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10 Warning Signs of Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome (AIDS)

10 Warning Signs of Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome (AIDS)

And How To Keep It From Ruining Your Life

Sometimes really smart people

do really dumb stuff.

If you work EMS or air medical,

this isn’t news.

In fact, it’s common.

It’s one reason you’re so busy, right?

Someone who normally makes smart decisions, makes a dumb one.

And now EMS and air medical are needed, STAT!

But what happens when EMS and air medical make bad decisions?

And let me be clear. I’m not talking about patient care. EMS and air medical professionals have patient care locked down. They almost never fail taking care of others.

What I’m talking about is something more difficult. Much more difficult.

I’m talking about EMS and air medical taking care of themselves.

Sadly, EMS and air medical professionals fail to take care of themselves almost as often as smart people make dumb decisions.

It happens. A lot.

For years I watched nurses, medics, and EMTs use up so much of themselves helping others, it seemed there was nothing left to take care of themselves.

The irony of lifesavers, I suppose.

“EMTs, nurses, paramedics and pilots put so much of themselves into saving lives, they unknowingly destroy their own lives in the process.”

It’s a sickness.

A sickness I call Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome (AIDS), although it could just as easily be called Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome for the air medical lifesavers.

What is Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome?

Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome is a “disease” that causes EMTs, medics, nurses and pilots to lose what they love most in life.

AIDS wrecks marriages. AIDS destroys families. AIDS is the source of immeasurable pain and suffering.

What causes AIDS? And is there a cure?

Ambulance or Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome is caused by misplaced priorities.

AIDS is what happens when EMS and aviation professionals identify so strongly with their work, they forget about the rest of their lives. They forget about what really matters. They forget about their spouses, their kids, and the people who love them.

They fool themselves into believing success as a medic, nurse or EMS pilot is somehow more important, or just as important, as success as a husband, brother, father, wife, sister, or mother.

How do I know?

I had the sickness. Bad.

I had AIDS for years.

I was a workaholic who picked up every extra shift. I routinely re-arranged my family life for my work schedule, and thought nothing of it. It was easy to rationalize and easy to do.

After all, America rewards strong work ethic. Hard work, determination and grit are what built our country, right?

All good. Except that’s not the kind of work I’m talking about. I’m talking about intentionally putting your work before your family.

I’m talking about how medics, nurses and pilots use strong work ethic to rationalize their never at home, absentee husband, father, mother, sister (you get the idea) behavior.

I’m talking about working extra EMS shifts because you identify more with EMS than your own family.

Sounds harsh. I know.

Think I’m kidding?

Think it can’t happen to you?

Think again.

Who Gets AIDS

Who can get AIDS and are you at risk?

Reality is anyone can fall victim to AIDS. Putting work before family isn’t unique to EMS and air medical. But EMS and air medical professionals are (in my opinion) at greater risk.

Why?

The demands of shift work is one reason.

Emotional investment in the job is a second reason.

EMS and air medical are highly personal careers by nature.

EMS work takes its toll. Nobody is immune.

It’s impossible to avoid emotional connections to the work. In fact, if you’re not emotionally connected to the work, you’re probably not doing it very well, right?

Note that I’m not talking about display of emotion. EMS and air medical are stoic warriors when it comes to public displays of emotion. But no doubt about it, they’re still feeling it on the inside.

Warning Signs of AIDS

Here are 10 warning signs of Ambulance Induced Divorce Syndrome

#1 You Put Work Ahead of Family

Have you ever picked up an extra shift to skip out on a family event?

It’s okay to be the “go-to” gal or guy at your EMS station or air medical base. But remember, respect goes both ways.

You should not be expected to pick up every open shift.

And if you can’t work a shift because of prior family commitments, you absolutely should be able to say “no” without fear of punishment or retribution. Sometimes the answer is no.

If on the other hand, you’re the one scheduling shifts over family events…

Well, here’s your sign.

#2 You’re Too Tired From Work To Spend Time With Family

Does a big portion of your family time consist of you laying on the couch trying to regain lost energy?

Is your main focus getting ready for your next shift?

If so, it’s probably a sign you’re working too much. It’s definitely a sign you’re not really spending family time with your family. You’re not really ever “in the moment” with them.

You’re either at work or consumed by getting ready to go back to work. Neither is family time.

What good is family time if all you do is sleep through it?

#3 Your Spouse is Your New Career Therapist

Everyone talks about work with their spouses. It’s healthy, it’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with it…

Until…

Your primary reason for talking with your spouse is to vent about work or get more advice about how to handle a situation at work.

