Serenity Now

March 20th, 2012 Comments

As I sit in the ambulance, four dispatch centers chattering away, and the need to be constantly alert and aware, the cacophony can take its toll.  I have a pager on my hip, and we are locked into the front seat of a ford van.  After awhile I begin to feel like a caged rat.  Add to this the sleep deprivation that only grows worse from working nights, and I begin to feel restless and anxious.

I try to get exercise by walking around, but a combination of the weather, the need to be constantly moving to new posts, and the shear demotivation of the job and I only begin to feel more an more caged.  It’s really not a good thing – to take a highly motivated, relatively intelligent person, and cage them into the front seat of an ambulance for 12 hours at a time.

“…analysis shows that ambulance workers have a higher standardized mortality rate, higher level of fatal accidents, higher level of accident injuries and a higher standardized early retirement on medical grounds than the general working population and workers in other health occupations….more research should focus on sleeping problems, intrusion and hyperarousal among ambulance personnel.”  ~Research article

To escape this, I read, browse the Interwebs, or surf Facebook and the web.  Sometimes I can catch a nap – sleep being the ultimate refuge, but that is frequently interrupted and never guaranteed.  Sometimes I try to read something more longform than the news – but again, I never know how long that will last – and it usually is short lived.  In addition, it is difficult to concentrate at 3am with the radios chattering – knowing we could be the next crew sent out.

(Watch the video for some thoughts….)

The epiphany…

Sometimes I stay at work between shifts and sleep in the back of my 4Runner.  It works better this time of the year because it is cooler and easier to tuck into a sleeping bag.  As I lay in the back of my truck the other day, my mind was still racing from the night shift.  I was exhausted, but restless – tired, but not sleepy.

Normally my solution for unwinding has been the same as my solution for avoiding the chatter of life.  Check email, browse Facebook, catch up on the news, or see what paths unfold on the web.  But last week, as I lay in my portable RV/SUV, the raindrops hitting the roof – I was reminded how this is like camping.  In fact, this is why I bought the 4Runner 18 years ago – to camp in it.

Then I thought about my desire to live off the grid – and what it would be like to live a more agrarian lifestyle.  There would be time to think, or not.  There would be time to mosey, to chill, and to focus on one thing at a time.  There would be time to build relationships, have conversations, and generally slow down long enough to enjoy the life around me.

That’s why I like camping.  

There are no responsibilities beyond food, shelter, fun, and sleep.  And yet, here I was, lying in my sleeping bag with nothing on my agenda but sleep.  But I was about to pick up my tablet and fill my head with more information.  Instead, I chose to lie there and listen to the raindrops smack the roof of my SUV.

Was I still restless?  Yes.  Was I still anxious?  Yep.  But ignoring that and surfing the web would not fix that.  Lying in silence and seeking serenity would.  And as I lay there, I wondered if I could achieve the same serenity even when I’m around other people and the hub-bub of life?  Could I learn to life in the moment even caged in the front seat of  that merciless ambulance with four busy dispatch centers vying for my attention?  I wondered if I could sit in my living room, without distracting myself, and achieve the quiet I so desperately crave?  Then I fell asleep and woke up several hours later feeling like I’d been camping.

That night, as I sat in the front of my ambulance.  I didn’t endlessly browse Facebook and the web.  Yes, I checked my messages and notifications, I replied to emails and texts, but then I just was at peace.  It was a good place to be.

Two nights ago…

…I was tired, restless, and it seemed as if we never sat still very long.  We’d run calls in East Sandy, posted in Boring and Damascus several times – but never really long enough to settle down.  Barely long enough to use the restroom really.  We spent some time in ClackamasGladstone, and Oregon City.  I think we were in Lake Oswego for awhile.  We ran a few calls – but we were just going, going, going.  Finally, around 3am, we landed in Oregon City.  I tried leaning my head against the door and sleeping – it wasn’t working.  I found myself surfing the web, browsing Facebook – all that stuff.  I put the phone away.

I was so exhausted I thought about calling out sick.  I wasn’t sure I could do this.  I got out, walked around in the rain and sleet a little – but as you can imagine, that didn’t last long.  Again, I tried to sleep.  It wasn’t working.

I closed my eyes and prayed for peace and serenity.  I sought surrender, release, and serenity.  It was a battle.

Finally, I climbed into the back of the ambulance and stretched out (this is actually a misnomer because I’m 6’2″ and the bench is only 5’4″) on the bench.  I lay there – gently released from the confines of the chicken coop we call the front seat.  I slowly let go – I prayed – I surrendered to the situation, the exhaustion, the sleep deprivation, the lack of good food, and the chatter of the radios.  I let go of the confinement, the lack of exercise, and the desire I had for my own bed.  I missed my family, but I let go of my inability to be with them.  I prayed for my family and for my lack of ability to be a good Dad and Husband.  And then I fell asleep.

Two minutes later…

…we were dispatched to take care of a lady who fell.  Despite the short nap, I was rested and serene.


Here are a couple of posts I came across in the last week:


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  1. Mike Hansen says:

    Hey Gary-great post. Before I finished reading, a passage came to mind, that I found. I am reading through Desire of Ages again, and words bubbled to the surface that I had recently read that I thought might help (even if you didn’t ask 🙂 ) Desire of Ages, p. 255:

    Even amid the turbulence of angry enemies He was surrounded with an atmosphere of peace. The beauty of His countenance, the loveliness of His character, above all, the love expressed in look and tone, drew to Him all who were not hardened in unbelief. Had it not been for the sweet, sympathetic spirit that shone in every look and word, He would not have attracted the large congregations that He did.

    Gary, serenity, peace, zen-whatever appears allusive. But I have found it to be attainable. The Big Deal I have been learning lately is not to seek “it” but to seek “Him” and “it” follows. I reread Matthew 6:33 again this morning, that before all of “these things” – the “it” – we should seek the kingdom and righteousness by seeking the Righteous King. It’s working for me in a new way.

    Now I know how you post so much on FB and elsewhere-because you’re up all hours of the night! I pray peace for you brother. I sense much is going on in and around you these days.

    1. gwalter says:

      Hey Mike, great quote. Jennifer and I were talking about that last week. I know the concept, and crave that in my life.

  2. This is a really great post. I too live with the “noise” you speak about… nearly 15 “talk groups” (radio channels), close to 20 police officers a fire department, 911 telephones, coworkers (and that is just the work portion) – not to mention trying to keep track of the comings and goings of our family, finances, etc, etc, etc…

    It’s really a struggle sometimes!

    1. gwalter says:

      Sounds like we have a few things in common. I’m on a constant quest to seek, find, and maintain serenity.

      I was looking at your blog – good stuff! Thanks for stopping by!

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