Perhaps it comes as a surprise, but even as a paramedic I have been unable to watch, or even read about in length, news reports of the New Town shootings in the US. Many of my paramedic colleagues, especially those with their own children, are the same. It is not that we don’t want to acknowledge the horror of what has occured. But as members of a profession that deal with tragedy sometimes on a daily basis, many of us try and keep it at arm’s length if we ever get a choice. Last night there was ongoing ‘coverage’ on CNN which my ambulance partner and I flicked through in a rare moment of downtime. ‘I can’t watch this, haven’t watched any of it,’ he said to me. ‘Turn it off,’ I replied.
Thirty years ago ambulance medics operating in the West rarely attended patients with mental health disorders. Work was mainly road trauma, fist-fights and falls, along with severe medical emergencies like cardiac arrests and strokes. Nowadays, dealing with mental health is our bread and butter. So we know a little about it. And one thing I will say as a paramedic in Australia is that I’m extremely relieved guns are not as widely owned as they are in America. I’m relieved there is less chance a firearm will end up in the hands of individuals with fragile minds.
Of course the vast majority of people with psychiatric ill-health are non-violent and pose very little threat. But this is not a rule. Just this week I treated and transported a female who felt compelled to stab her flatmate with a knife because ‘the voices told her to’. If a patient is having a mental crisis or psychotic episode, behaviour can be unpredictable. Imagine, just imagine, if patients in these moments had easy access to guns? While a knife can do some damage, it is limited by comparison. Some automatic weapons shoot a round a second; which could, potentially, kill dozens of people in under a minute.
Our thoughts have not only been with the families of the dead, but fellow first responders on the scene. For all of us medics, such a thing would be our worst conceivable nightmare. We may have tried to escape the idea that any of us could one day be involved in such a massacre by avoiding mainstream media on the shooting. But there have been some very interesting viewpoints in the alternative press worth reading, such as this one from Carlos Santana. Should you think it an over-reaction, then this from Spiegel online might convince you otherwise.
It is great to see debate on gun control raging more than even now in the US. Let’s hope it translates to actual control of weapons and removing this risk to American children.