part of serving the community in a way that we could.
It isn’t something you just go to a weekend class and then get turned loose on the street. No, it’s hundreds of hours of school, riding an ambulance, and doing shifts in the emergency room to guarantee we get hands-on experience and see a wide variety of issues.
Because I’m a nosy journalist type, I love little details, and asked Kellie what job she quit and how old she is because, I told her, “You don’t strike me as an unrealistic kid.”
“I worked as an automotive inventory specialist for an auction company,” she replied. “I hated the way they treated me and the pay was awful. Everyone always told me to stay away from EMS because the pay is so low.” Yeah, I can attest to that!
“But,” she continued, “I figured since I wasn’t being paid well anyway, I might as well be chasing my dreams. I’m 25, old enough to be cynical and young enough to still believe in chasing the dream.”
You know, I can relate to her completely, because when I left Emergency Medical Services in the 1980s, it was because it wasn’t going to allow me to fulfill my own dreams. This was before I started at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and all that, and after I quit EMS I found I literally dreamed about emergency calls for years. I didn’t dream about it when I was working in the field, and I’m not now that I’m back in it. That kind of gave me a clue that I’d left a little bit too early, and that’s one of the reasons I was OK with going back into it when the chief asked me to when we moved to our rural home.
So how does this relate to Uncommon Sense? It follows on to what was covered in Episode 27, about “Think first, react later …if at all.” I’ll link to it on the Show Page.
And that follow-on is: Scenarios. They’re a big part of medical training: they allow you to pre-think — to plan out how you can handle a situation that you’re likely to see so that you can jump right into taking action when seconds count.
My wife and I both run scenarios in our heads, and doing that can not only save a patient’s life, it can save a rescuer’s life.
And it’s not just for people in emergency services or medicine. For instance, what if somebody broke into your house? What would you do? You’re in danger because someone is in your house now. For us, we live in a rural area, and we’re pretty much on our own: if I called 911 and said “There’s a guy with a hatchet trying to hack up my wife,” I could expect somebody to arrive here in about 20 minutes — if they’re not busy somewhere else, like on the other end of the county with a crash or something. The usual gag is, “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” Where we live, typically, it takes a good 20 minutes for the police to get here, so we’re on our own for quite awhile.
So the scenario for me could well be different than for you. I had to make a decision: would I be OK with shooting somebody that came into my house? People get guns and they don’t think about these things. If push really comes to shove, are you willing to raise a gun and shoot somebody if the police can’t get there in time to, say, keep an intruder from killing you, your spouse, your children? I had to think about that. It’s not an automatic yes or no for me. When it happens in real life, the typical reaction of an intruder is to run, and you don’t have to fire a shot. But what if they don’t run? You sure as heck don’t want to spend a few minutes thinking about it when there’s someone coming at you with a knife.
I also run scenarios when I’m driving. Like, “What if that car pulls in front of me?” That car right there. I’ve got three seconds to decide. I will literally move my hand to the high beam switch because they’re not going to hear if I honk, so if I see them move, I flash my lights, and I’ve already started to decide, “Do I need to slam on the brakes or do I need to swerve?”
Probably the most valid scenario that I’ve thought about repeatedly and that I actually exercised was, what if an animal darts in front of my car? I’ve responded to a lot of crashes where an animal darted in front of somebody, and they swerved to miss the animal, and they’ve rolled over, or they’ve gone into a ditch, and sometimes they’re severely injured.
Kit and I dealt with a call like that a few years ago: a car tried to avoid hitting a bear, hit it anyway, and rolled over, ejecting one of the passengers. The bear didn’t make it, and the passenger was injured enough to need helicopter transport. I’ll link to that story on the Show Page.
So long ago, thanks to thinking about it in advance — running the scenario — I decided there’s no way I’m going to swerve for an animal. I’m sorry if I hit it, and if I hit it oh well, but I pre-planned that I’m going to slam on the brakes and keep the car going straight and hope for the best. And that actually happened. That ties in EMS again because I was rolling on an ambulance call for someone having a stroke. While I was on my way to that house, moving right along since that’s a significant emergency, a deer jumped in front of me. There was no way I could stop in time. I hit it solidly and did $6,000 worth of damage to my car. But my only alternative if I swerved was, I would’ve ended up in a ditch. A deep ditch the deer had jumped out of. It’s about four feet deep, and it’s very likely I would have rolled over, especially since I was pushing the speed a little bit to try to get to this pretty critical call.
Now, I’m not saying I won’t do any maneuver. A couple of years before that happened, I was driving the same road when I saw a really tiny baby deer that was running across the road, its mother a little ways behind it. While this time I was going much slower, it happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes: I was definitely going to hit it. But it was on a curve where I could still see down the road, and I had already looked ahead and knew there were no cars coming the other direction, so instead I swung over into the oncoming lane and
missed that baby deer. It was a beautiful day and I had the windows down, and I actually heard the fawn scream at this giant thing zooming by right in front of it. I didn’t know deer could scream when they got scared!
The bottom line is, thinking about “What would I do if,” and coming up with a scenario and how you would handle it, is doing your thinking advance, and you have a much better chance of coming out of a real situation in better shape than if you don’t do that pre-thinking. That’s definitely exercising Uncommon Sense.
They don’t have to be bad things, either. Like, what would I do if a TV producer called and said, can you appear on our show tomorrow? That’s happened to me a number of times: I’ve gone to Los Angeles and New York several times to be on shows, and only one time did I say no: when I was on my honeymoon! If this is something that could well happen to you, the time to think about whether you would say yes is before the call comes in, so you can be confident and professional when the question comes, rather than sitting there, stammering, trying to think about whether you could handle it.
It’s just one of the ways we can prepare ourselves so that when faced with such a situation, we don’t have to start thinking about it then. We thought about it before.
And it’s something interesting to do when otherwise not doing anything, like driving somewhere: I’ll come up with scenarios. Because running these scenarios gives you an answer to “What would I do if…” — and that gives you power and confidence, and helps keep you and your family safe.
I’d love to hear how you use scenarios, or how you’re about to! You can comment on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast34.
I’m Randy Cassingham … and I’ll talk at you later.
Since this is a redo, comments start with those made on the original post — the dates are correct.
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