From a Paramedic

I have been a paramedic with Ambulance Victoria for years now. Over the course of that time I will have seen many times over the amount of trauma and mayhem that all but a select few (veterans, police, firefighters and other ambo’s) will see in their lives.

Over that time, I have not been able to avoid picking up some “ghosts” that stay with me to this day, and indeed will most likely be with me until I die.

The cases are many and varied, from the one-year-old girl reversed over in her driveway who died in my arms to the arsonists who attempted to burn down a pizza restaurant in the early hours one morning in the middle of summer when it was still 30 degrees and the petrol fumes they were splashing around met the pilot light on the hot water service.

From the young man who had an argument with his wife and went to the pub for a few beers to calm down. He never made it home that night, he lost control of his car and struck a power pole. He was conscious and talking to me when we arrived, but when we lifted the dashboard he was trapped under he quickly bled out and died.

Or the man who was murdered by being beaten to death with a bourbon bottle by his drinking partner, and then when the bottle broke had his throat cut. I still remember looking up at on point in the mess and seeing a terrified young boy peering at us from behind a laundry door. As I later discovered the poor little bloke had just witnessed his father beat his step father to death and then cut his throat.

Or the elderly lady who had passed away from entirely natural causes, but unfortunately like a lot of the elderly she was socially isolated so she wasn’t found for a week or so. But in the mean time her Jack Russell had got hungry.

These are just a few of the memories that are now stuck in my head, and get added to with monotonous regularity. How exactly is this not going to affect me.

When this does affect me, how does it not effect my family? They see me come home moody and withdrawn, how can I be otherwise? How can I tell them the horror story that is my working life at times?

The endless grind of shift work, and the pressure to do overtime to cover shift vacancies takes its toll too.

Over the years this takes an effect, my family notice long before I do. I am withdrawn, I don’t want to see people, and why would I? I don’t ever see happy friendly people.
I am tired and cranky, I don’t sleep much anymore. Those ghosts that I told you about keep coming to visit in the night, and scarily in the day sometimes too.
When I am obliged to leave the safety of the house, danger is everywhere, anytime I am with my toddler aged daughter in a car park the danger to me is overwhelming. I am holding her hand for grim life. She knows no different and thinks all dads are like this, I at times don’t know who is looking after who.
My wife sometimes jokes she is the single mother of two children, she just wants her husband back.

This sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen to emergency workers. We burst in on other people’s worst days and take control. It’s central to who we are.
But it’s just not working anymore.
The one thing I am still managing is providing for my family.

But now the wheels are falling off, and I cannot work at the minute, the doctors are telling get me I may never be able to go back to emergency work again.
So what the hell am I going to do.
I put in a Workcover claim but am told they don’t have to accept my claim, and will let me know in their good time.
Now I have to recount my story to the Workcover person, in minute detail which only serves to make things worse. This person is an insurance agent, never having worked in emergency services and cannot possibly understand what I am talking about no matter how hard they try.
The service is dragging its feet with the paperwork, can’t find any record of some jobs. I am trying to explain that it’s not really any one job, it’s many over an extended period. The final job was just the one that “popped the cork” and all this other stuff comes out.
Unfortunately, that’s just not the way Workcover works, they want a specific incident. They are so rigid in the way they do things.
I have had to explain all this to my doctor already and it was near soul destroying and I have known him for nearly thirty years, and now I am expected to bear my soul to the insurance company.
I still have no idea whether the claim will be accepted, no idea whether I can continue to provide for my family. My only saving grace is that as such a dinosaur I have quite a bit of sick leave up my sleeve, otherwise I’d be stuffed with the mortgage.
I had been referred to the PTSD clinic at the repat hospital, but they only accept “compensable injuries”, so even though they agree that my injury is caused by work I still don’t know what WorkCover is doing.
I have had to go through yet again my story in minute detail at the repat, but at least they have a better understanding of my situation so it’s not quite as soul destroying as the last time for the insurance company.
The insurance company must be looking into my claim, there are now two guys sitting off my house in a Silver Lancer and they have been there for several days.
In my mind, whether it’s true or not, they must not believe me. They are trying to catch me out, this only makes things worse, I can’t even leave the house anymore.
And I still don’t know if Workcover have accepted the claim, and if they have investigators watching me what does that mean?
I’ve only got so much sick leave, how the hell can I pay the mortgage if this goes on much longer. I’ve only got so much sick leave, and I have a lot more than the younger guys.
The insurance company then sends me off for an independent medical examination, now I am supposed to bear my soul to a Collins Street psychiatrist whom I have never met, or who has never met me.
This will be fun; I basically don’t leave the house anymore so I am not even sure I can make it into the city let alone see the IME.
Eventually after the IME, they finally let me know they have accepted my claim.
The statutory time limits have long since passed.
Now I really don’t leave the house except to go to appointments, I am worse than I was when I originally went off work because of this dragged out inhuman process that is Workcover.

