EMS and ADD

adhd-workingmemory-wordcloudI had an interesting conversation at work recently about getting through school, working, and simply living with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). This prompted me to browse through some EMS forums to see if this is common among the folks in our industry. I knew that there are plenty of adults out there that are treated for it, but I never realized how many EMS and health care professionals have it. I grew up with it, and faced my share of challenges as a result. Needless to say, it was cool to hear several other people share the same stories and listen to the different ways that people deal with it.

I was initially diagnosed sometime around 5th grade after one of my teachers made an observation about my behavior and mentioned it to my parents. At the time I was falling behind with my school work, and I simply wasn’t paying enough attention in class. I was put on medication for a while, which seemed to work, but I eventually stopped.

For most of high-school, it didn’t seem to be much of a problem. When it popped up again was when I started my first full-time job. I think a lot of the reason is because I spent the majority of my time at a desk working on a computer. I didn’t think much of it as it was a boring job so I figured it was normal to “drift off” and give in to the various distractions that the Internet offers. What wasn’t normal, is that I had a hard time getting anything done.

The problem only compounded once I started taking college classes. I would find myself having to read paragraphs 4 times before I actually remembered what I had just read. I couldn’t focus on lectures or power-points to save my life and as you can imagine, studying was turning into a nightmare. I suppose the sensible thing to do would have been to seek care from a doctor and go on medications, but I was a bit too stubborn for that.

EMT school was exciting and interesting to me, which made focusing a bit easier, but I still had a hard time reading on my own. I ended up joining a study-group that met a couple times a week, and that worked wonders to get through the class. I responded much better to group conversations and “quizzing” each other than reading and trying to quiz myself.

After EMT school, I started work for a rural ambulance service and the attention problem seemed to disappear. Paramedic school was quite another story……

Paramedic school was obviously much more difficult being that the material was more advanced, but what was even more of a challenge, was the fact that I had to be in the classroom 8 hours a day, 4 days a week. From day-one, I knew I had to come up with a way to improve my attention span or else I wouldn’t retain any of the information that I was trying to take in. I joined a study-group again, which certainly helped me study, but it didn’t do anything for me in the classroom.

To solve the problem in the classroom, I ended up buying a laptop and using it to type notes while the instructor did her lectures. Fortunately for me, our instructor loved power-point presentations so I was able to essentially copy the material from the slides into a word document. Of course, the fact that I could type fast really helped. I figured at the very least, I would have the content of the lectures saved on my computer to review later with my study-groups. What I didn’t initially realize, is that I had hit the jackpot with my idea. Not only was I retaining the material on my computer, but I was forcing myself to pay attention to the instructor in order to keep up with her. To this day, I swear that my laptop is what got me through paramedic school.

So, returning to present-day life, I still have issues “spacing out” and focusing on projects, but I manage to get by. The interesting part, is that the majority of my issues revolve around my home-life. Carrying on conversations in the car, paying bills, cleaning the house, and yes, blogging are all tasks that I struggle with when I’m having “an ADD moment”. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why I struggle at home, but not work. It wasn’t until I evaluated exactly what I do on a daily basis that I realized why.

If you think about it, EMS is the perfect job for a guy like me. There are large amounts of down-time that really don’t require any attention other than driving or listening to the radio. This is usually followed by short-bursts of tasks that require ALL of my attention. Patient care is interesting to me, and it’s done in an environment that has little-to-no distractions. The constantly changing environment works wonders for my attention span and I very rarely find myself “spacing out” or losing interest. Having realized this, it now makes sense that so many people with ADD work in EMS and health care. I can only imagine that firefighting and law enforcement also have the same share of folks with ADD.

I would be very interested to hear other people’s stories of living and working in EMS with ADD. Have you had the same experiences that I have? How do you overcome the challenges?

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