Your spouse is not your career therapist.

If he or she starts to feel this way, here’s your sign.

How can you tell if your spouse feels this way? Ask them directly or look for signs like eye-rolling or dread the next time you start to talk about work. Spending time together should be joyful, not a chore.

#4 Work Is All You Talk About With Your Spouse

Like I mentioned in #3, it’s okay to talk with your spouse about work. We all spend so much time working, that work is a natural topic of conversation.

The problems start when work is the only topic of conversation.

There’s more depth to you than your last case, call or flight. There’s more to your life than being a good medic.

Realize it. Appreciate it. Don’t forget it.

#5 You Cancel Family Events Because of Work

Have you ever canceled (or skipped) a family event for work? Here’s your sign.

Take a moment and really think about this. You probably take your job as a parent, spouse, friend, all the above very seriously, right?

Yes, of course you do.

Be honest with yourself. How much success are you having when you cancel family events to work?

Don’t rationalize. Be objective. It’s a no-brainer.

Canceling family events for work is a sure sign of AIDS.

#6 You Argue More With Your Spouse

All work and no play takes a toll on EMS and air medical professionals.

A common side effect is mood swings.

Mood swings that can lead to increased arguments with your family.

The affect on your family and spouse is often immediate. If you find yourself suddenly arguing about stuff you never used to even care about — here’s your sign.

#7 You Have Less Patience With Your Family

When you work long hours do you find yourself less patient with your family?

It’s a common warning sign of AIDS.

Think back to asking your patient the same thing 10, 12 or more times. It takes patience and self-discipline to maintain your composure and calm demeanor, right?

The problem is that by the time you get home and need more understanding and patience for your own children, your patience is all used up.

If you feel yourself becoming less patient than normal with your own family, beware.

#8 You Don’t Feel Like Socializing

AIDS saps the life out of you.

It destroys your energy, motivation and desire.

Have you lost or are you losing your desire to socialize with other people?

If so, it could be a warning sign.

#9 You Realize You’re Happier At Work Than Home

This is a billboard size warning sign.

Or at least a warning sign that should get your immediate attention.

Does it ever make sense to be happier at work than home? That’s a pretty clear signal something is wrong.

It’s okay to love what you do. But it’s not okay to love what you do more than your own family.

#10 You Start Making More Sacrifices To Make Everyone Happy

Your first reaction to AIDS will likely be compensation.

Many EMS and air medical professionals are “givers” by nature. Almost all are type A personalities.

The combination is brutal.

You realize your family is getting less attention than they deserve. You compensate by making more sacrifices of your already scare time —or you work more to compensate financially.

It’s a vicious cycle and a sure warning sign.

Knowing The Warning Signs Isn’t Enough

Changing your own behavior is hard.

But the hard truth is, knowing the warning signs isn’t enough.

The only cure for AIDS is changing your behavior.

It isn’t easy.

Habits are difficult to change.

I can especially hear the protests from EMTs and medics. And with good reason.

I don’t think I ever worked with a medic (air or ground) who worked only one job. Working a handful of jobs, and back to back shifts is a way of life for most medics.

Unfortunately, so are some of the AIDS warning signs and consequences.

Don’t Be A Victim

AIDS (both ambulance and aviation) is curable. The choice is yours. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

Your family needs you. And you need your family. If all you have left after a 30 year EMS or air medical career is memories of flying and running cases, I guarantee you’ll wish you had more. You’ll wish you had your family.

Interested in more tips on how to be better in the sky or on the ground?

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About the Author:

Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

Comments

  1. And an abbreviation like AIDS is appropriate? That is a dishonor to the people who have died and who struggle with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

    • Chasity,

      The AIDS acronym was pre-planned, intentional and deliberate.

      The idea was to use something medical and aviation professionals would remember —and hopefully remind them to keep their work and family priorities straight. Also, the “AIDS” acronym (as used in the context of the article) has been in the aviation community for a very long time.

      The only correlation between the AIDS disease acronym and the acronym used for this article is the letters in the acronym. That’s it.

      If you choose to take offense, it’s you choosing to be offended. Nothing more.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  2. I agree with this to an extent, but if we as EMS professionals received our worth in pay for what we can do in the field for the patient this day and time we would have to work all those extra shifts and would be able to spend more time with family. Until that happens we we continue doing it to pay our bills to stay out financial ruin. But if you know how to work it AIDS wouldn’t happen as you call it. It hasn’t happened to me yet and al in all total I’ve been in the business over 42 years now. Granted part of that was younger years before being married and having a family.