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20 Responses to From a Paramedic

  1. Julie Payne says:

    I’m so very sorry that you are going through this. I went through it myself. I was off for 2yrs. I have now been back for 4yrs. It is an awful process to endure, which is not what you need. Contact me if you need an ear, or even advice. We believe you and support you all the way. Big hugs.😢

  2. Clive Wawn says:

    Good luck with the insurance person. I had to go through this regarding methoxy and the report was just so pathetic I ended up writing it myself and letting him submit it. It was still rejected despite the Docs diagnosing the issue a number of times (except AV’s “specialist” Dr who did nothing) – surprise surprise.
    I can understand where you’re at re: the jobs you have been to, and some are very horrific. I feel I’m one of the lucky ones and I quit more because my Super, age and the constant harassment from management and clinical, especially relating to students. Half the time they didn’t even know the guidelines.
    Good luck in achieving some result with all this.


    Mate, I feel your pain. No two cases are the same, but there are many common threads. Safe to say, you’re probably feeling pretty awful at the minute?
    You will feel better over time. Takes time. You’re still the same beaut Dad & Husband inside.
    I was very pleased to read your case was Accepted after an IME. (Employed by Insurer: No Conflict of Interest here??)
    I was among those who ended up in Workcover Court. I didn’t know there was an MAS guy going thru at same time. Would loved to have been able to compare notes.
    Anyway… if ever you feel like it..people will vouchsafe my discretion & frankness. Always available. I’m overseas to escape Winter, and indeed, things that I don’t need reminding of, that are everywhere in Oz.
    Give yourself a bit of a pat on the back too. You survived a system designed to break claimants.
    Day at a time mate.


      Sorry…misread. I thought your claim had BEEN accepted ? My bad.
      Regarding Repat. Strongly recommend RSL Advocates to get you thru that system. A good mate is one, Ex ARA.
      Now that EBA is over, I’d be inclined to have a chat with AEA, as to how to rattle the cage on a decision. Take a support person to IME. Enhances deficits in ADL’s. I made mistake of gutting out the trips to IME’s. Only indicates higher function, detrimental to your assessment.
      A good, but true statement for these IME parasites…is, “Your job is to harm me!” They’re paid by insurer and if write too supportive a report in Claimant’s favour, they won’t get more junket hatchet jobs!
      Fix bayonets!! You’re always good for one more assault!

  4. Maree says:

    Workcover is crap, l have had a number of claims some accepted and one denied. All work related and genuine. l will never submit a wc claim again. Why would l put myself through that again…My knee repair l will pay for, when l need it done by the ortho l choose and without the harassment.

  5. walter says:

    As a good friend who has retired (broken) from the service 2 years ago said to me once “theres life beyond ambulance” its hard to see when you are broken but sometimes throwing caution to the wind and venturing out into the unchartered waters can bring some pretty amazing results, follow the road that isn’t signposted and you never know what will become available to you. Now to only take my own advice lol

  6. Tom Witte says:

    Hang in there. Have been through the same process, even to the point of objecting to the Workcover medical examiner report and insisting on changes. I actually felt that the IME were sympathetic to my needs, and helped me achieve a positive outcome. It takes a long while, but after 7.5 years (maybe a bit sooner) the realisation hits that not only is it not important what AV or the knockers think or say, but you are actually better off without them! I still have my most important friends that look out for me, and an ever supporting family. All in all, my advice would be:

    . Hold your head up high, know that you are a survivor, and have absolutely no reason to feel any sort of failure

    . Sit down and pick the positives out of your life, hang on to them as the only important things

    . Know that there are a lot of people out there who care about you, and are willing to assist. I found one of the hardest things to be the loneliness and feelings that you were on your own. It really would be good to have some sort of help group, but the very nature of issues makes AV think they need to keep sufferers segregated.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense, and know that it is to try to help. If you think I can help any I am in the phone book and would welcome contact.

