Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! My name is Dawn Paul and I’m 33 years old. I love hearing and telling stories, and a question as simple as where I’m from will be shaped into a tale. My parents were missionaries in Guatemala, so I was born in Missoula on medical leave, but at 2 months old, my parents returned to serve the Lord in Latin America. My early memories center around open air markets, standing on Mayan ruins, and singing Spanish songs. I left Guatemala just before my eighth birthday and went through a severe case of culture shock. Not everyone in my life spoke Spanish anymore. The bars I had on the house windows in Guatemala City were replaced by a large open knapweed field in Western Montana. I do know that my cross cultural up bringing gave me a fervent love of other cultures, languages, food, and people. Even my living room is decorated with an assortment of maps, reminding me of how big and beautiful the world is.
I am single, but still looking for Mr. Wonderful. Anyone know a nice man, mid-thirties, tall, handsome, who passionately loves Jesus? Anyone? I worry sometimes that he may never appear, but as one of my favorite movies says, “I won’t let it worry me into marryin’ the wrong one.” Being single for longer than the average bear has been hard as I have watched countless friends become engaged, walk down the aisle, have kids, and culture a family. But being single has also afforded me the opportunities to travel the world, invest in my education, and dig deeply into who I am as an individual. Also, the fight as to which direction the toilet paper roll goes on the holder is a non-issue in my world.
Currently, I live in Helena and work as a paramedic. When the citizens of Lewis and Clark County call 911 for a medical emergency, I’m one of the folks who come to their door. Some days, this fact is a scary prospect. No matter what type of emergency the dispatcher throws at me, I respond; sometimes with knees knocking, but 90% of EMS is convincing the room I know what I’m doing, even if I have NO IDEA!
But after almost eight years of pounding the pavement in EMS, I find myself on the verge of a transition. Emergency medical service is the best/worst job in the world, but it is a young person’s game. If you look around, you don’t see old paramedics. Their knees give out; their backs give out; or the columniation of calls finally takes its toll and they can’t do it anymore. In this knowledge, and while I still desperately love being a paramedic, starting in July, I will begin my Master’s degree to become a Physician’s Assistant. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited. A small amount of enthusiasm exists for my upcoming change, but mostly I kind of wanna barf on my shoes. I look at how a PA practices medicine, and then I look at what I know about medicine as a paramedic and the gap feels insurmountable. The next 26 months will be a lesson in how to drink water from a fire hose.
In my “off” time, I love watching the light bulb radiate with understanding over a student’s head, so I do a fair amount of teaching, both EMS curriculum and chemistry. I also volunteer as a firefighter for East Valley Rural Fire Dept. But in those rare moments I have to myself, I will invariably have a pan or a book in my hand. Cooking or loosing myself in the wonders of a good book washes away the dust from my soul.
Not many can say this, but you literally save lives. Tell us about your job and what drew you to it?
Ready for another story? Here goes…
I’ve always been fascinated by the human body, how it all fits and works together to create the picture of life. As a child, my mother’s hands suffered over and over again for hours as I traced every vein, tendon, and bone, entertaining myself through the “grown up” meetings and gatherings. For a long time, I thought I was going to be a doctor. I went to Carroll College, majoring in Chemistry and Biology, the foundation to all the processes of the human body. At the end of my Junior year I took the MCAT, the entrance exam into medical school. It didn’t go so well. I remember talking to God. “I thought medicine is what you wanted me to do! What am I supposed to do now?”
That next week, I went to a discussion about Physician’s Assistant school, what PA’s were able to accomplish in the practice of medicine, and the undergraduate classes necessary to apply. But then I heard the other shoe drop; every school required a specific number of hours of hands on, actual patient experience. I had no hours of patient contact, no contacts in medicine, and no license to even begin.
The fastest, quickest license I could find was an EMT-Basic through the U of M-Helena. One assignment for this class was to spend an evening with the local ambulance crew. Around midnight, the two paramedics responded to a young man in seizure. As we drove back, lights and sirens at full bore, I held the contorting, rigid patient on the cot as the paramedic started an IV and gave the patient a dose medicine. The seizure stopped, and I saw the edge of my personal rabbit hole, not knowing how deep it would go. I knew I wanted to be a paramedic.
I moved to Indiana and after a year and a half of school, gained my license as a paramedic. While in Indiana, I got to work in the huge hospital system of Indianapolis and the surrounding area, honing my skills. Even after almost eight years of working in EMS, no two patients or days are alike and each has a nugget of wisdom to share. I love my job! My experiences and the people I stand alongside to accomplish them are precious to me.
I can tell you the symptoms of 100 diseases; recite drug calculations in my sleep, intubate, defibrillate, medicate, and continue CPR. I can deal with a multi-victim trauma, coax a frightened elderly person to unlock their door and go to the hospital, and comfort a patient’s family. I am humbled by the fact that parents entrust their most precious gift, their children, to me, a total stranger. I get to hear stories from WWII veterans. I watch helicopters land in the middle of nowhere to transport patients to the hospital. But the reason I do my job? Little kid hugs. They’re amazing.
