Confessions of a Trauma Junkie: My Life as a Nurse Paramedic (Reflections of America Series) is a true collection of stories and quotes from Trauma Nurses, ER staff, and Emergency Services Workers. It shares their experiences as they encounter trauma, tragedy, redemption, and even a little humor. I have worked as an EMT-Paramedic, ER Trauma Nurse, and on-scene crisis interventionalist after Hurricane Katrina; many of those experiences are shared in the book. Most people who have observed or experienced physical, mental, or emotional crisis have single perspectives. Confessions allows readers to stand on both sides of the gurney; it details a progression from innocence to enlightened caregiver to burnout, glimpsing into each stage personally and professionally.
Tell us something about yourself.
Living in Michigan long enough to earn an AARP card, I’ve experienced rural and city life and twenty years of emergency services on the road as a medic and in a Detroit Trauma Center as a RN. Like many in my profession, I had an inkling that I wanted to help others in some capacity since I was a small child, and was greatly influenced by television and movies, most notably, “Emergency” starring Roy and Johnny, the medics that could always pull a medical miracle out of their jump kits and leave every episode as a hero.
Still working on deciding what I want to be when I grow up, I’ve worked mostly in medicine and crisis management after raising two brilliant, beautiful, and kind children. I started writing for publication in 1989, first safely releasing news articles and features for a paramilitary organization, then sporadically writing for college publications, newsletters, and online forums. Publishing in books came later, after backing “I can do this” courage with a thicker portfolio, and somewhat thicker skin. Now I’m back in school full-time, at my age, and working toward long-delayed goals.
What inspired you to write this book?
After seeing years of emergency services folks with media-portrayals as heroes (rightly so in many cases), I realized through experience that there is a less exciting but more honest view. I felt it was time to set aside the manufactured image that keeps us from asking for help when we are hurting, or holds our opinions from the outside world because they may not be politically correct. I wanted to stomp my feet, stand on a podium, and say, “Hey … THIS is how it really is!” Continuing the image of a ten-foot tall worker invariably saving the day (and lives) at the last minute is not honest. Very few people who code are revived, or if they are revived, survive unscathed. ‘Things’ happen to good people, sometimes to people we know, or they happen to us, and we cannot turn it off as though walking away from a movie that isn’t making us feel all warm and fuzzy. And sometimes our patients and jobs are so incredibly funny that we share them in private, lest the general public realize we have a finely-honed gallows humor. As many of my coworkers are wont to say, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” Laughter is our survival mechanism when stuff goes bump in the night and our shiny, expensive tools fail to guarantee a favorable and Hollywood-worthy outcome.
How did you publish this book?
I had published a paper in a book called, “Proceedings of the 6th Rocky Mountain Region Disaster Mental Health Conference,” edited by George Doherty, after giving a keynote speech at his conference in 2007. My fragile writer’s ego said that if my writing was good enough to publish in someone else’s book, why not risk rejection and attempt to publish my own? I contacted George’s publisher, Victor Volkman, at Modern History Press; Victor liked my work and agreed to publish the collection.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
Writing has always been a creative outlet that gave me joy, like painting and music, but when five failed eye surgeries brought those other avenues to a screeching halt, I found that writing filled my need for expression and creativity. Because I’m dyslexic, writing with pen and paper has always been a horrible struggle, but when technology provided keyboards, words finally traveled beyond the impenetrable wall of written language’s gatekeeper.
I accepted a volunteer position with a paramilitary group in 1990 that began almost twenty years of writing press releases, contributing to military regulation, and writing about a new love, crisis management. Contributing to magazines and online forums allowed me to see that essays were my ‘thing’, as I can relay real situations (and feelings), but have absolutely no skill for ‘making stuff up’ (fiction). Press releases became feature articles, I became the editor and feature writer of a few newsletters, and school assignments were delivered with a sense of humor. Pieces began to write themselves, and I found my voice.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing?
Discipline. Achieving small tasks provides a more immediate sense of accomplishment, so fussing with all of the distractions of daily life can easily get in your way. The second hardest part is getting up once I start, because when you are on a roll, a piece may consume you until it is completed.