  7. Jim Hall says:

    The system is unacceptable to say the least. Nobody should be put through this.
    Really feel for you.
    Take Julie Payne up on her offer above.
    I know she knows and may help you through.

  8. Pamela Brunswick says:

    This is such a sad and familiar “debarcle” of such totally “Inhumane ” system !
    I have been through this type of treatment also, several times.
    It is so wrong and inappropriate !
    Workcover and Income Protection agents have no idea, treat you with ignorant concepts, suspicion and total disdain!
    You actually are made to feel a “fraud”, and your mental health often worsens with the stress of it all!
    We need a complete review and change in relation to PTSD, Depression and work related stress effects over time, especially in the health care and emergency services industry.
    This is only going to get worse!
    All the very best in your fight for “fairness” and some “Justice” in your claim.

  9. Stephen Hutchins says:

    Sorry to here that current service members are still being treated this way. And my heart goes out to you and others who are feeling the pain and anguish at this time.
    I was a paramedic/ambo for over 20 yrs. In my time with MAS now Ambulance Victoria, I thought i had a handle on it ( recurrent exposure to severe trauma). I ended my career against my want but deep down I knew I had had enough and needed out. Sick of the ever reliving of some very ugly and sickening experiences like yourself and other colleagues of the service.
    I knew I was changing for the worst and was becoming a burden to my wife and kids and my mood swings were rapidly worsening. I was finding my work colleagues at a hospital I worked at where all talking to my boss about my unstable nature and irritability and loss of focus.
    It wasn’t till I was involved in a very nasty car accident one morning going to work, that a flood of PTSD incidents came rushing in following my recuperation period which accompanied PTSD of that accident, A pandora’s box situation that I had great difficulty dealing with and still do.
    I was never offered any assistance by then MAS management and felt they where happy to see me leave. The whole experience left me bitter and twisted with a very sour taste in my mouth. Still does and I need help however I am now on a disability pension and mental health plan with my regular doctor. What really rubs salt into the wounds is I gave my all to a service who just closed the doors behind me after 20 years, no thanks, no recognition. Now to get any assistance or treatment from some one who specialises PTSD related depression and anxiety, comes at a cost I can not afford on a pension.
    I so hope you can get things sorted before you think of leaving the service my friend. It is very difficult having to try and obtain help once outside.
    There is life outside Paramedical industry so don’t fear starting a new venture. There is always something comes by when you least expect it as long as you step outside and tread that road.
    It would be just a little easier if we had some coping skills to back us up and make us feel our worth.
    I wish you all the best in this battle many of us face. Just never stop knowing you are very worthy person to those who really matter? Your wife and kids and family and friends.
    Stay strong comrade.

  10. dralspe says:

    Please hang in there. It sounds like this is an ongoing trauma with each retelling.

    I have no idea how this or you might be feeling, but I can only consider that this is a perfectly natural response to have. Please take some solace in the support that has been voiced by us here. And with this support from your peers, do consider touching base with those who have or are attending the AEA-V peer support groups that have been hosted by Al. These might help normalise that what you are going through, but it may also offer a safe, supportive and ongoing environment for you and others.

    Please keep seeing your psychiatrist for the ongoing support that they are providing and get as much sleep as you can. Please do not be afraid of the love that your family are continuing to provide. They love you and this shows how great they are to support you through this, but it also shows the great character and the ever remarkable person that you are. I can appreciate that you may not feel like that person, but your family, friends and peers can still see this great person.

    Take care and I, and the rest of your peers, hope to see you soon.

