Mar 25, 2019

First Responder PTSD

First Responder PTSD
IAEP member Trevor Clark-Zamoider has been involved in EMS since he graduated high school, and in 2001 he officially obtained his EMT certification in Rhode Island, and later a Cardiac Certification. “I ran with several different departments and, like most, had calls I will always remember,” said Clark-Zamoider.

Before learning about PTSD, he wrote off the night terrors, fatique, and depressive episodes he experienced as normal side effects of life in EMS. These symptoms put a strain on his personal relationships and brought him close to becoming a victim of suicide, but he showed up to work anyway. “Back then the view was that you are an EMT, so you can deal with it and move on. It was an unspoken rule not to let people know you were hurting or needed help,” said Clark-Zamoider.
Seeking Help
It was peer support that finally motivated Clark-Zamoider to seek assistance and resources, thanks to a new relationship and his coworkers’ encouragement.  Through his employee assistance program he was matched with a therapist and received an official diagnosis of PTSD. As Clark-Zamoider stated, “this wasn’t what I signed up for when I became an EMT.” 
Clark-Zamoider put in hard work to overcome his barriers once he had the resources. “Only after I learned what some of my triggers were and was doing well with the medication was I able to return back to EMS full time," he said. 
Months later, Clark-Zamoider was matched with a service dog named Taylor. Taylor was trained specifically for the EMT, to help manage his unique set of symptoms and triggers. “He alerts me to wake from night terrors. If I shut down and stare off into space trapped in my thoughts he will paw at me to get my attention,” said Clark-Zamoider. Taylor is also trained to separate Clark-Zamoider from others if the EMT goes into a state of panic and to alert him if any signs of aggression are shown. “He was trained to my specific triggers by an organization named Paws be Good that trains rescue dogs for PTSD veterans and first responders. This dog has literally saved my life,” said Clark-Zamoider.
Recovery Includes Setbacks
Although life was stable for Clark-Zamoider at the time, the process of managing PTSD is not always linear, and on September 30, 2017, an event disrupted his recovery.  He awoke in the middle of the night to the sounds of a car accident right outside his bedroom window. He jumped out of bed, recognizing this wasn’t another night terror. He saw a grey vehicle with serious damage in the middle of the road, and telephone poles hanging nearby. Police arrived on scene and Clark-Zamoider assisted in immediate treatment of the female who was removed from the car. 
“She had a weak pulse and was barely breathing. At this time, I could hear the on-duty crew responding with the ambulance. I talked to her, I told her she was not alone and I was going to do everything I could to help her. I told her to fight to stay with us. As the ambulance pulled up on scene and the crew arrived I watched her take her last breath,” said Clark-Zamoider, who went to the hospital and watched the unsuccessful efforts to save her life, “at this point I was numb. I checked on the crew members but never checked on myself.” 
This time Clark-Zamoider didn’t reach out for help when the intense symptoms of PTSD followed. Rather, he isolated himself. Without immediate treatment, he got dangerously close to another suicide attempt and ultimately decided to back away from his role in EMS. Clark-Zamoider said, “I was unemployed and on short-term disability because workers compensation would not cover PTSD. I went into inpatient/outpatient care at Nauchaug which included group therapy, medication adjustments and then EMDR Therapy.”
A Brighter Future for EMS
Clark-Zamoider has not only made a strong commitment to his PTSD management, but he also stepped into a role of advocacy. On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, with the support of his fellow union members, he spoke at a local library about PTSD and his experience with it through EMS. He is also actively communicating with IAEP leaders and policy makers in his state to ensure that the effect PTSD has on EMS professionals is an issue being represented in legislature. 
“I still have night terrors and replay some of the trauma over and over again and feel guilty that I can't manage my emotions on my own. Every day I have to remind myself it’s okay not to be okay,” he said, “I work with the tools that have been given to me to pull through it. I'm not ashamed to admit I have PTSD.”
Clark-Zamoider is proud that he was able to get the help he needed, even if that means sacrificing full-time EMS work at this time. He said, “to anyone going through this horrible battle alone, it's okay to ask for help. Reach out to someone even if it’s a stranger on a crisis line. You can't help your patients if you don’t help yourself.” 
If you or someone you know needs help, visit 
If you want to help end the stigma and raise awareness for first responder PTSD, you can donate to the Code Green Campaign through their website.

Image Gallery (Click to enlarge images)
Trevor Clark-Zamoider with his service dog, Taylor. IAEP members stand by Clark-Zamoider at his speaking event on his experience with PTSD in EMS.

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