So many say, “You literally save lives.” I have a tendency to shake it off. “It’s my job,” I rationalize. Other jobs require rearing children, educating the inexperienced, preparing food, or defending the innocent. Each of those jobs is just as important. But, I have to say, there are three people in Lewis and Clark Co. that were dead when I first met them. As in not breathing, no pulse, dead. Each of them walked out of the front door of the hospital. There is no drug that compares to the high of a patient telling you through tears, “Do you know what you did? You saved my life.”
What makes you feel like you’ve had a successful day?
A successful day is where I can put my head on the pillow and say, “I did my best.” A platitude to be sure, but it really is my barometer for a successful day. This mantra has been particularly true as a paramedic. The calls and patients I struggle with the most are those that I look back on and wish I would have done something different or better. Emergencies happen. People are injured, sick, or dying. But, if I have done my best, then I make a difference. Pain is managed, nausea is mitigated, fears are dispelled, and I get to hold the hand of the person passing into eternity saying, “It’s ok. You can let go. I’ve got you.”
What is one of your favorite quotes?
So many of my favorite quotes come from books and stories, especially from kid’s books. I could quote them for hours. But I’ll limit it to three:
“Promise me you’ll always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. ”—Christopher Robin to Pooh, A.A. Milne
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” —Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”—-The Lorax, Dr. Seuss
As I look across the book shelves that line the walls of my house, there are a couple names that stick out. Rudyard Kipling has been a friend since childhood. C.S. Lewis always has some bit of wisdom or truth to share with me. Patrick Rothfuss and Jim Butcher have become recent acquaintances, joining their friend Christopher Paolini. And no paragraph would be complete without my favorite philosopher…Dr. Seuss.
What about music?
Music plays a huge role in my life. I play the piano regularly, and still pick up my French horn from time to time. A car ride feels “empty” if I don’t have music playing. I think if I didn’t have music to either listen to or play, I would lose my little mind.
Some of my favorite music is classical, especially Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. I also listen to a fair amount of movie scores, which I would consider the modern day version of classical music. I’ve been on a Broadway musical fling for a good while now too. There really isn’t much of any type of music that I can’t listen to for at least a little while.
Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
Well, that list goes on for pages. There are hundreds of thousands of places I would like to travel and visit. And after I’ve seen them, I want to go see them again.
One of the top destinations, however, is Africa; specifically the South Eastern part of the Dark Continent (Tanzania, Kenya, even South Africa.) I want to see elephants, giraffes, gazelles, lions, and cheetahs. I want to see how their history has shaped their culture. I want to eat mufungo and chicken in peanut sauce. I see myself one day going on a medical missions trip to Africa. Someday I’ll get there. I know I will.
Describe one of your happiest memories.
The time I spent living in Indiana was rough. I moved out there to expound on a romantic relationship with a young man. I moved and we split up three months later. Indiana was flat; it was hot; it was humid; all things Montana is not. I spent a considerable amount of time feeling alone and unwanted, like a bloodied sheep on the battlefield of life. I can look back on my time now and appreciate what I learned, but my teacher was from the school of hard knocks. I desperately wanted to move back to Montana, more than anything else that I have ever wanted in my life.
I blanketed the Northwest with pieces of paper with my name on it saying, “Please hire me!” But the answer was “no” for three years. But, when I finally accepted that I was to remain in Indiana, that’s when the phone call came. I was offered a job as a paramedic in the one place more than any other I wanted to return to: Helena, Montana. There is a reason so many books and movies center around the going home theme. To know you are going home is intoxicating. Hearing that I was returning to the place I knew so well, to friends and family who had stood beside me in the struggle, and doing a job that fulfilled my dreams and desires, I soared….for months! I get to do a job I love in a place I love with people I love. That makes me the happiest girl in the world.
If you could pick anyone to be your mentor, who would you choose?
I struggled for a long time to think of a name everyone would know. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Elizabeth Elliot, Jesse Owens… who should I choose?
I feel like I’ve been lucky enough to have one of my mentors in my life already. I simply wish our time could have been drawn out even longer. Mr. Clint Morey was the principle at Valley Christian School, where I graduated, more years ago than I sometimes want to admit. When I hear of someone being wise, I think of Mr. Morey. He not only was very knowledgeable, he held a deep seated wisdom. He served as my basketball couch, as well as a teacher for several of my classes. He was an amazing story teller, drawing his audience in, having them hang on his every word. He had a knowledge of medicine from his time serving in the military, and because of that, fueled in me my love of medicine. He challenged me to do the best at what I tasked myself with; not what was someone else’s best, my best. He was unfailing kind and always had a spark of joy behind his eyes. But above all, Mr. Morey loved God.