    • That should say we wouldn’t have to work all those extra shifts.

      • Steve,

        You’re right. But that’s also the point of the article. It’s about choosing what’s most important.

        I completely understand the desire (and need) to meet financial commitments. But if there’s no time left over for family, you start to wonder what’s the point?

        Thanks for commenting. It’s good for young folks to hear an experienced perspective.

        Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  3. The amount of extra marital affairs is also to blame for wrecked marriages. I’ve seen many supervisors and other first responders mess around with people other than their spouses.

    • David,

      You’re right.

      Infidelity destroys marriages. Avoiding infidelity is about making smart choices.

      Thank you for sharing your opinion and taking time to comment.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

      • The other problem is if your partner is not either in the system or knowledgeable, they may not understand what you face daily.

        Do companies and EMS organisations have ‘families’ days to help with cohesion and understanding of the job. It produces a cohesive group, and when it goes wrong and it does people are not shy about picking up a phone and having someone to talk too.

        The armed forces in the UK in particular the air force have closed to the public family days, so that families can see what the crews and airfield personnel do on a daily basis.

  4. Excellent article! I recently retired from a 34 year career in EMS. Although while working I willingly made the choice to be a mother first, it was still a struggle to balance home life and personal time with work. Early on, I made the decision to work to live, not live to work. When I worked an overtime shift (infrequently), I was fortunate to be able to bank the hours to take as time off later when needed. In addition, I made sure to always take my vacation time. Luckily, I was compensated adequately for the hours I worked. I had so much to do at home, that it was sometimes easier to go go work, but I never preferred that. In recent years, I have come to the opinion that balancing home and work life was an important protective factor in preventing PTSD. I believe that, to some degree, women have a slight advantage: we tend to wear more “hats” and our identities seem to be more multi-faceted and less tied up with what we do for work. In recent years, it seems that many women are now following mens’ examples in making work their whole life. Another factor that I believe helps to protect women is that we inherently tend to talk and “share” more, allowing us to feel less isolated and more supported. At any rate, EMS providers need to make a commitment to themselves and to their families, to ensure their own happiness and mental health.

    • Cori,

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Good on you for keeping your family first and your priorities straight.

      Family values have definitely shifted in last 30 years. It’s unfortunate that every gal (or guy) who wants to stay at home with their children can’t afford to do so anymore.

      I completely agree with your perspective of EMS providers needing to make a commitment to themselves and to their families to ensure their own happiness and mental health.

      Thanks again.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  5. Yup!! You nailed it. This article is spot-on!

  6. I also support your article.
    As a career Paramedic of 35 years I lost a marriage in my early years to many of the factors you mention. I too thought my work was more important, and was always ready to fill the extra shifts, extended shifts. I invested too much in my patients, education and work at the expense of my spouse. As things became strained I found more solace at work than home. The “job” was not worth the loss of my marriage, a lesson I learnt too late.
    Luckily I had time to learn, and a new relationship to bring change to. It was a difficult transition still, learning that I was not indispensable, and that my family priorities were indeed more important than constant availability at work.
    The reason I have survived so long is finally getting the balance right, and I would also like to encourage the younger Paramedics to focus on their families first.

    • Rob,

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I sincerely appreciate it and I’m certain it will help folks following in your footsteps.

      Luckily, we don’t all have to make the same mistakes (although we often do).

      Thanks again.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  7. This article is ridiculous. Guess what….the reason that your marraige is failing might be because you’re a bad spouse, not because you suffer from “AIDS”. Every job has stressors on a marriage, from lawyers/doctors to cafeteria/factor workers. You can also call this “JIDS” for Job Induced Divorce Syndrome. I feel this is another example of the classic American way of blaming someone/something else for your problems.

    • Matt,

      You’re right. Your “JIDS” acronym works in the context of this article, although “JIDS” is not easily recognized or commonly used in aviation and medicine. But I get your point.

      As far as blaming someone else for problems? I disagree.

      The intent of the article is the exact opposite. The idea is for EMS and air medical professionals to access their family and work priorities and then make adjustments (to family) if necessary.

      I also agree all jobs are stressful to varying degrees. Having said that, you need to work / live the EMS and air medical lifestyle for a couple years before you’re really in a position to judge.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  8. I have suffered for years…thank you for writing this article. I hope it will change peoples lives. 30 + years of EMS and 15 as a nurse…sometimes the things we need to learn most arent in a book.

