Please understand that I am no artist by any definition or discipline. All of the things in which I excel are scientific, and rooted in such. However, as much as I love my work and the brilliant science that makes it possible, I do not want to live in a world without sculpture to touch, plays to attend, music to be heard and pictures to be seen. All of it, good or bad, is there to be seen, felt, heard, discussed and experienced. It is there. It is art.
I don’t make art, I consume it. I’m the guy looking at the photo. I’m in the audience. I’m the one with the headphones on. I’m the one who contributes nothing to the art, but I eat it. I take the effort of someone brave enough to display himself (or put her soul out for all to see) and I fold it into myself. I take that bit of expression, that notion, that idea of color, and I make it a part of me. Every time I see someone’s effort, it (and him/her) become a part of me.
I also glory in the science. What I do is deeply (and rightly) rooted in empiricism and the scientific method. I make decisions, every day, based upon a format derived of a critical logic. I deal in what is here, now, before me and I make decisions, from a solid foundation of science and proven theory.
But yet. But yet. I am not working in a lab. My best work does not happen in a controlled environment with carefully regulated variables. I am a paramedic. I surf the chaos of the worst moments of everyone’s lives and try to pull some sort of life-saving order from that sea of entropy.
That’s what I do. That’s what I’m good at.
Science is not enough. I may be able to figure out everything wrong with my patient and the best, most efficient treatments, but that is not enough. I am treating, I am caring for people. As much as we try, people will never be perfectly scientific.
She’s not going to tell me how many times she’s been to the doctor for her diabetes unless she feels she can trust me. That junky (Yes, we have ‘em here too.) is going to tell me a story. As elaborate and magnificent as that story is, my job requires me to find the clinical truth in all of the fantasy.
That’s me consuming the art.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road: Who is telling the story?
This person in front of me is going to tell me a story. It may or may not be true but I must listen to the story and I must see the person telling it. That’s where the art fits in. Beyond the clear, exact facts of my patient’s signs and symptoms are the stories of how he got here.
Those stores are often amazing by themselves but they point to a deeper meaning. People tell stories. The people I treat in my job are people, just like me. By hearing their stories and seeing the art of their efforts to be human, I may become a better paramedic than just someone who has memorized the science of illness. I may become compassionate.
When I stop doing this, I will no longer be a paramedic.