  11. David Cooper - Peer Support Coordinator says:

    Can I please point out to all AV Paramedics that AV Peer Support has kept a confidential database since 1 January 2006. In theory this database could be accessed to identify any peer contacts that you may have received from an AV Peer.

    The content of the conversation is not recorded but the date, time and general nature of the contact is recorded and in recent years it also contains the case number.

    In the past this database has been accessed by Paramedics to prove that they attended certain distressing jobs and has resulted in having WorkCover claims approved when they were initially refused. The database should show if the DM notified Peer or if the Client requested assistance.

    If you requested assistance following a job it really helps prove to the investigator that the job was stressful.

    You would need to make an official request to AV for this information and obviously you can only access your own information.

    Hope this information helps in getting your claims approved.

    I go away on 4 months leave commencing on 8 July 2016 but you can call me on 0419 002 956 or page the on-duty peer on 1800 626 277 Press 1 if you would like to speak with an AV Peer.

    David Cooper

    • Stephen Hutchins says:

      David while it is commendable for AV to have started a database that can assist in providing some information to assist persons identify cases that have been reported, it is little comfort for those officers whom have not reported any one particular incident as a concern to them.

      One of the main problems with this is that PTSD does not only occur from any one particular incident but can also slowly develop over a matter of years or number of continuing incidents over a period of any given time frame.

      There are many many incidents that have gone unreported as to how or why or if any officer felt anguish,concern, or mentally affected by the case/s they attended in the past.
      PTSD is not something new, it may be in name/title but many service personnel of the past 100 years suffered from it but it was known as “Shellshock”.

      PTSD can be seen as an overload of to much exposure/handling of one type of trauma or many differing categories of trauma,
      By this very nature it is difficult to identify what or which was one particular incident that triggered the onset of PTSD/breakdown/depression.

      The information you provide (as basic as it is) gives the indication that if a incident/case is not reported to a peer support member with a case number than the incident did/could not happen or be particularly stressful.

      I find that to be a slap in the face to any member of AV and is reason for many being to afraid of being stigmatised, to come forward and ask for assistance.

      One thing to be suffering such an illness but to have to be questioned and provide proof and to what severity is just exacerbating the whole mental trauma and feeling of worth.

      I seriously doubt that AV management or Peer Support members have a full understanding of how crucial it is for all concerned to change the current culture for the better concerning PTSD and associated Mental Health, and to provide, full ongoing specialist treatment, management, and support including education as to handle difficult and stressful incidences, as a training module/component prior to commencing on the road experience.

      Never has there been a more crucial moment in the history of paramedical services than the present to address this devastating enigma developing with such rapidity.

      Lets not loose more personnel to mental torture, self harm or suicide.

      • Wilbur says:

        I believe David was simply offering another tool in the fight for recognition with workcover , if there happens to be a particular case then it’s good theres a database or if it is as you have correctly stated many cumulative jobs then it may not be beneficial.. David and the team do a great job as peer support in my opinion I’ve been in the job 17 years and I’ve heard some pretty ordinary stories prior to my time of the services lack of duty of care for their employees mental health prior to peers inception.. No it’s not enough at all, but at least our peers are willing to attempt to help those that hurt, thanks guys most of us appreciate your help .

        • Stephen Hutchins says:

          Wilbur Peer support was just in it’s beginning, (infancy) when I left the service following 20 years in the service. I understand that peer support are attempting to be available to all personnel who are in need . However when I was facing a breakdown and needed help I was shown the door by my manager with the advice “look after yourself and get some help as soon as possible”. Never had a call or letter of concern from any management and nor was I even offered or directed to seek out Peer Support.
          I was in a very vulnerable state and drove home feeling bewildered and emotionally upset with both the AV and myself for not being able to function. Instead I was ridiculed for my change in attitude and questioned as to what was happening to me in a manner that made me feel ashamed of the man I had become. I felt worthless, and still do.
          I battle daily with depression and PTSD finally diagnosed 6 years ago when I had to force TAC to financially assist me in treatment following a serious car accident which exposed my PTSD.
          I am appalled that Management of a Emergency Health Care Service such as AV have not seriously supported such an important service to it’s workers such as the Peer Support Program, especially after 16 years on and following so many suicides and officers on sick leave for not being able to function.
          From where I see it Peer Support at that time had too many MAS Managers in its ranks that would not push for funding for the program to become fully functional.
          I can only hope it has been freed up a little to be run more independently other than an extension of MAS/AV management.
          The database needs to be extended to cover all AV/MAS paramedics both current and past employees.