    • Paul,

      You’re very welcome.

      I’m sorry to hear “AIDS” took its toll on your personal and professional life. Thanks for commenting. I sincerely appreciate it.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  9. Too late! I already lost my family to divorce.

  10. Troy,

    Thank you for writing this article. It’s about sometime that someone break it down so simply. I am a wife (divorced wife) to a has been Lt. Fireman/Medic. While reading your article I found myself agreeing with each point and flashing back to many memories supporting each of your warning signs. It’s very real how our beautiful family became impacted. Fire, EMS and medical personnel are mostly very ethical people who pride themselves in having serious value in family and careers. In our case his ego got too big, his commitment to work too strong, he was too tired to function at home and would start sleeping at the station which left no time for him to come help relieve me from the kids after 2 24 hour shifts. Chores fell behind, projects never would get completed and when I was ready to go have a fun family day he’d cause a fight because really just wanted to stay home and enjoy his home. My career in nursing fell second to his and I worked around his crazy schedule. I felt seriously neglected and disrespected. Then when our fun loving relationship turned to disrespect and hate, more drinking and abuse began. He lost touch of his values and as a fireman he was getting attention from women everywhere including work. Our marriage was pretty much over before that and it only fed his ego more. When our kids were their cutest (10,8 & 4) our family was in chambles. We divorced, and we lost everything and even his job. We didnt just loose the house, the car, the boat and motorhome wher ee made our memories. We lost our families and friends respect and friendships. He wanted so badly to be respected and found that his commitment to work clouded his judgement. We have made it through the other side of divorce and are still together as a family but we are wounded. The kids are wounded and our relationship has never been the same. But we are family working on building more memories together and giving the kids one home wth two parents who have lost everything but each other. They saw so much ugly growing up and their perfect image of love has popped which will give them the determination to remain strong in their values and in their choices. I stand with you in the cause to help other prevent AIDS in their home. The pain doesn’t go away once the damage is done but it is so hard to identify it is happening while in the moment, because of all the good and all the lives you do make a difference in. Read this article closely, print it out and share it with your crews. If AIDS isn’t affecting you it is most like affecting one of your fellow crewmembers and you could make all the difference if you hand them this article. 🙂

    • Judy,

      Thank you doesn’t seem enough. But thank you all the same for sharing your experience.

      I hope this article helps someone skip all the pain and suffering you describe.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  11. Very true statements.

  12. Love it. Sadly it’s true. I was that guy for a bit. Thankfully,
    I woke up and realized.

  13. Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome…

    • Mike,

      Your version of the “AIDS” acronym has been around a very long time…almost as long as aviation itself.

      It’s the saying I think of as well.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  14. Jeremy Baldrica you need to follow this guy! He puts up great stuff week after week. And his advice is right on.

  15. One of the most honest articles I’ve read in a very long time! I see it everyday!

  16. One of the first things I tell people that want to get into EMS, whether it’s ER, ground ambulance or HEMS, make sure you have a supportive spouse. And I mean supportive. I have been married for 27 years and in the EMS, HEMS Critical Care world for 27 years. I know a lot of people in this industry that go through the “AIDS” process and most are NOT due to the stress of the job. Infidelity is rampant in this industry and I’m not sure why.

    • Jim,

      Thanks for commenting. I think you’re exactly right about having a supportive spouse. EMS is as much a lifestyle as a job. A supportive spouse and family is really important. Thanks again.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  17. Hi, Can you Please “Like” our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/gostaykit we’re a non-profit organization that helps vulnerable populations with their emergency preparedness. Thanks.

  18. I for one have quite a few of the warning signs. I lost a husband, and am now a single mom of two who I rarely do anything fun with. We were to take a week long vacation and instead I cut it down to 4 days with nothing but thoughts of work and work family. I use to live camping, couldn’t enjoy it at all. Also, i don’t go out, i don’t socialize and will find a way to get out of getting together with friends. I am NOT willing to quit my job, but could use some points on how to deal with it.

    • Michelle,

      It sounds like you have a full plate. In my opinion, you’re smart to realize you could use some pointers and help. Why not start with your family doctor? Tell her what you shared above and see what she recommends?

      Best of luck to you. Thank you for taking time to comment.