How do you do research for your books?
The first solo book was a compilation of actual experiences, so my focus was on interviewing emergency services workers, who can be quite protective of their feelings. Sitting down in an informal and safe place with them provided the best information, as they easily forgot why we were talking and slipped into sharing with a coworker, and an attitude of, “Oh, you think THAT was bad? Wait till you hear this!”
Did you learn anything from writing this book? What?
I learned that I was not alone, and for every story I told, there are thousands more waiting for their place in print. I learned a lot about my own vulnerability; sharing is risky. I learned that even though we have evolved as an industry over my twenty year tenure, there are still older generations who tell the emergency services probies that if they can’t handle the stress, they shouldn’t be in the business. No one is immune to the stressors and effects that trauma may have, as we are all human and vulnerable. Crisis response and traumatic stress education is imperative for the ES worker’s emotional and professional survival.
What are you reading now?
“Body Language,” by Allan and Barbara Pease. Most communications are non-verbal, so if I’m going to help anyone, being educated about the disconnect between words and physical/facial ‘tells’ is important. Sometimes the face and body deliver a message that screams “Help me,” when words deliver a message of denial: “I’m ok, it didn’t bother me, I don’t need anyone or anything.”
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?
As a child, the books that changed my life were “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Sword in the Stone.” I believed in possibility, in moving beyond the black and white world to a place of vibrancy, where the only limitations on humanity were self-imposed, where magic was truth, and the person within walked a path of enlightenment that led to self-actualization. As a teenager, those possibilities and imagination were fed by Isaac Asimov, fantasy through O Henry and Edgar Allen Poe, and peeks into the dark side of humanity required regular bites of Psychology Today magazine and books about abnormal psychology. Today, I find myself hovering around readings that reflect the true human experience, saving fantasy and happy endings for the occasional movie (like Harry Potter).
The human animal is fascinating, and truth is much stranger, and far more interesting, than fiction. And when the hunger about human behavior and cognitive processes is filled, I may wonder what he thinks and how he behaves … after life.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
The feedback I’ve gotten from “Confessions” is that people want more of the same. I’d like to feature other workers, tell a little bit about their lives and feelings, and share their experiences, how they view them, how they feel about them. It amazes me that two people can stand in the same room and see completely different situations, so I’d like to share more of what other people think, see, and feel. I’m starting to collect bits and pieces, especially the odd stories that make you go, “What? Say that again? You’re kidding, right?” So maybe there will be a “Confessions, Part Deux.”
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
On writing: Just write. If you don’t have an outline and chapters set for your book, just write a lot of anything, and then see if you are steering yourself toward the basis for a book. I had a half-dozen essays sitting in a file for almost ten years, waiting for ‘someday’ to publish them ‘somewhere’. I continue to write things that stir me emotionally, knowing that they will eventually find a home, and even if they don’t, perhaps pieces of them can be used in something else. Make a creative file and fill it with your thoughts and feelings, even if they are one line long, a bucket of ‘mental notes on paper’ that may be diamonds in the rough.
On publishing: Find books and articles that reflect what you write about, and when you have an idea of where your book is going, contact those publishers with samples of your writing. You have a greater chance of acceptance by someone who works with your genre, and with smaller publishing companies, than with the larger publishing houses, who only accept solicited materials or works from known celebrities.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
My publisher provides lists of reviewers, interviewers, and web sites that align with my book’s subject matter, and I contact them. Exposure is everything, so I write freelance articles, provide books to Blog Reviewers, and search out my own connections, getting the book into as many hands as possible. Social networking helps, too, as with LinkedIn and Facebook, and my publisher wisely told me to use my book’s cover in everything: business cards, facebook photo, e-mail auto signature, and so on. I always keep a copy of the book with me, too, to give away, as one never knows when an opportunity may present itself.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My website offers a peek into my life, this book, and the ability to order a discounted copy at http://sherryjonesmayo.com; if a signature is desired, please make the request in the comments section of the order page (signed copies are only available through my website).
I’ve been freelancing quite a bit, so to see the latest, Google Sherry Jones Mayo.