          • David Cooper - Peer Support Coordinator says:

            Hi Stephen,
            Your story is unfortunately very common. Response times, patient treatment and the budget have been the priority and it is only very recently that we are hearing high level managers make comments like, ‘We need to put our people first’.

            Hopefully we have turned a corner and we start to head in a better direction. The initiative to have every AV employee undergo a days training on stress awareness conducted by Beyond Blue is a big commitment by Government. It is certainly something that never would have been approved in the past.

            I know this is little comfort to all of the people we have damaged over the years but hopefully it is a sign that attitudes are changing.

          • Stephen Hutchins says:

            Thank you David for the recognition of a major problem within the Paramedical Industry. It is my 1st time to hear of such, partially due to my long absence of paramedical employ. I may have left the industry but unfortunately the industry has not left me, or should I say my head.

            An in service training/education program is vital to the officers to assist them in awareness of the possibilities of Mental Health/ PTSD/Depression likeliness. It would definitely help remove any stigma for them and hopefully urge them to seek assistance rather then allow these wounds to fester into what has become an epidemic crisis.

            While we all have differing personality traits that some may find annoying or difficult to accept at times, there is one thing common among Paramedics, and that is they all are humanitarian and caring in nature, some more sensitive than others and it is that quality that should not be allowed to be eroded as a result of ignorance of the negativity that some jobs create for some members.

            I congratulate and wish you all good luck with your progress.

  12. David Cooper - Peer Support Coordinator says:

    All of the comments above are common stories that I hear often and they are very concerning. To have to fight against the organisation you work for and WorkCover just so you can receive appropriate treatment for PTSD is the equivalent of rubbing salt into the wound and makes the situation worse.

    In an ideal world all Emergency Service Workers should be able to receive treatment for PTSD without having to fight the system to receive that treatment. Not sure how we can achieve this outcome but it needs to happen.

    My suggestion to access the Peer Database is based on the following thinking.

    Most Paramedics have a couple of jobs per year where the Duty Manager thought the job was potentially stressful enough to notify peer. These should be recorded in the VACU/Peer database and they add up over a few years giving the WorkCover Investigator something to work with. Some of these jobs you may have forgotten about or didn’t think were important but it is still a record of potentially stressful jobs that you can prove your were exposed too.

    I can’t promise you that there will be jobs recorded against your name or if this information will help but I think it wise to request this information or at least mention it to your Legal advisor to see what they think.


    David, the Peer database is an interesting resource indeed. The Workcover Investigator is an Employee of the Insurer, not a Sworn Member of a Police Force. There’s no risk of conflict of interest in Investigator reports is there???:)
    I’d encourage Members, in these straits, to FOI the Individual Statements made to the Investigator.
    The Investigator picks and chooses from all Statements, to prepare his Summary, for his Employer.
    You’d be amazed at what is omitted! A common practise is to impugn the Member’s claim, by suggestion (Not necessarily that robust upon hard evidence), of grounds, whereby any claim is denied under the section of the Act, (58???) Whereby a claim cannot be made if any Disciplinary action is pending, or any other mitigating circumstance.
    This is the dirtiest game of pool in town.
    The Peer database is robust evidence of Exposure.
    The FOI Interview Statements are an insight into the background of the final report.
    It just may keep you out of Court. That process is horrendous, but not impossible. Been there, done that.
    As if feeling the worst you have in your entire career, isn’t bad enough.
    Wait til you get hold of HR’s pivotal role in protecting the Organisation.
    Any Organisation; that’s HR’s job.
    Good luck to all… if you can summon the strength, you can get Justice.

  14. Cass says:

    Most of my time as a paramedic was overseas, and most of my horrible jobs were too. I think I’d be laughed out of the office if I even tried to talk to work cover. I just resigned and now I’m screwed.
    Keep fighting!

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