      Clear Skies & Tailwinds

  19. So true.

  20. See it every day !

  21. Terri Bilow-Briggs check out this article!

  22. Very interesting….

  23. The bad thing is I have caught myself doin this as well. Well some of it. I enjoy the work and I have the option of unlimited hours. It is addicting. And I am a new emt and it’s very easy to just go nuts with shifts. For several reasons. 1. Being you’re the new guy, gotta prove you’re willing to do the job. 2. Unlimited money that’s awesome. 3. You love a job. When you work jobs you dislike for so long and all of a sudden you’re in one you truly enjoy it’s hard not to go crazy with it. But you definitely have to catch yourself and just make time for a spouse or kids. I’ve had to tone down what I do for work because I’d have been working 7 days a week. But I have kids and a wife that need me at home as well. This was honestly a great article.

  24. I’ve seen to many people loose track of whats truly important in life by trying to become ” super techs” . They abandon family, friends, religion, etc. to worship a new G-D the ambulance.

  25. Great article! I wish that I had read this at the early stages of dating an EMS pilot. I fell for him hard, (I would like to think it was mutual) and the circumstances of his job created an insurmountable challenge of time starvation. It wasn’t that I didn’t have empathy for his career, but I realized that the dynamic of having a relationship at the mercy of what goes on in the hangar was not going to pan out. Over time I had to keep revising my expectations to the point that I would refer to my love interest as my “imaginary boyfriend”. This was a very hard life lesson, because outside of this challenge, we had an excellent relationship; as long as I was willing to be infinitely patient and pine away, or wait for his retirement. I still miss him, and I wish him well hoping he will find someone to come home to once he decides to finally roost.

  26. Good article. I’d like to add a bit more detail though with respect to what it can do to your marriage. . .If you have a spouse that is considering going into this profession please be wary. If you have a strong marriage where you have open communication it’s most likely going to be fine, but don’t get lax on staying close and doing things together.

    I had a wife that decided to get her EMT license as she regretted not becoming a doctor in college. Granted our marriage hadn’t been the best prior to this, but we had agreed that this plan was going to be a good thing to allow her to pursue her career again after being a very good stay at home Mom.

    The short story is that the Paramedic that she worked 48hr shifts with is now her new husband. After a 5 years of therapy I have found out that it has left our oldest daughter severely traumatized (in and out of the psychiatric hospital four times now for suicidal ideation because she blames herself for our divorce with the most recent episode involving running away.) If you have kids you owe it to them to stay diligent with communicating with your spouse about this new life change and what they are experiencing because if you don’t, you’re going to suffer and they are going to suffer profoundly. In answer to one of the responses above, stating that they don’t know why this happens I’ll answer in caps in order to hopefully capture the attention of someone that is simply skimming. . . –

    THIS OCCUPATION INVOLVES EXTREMELY HIGH STRESS AND WHEN WORKING IN SUCH CLOSE QUARTERS (AMBULANCE) TOGETHER FOR 48HR SHIFTS, YOU NOT ONLY OPEN UP AND SHARE YOURSELF VERY QUICKLY AND INTENSELY BUT YOU LIVE TOGETHER IN THE AMBULANCE DISTRICT FOR THAT WHOLE TIME. THE ADRENALINE RUSH THAT FOLLOWS THIS PROFESSION BY DEFINITION, ASSOCIATED WITH THE PROXIMITY AND THE TRUST RELATIONSHIP THAT THE PARAMEDIC HAS TO ESTABLISH WITH THE EMT, CREATES A BOND AND INTEREST LEVEL THAT MIGHT JUST SURPASS THAT OF YOUR OWN MARRIAGE (MINE HAD LASTED 9 YEARS). MY EX WIFE’S DECISION TO BECOME AN EMT HAS LED TO SUCH HARDSHIP IN THE LIVES OF MYSELF AND MY CHILDREN THAT CONTINUES TO THIS DAY, SIX YEARS AFTER OUR DIVORCE. PLEASE BE CAREFUL.

  27. David J. Bowman

    Troy,

    You nailed it, sir. Very well said. Thank you for bringing a much needed discussion out into the open.

    All jobs in EMS and Air Medical are very important. But, every position one will ever have in any industry can and eventually will be filled by another person. Choosing our families and responsibilities at home over those at work may actually cause problems on the job. So be it.

    I’ve been in EMS for 28 years now with over 20 of those being in Air Medical. Chosing to put my family first has not been without cost. From being looked down upon by others to losing friendships and leadership positions; the choice comes at a high price. It is well. The cost of losing a family is a much higher price that I am not willing to pay. Keeping ones family over feeling too important to say no is ALWAYS the right choice!

    Respectfully,
    David

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