One day, I was suffering with a terrible sinus infection that had traveled into my eyes. I was a red eyed, runny nose, ear clogged mess. Attending my fitness class, I looked in the mirror of the weight room, saying under my breath, “You look like something out of a horror film.” Mr. Morey, hearing this, replied, “Yes, you do!” Mortified at his response, he explained to me his reasoning. “You see, in every horror movie there is a beautiful woman that the monster chases after. If the monster chased after an ugly person, no one would care. So, you do look like a character out of a horror movie.”
What do you value most in a friendship?
Faithfulness. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love being a paramedic. I value steadfastness and being tenacious.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
Teleportation, hands down. I could visit friends and family at the drop of a thought. Planning time off for holidays and birthdays would be a non-issue. I could see the beautiful places and people of the world that National Geographic only hints at. Pad Thai in Thailand….done. St. Peter’s Basilica….marked off the list. Hike part of the Great Wall of China….that’s my plan this Saturday.
When do you feel the most yourself?
My moments come usually in the afternoons, while sitting in the ambulance office. My EMS family is remarkable. Goodness knows that we fight like cats and dogs. Each of us knows the buttons to push to drive the other crazy. But there is nothing that we wouldn’t do for each other. We’ve seen each other on the best and worst days. No time of day is off limits for a phone call or to ask for help. I am the most myself when my “family” comes together; when we laugh, rib each other, and recount old stories and memories. That is my moment!
Coffee or tea?
Milk! Coffee and tea are yummy and all, but milk is where it’s at. I drink a gallon every two days or so. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, my faithful cup of milk is right there with me. I drink it as a snack; I drink it as a meal. I love milk!
Chocolate or vanilla?
Introvert or extrovert?
I used to think I was an extrovert, but as I have grown older, I have discovered that I am a hard core introvert.
Rural or urban?
Rural, with limited access to urban.
Dress up or dress down?
Dress up. I wear a uniform to work almost every day, so dressing up makes something mundane an extraordinary occasion. Even just jeans and a nice shirt with a fun pair of shoes will make me feel confident and special.
Cats or dogs?
I grew up with dogs, but currently I have a cat, so I say BOTH. But the cat plays fetch and drools when she’s happy, making her very dog-like.
Sunrise or sunset?
Sunset. I think mornings are a terrible way to start EVERY SINGLE DAY. Afternoons and nights are so much better! I do not live up to my namesake, and would dearly love if I never had to face another morning ever again. Alas, my vocation requires shift work, so I have had a chance to enjoy several very beautiful sunrises….and they’re pretty nifty.
Detailed or abstract?
Classic or modern?
Hardcore classic. Honestly, sometime I wonder why modern anything exists.
Call or text?
I lean more towards text, but anymore than four of them from one person in a timeframe, and I’m pickin’ up the phone.
Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction is always my go to, but as I transition back into school, non-fiction textbooks will be my reading material world.
Salty or Sweet?
Salty with smatterings of sweet, please. For example, I could drown myself in a bowl of chips and salsa, but I always want a small piece of chocolate at the end.
What do you love most about Montana?
Montana has the best people. Through my job, I get to meet the populace from every walk of life. Wealthy, poor, veteran, civilian, old, young, famous, ordinary….and many more besides; and many times I see them on their worst day. Montanans as a whole are independent, loving, hardworking, thankful folk. We smile at each other at gas stations, wave at each other on back roads, and helping someone in need is second nature. Montana has the best people!
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
The summer of 2015 was particularly awful in world of 911/emergency services. We saw record numbers of deaths and traumatic injuries. Several of us in public safety were “red lining out” as the phrase goes. Indeed, those individuals who volunteer to provide emotional support found themselves in need of a debriefing, simply because they had debriefed so many other hurting people.
It was in this emotional environment that I responded to a two vehicle accident near Augusta in early August. I arrived on scene to find 8 patients, three of whom had died in the accident. With two ambulances, two helicopters, as well as a small army of volunteer firefighters, law enforcement officers, and several bystanders, the other 5 patients were transported to the hospital, and are alive today. I was the paramedic on scene, and felt like the responsibility for the management of a truly horrific scene rested on my shoulders.
This accident cut hard into the fibers of my being. I cried….a lot. I struggled with the choices I made on scene in the heat of the moment. Very lovingly, very gently, my boss sent me home from work the next day because I couldn’t do the job. Someone told me later, “Maybe you couldn’t do the job because you’d done it all the day before.” Walking through the emotional aftermath of that call was one of the hardest experiences of my life as I battled with a job I loved passionately, but at the same time had the power to break me in half.
The support I got from my co-workers and friends was unbelievable. So many of them crawled into my dark hole figuratively saying, “I’ve been in this hole before, and you don’t need to be alone. Plus, I know the way out.” As I write this, tears stream down my face, but I can once again honestly say, “I have the greatest job in the world.”
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
Throughout my life, I have been deeply and unconditionally loved. At every phase, I can think of someone who has desperately loved me. Whether friends, colleagues, coworkers, teachers, peers, or family, each has done it, and done it well. A small little paragraph makes it sound quaint, but I really am dumbfounded and grateful for those individuals in my life who have loved me.
But above all the others, I find myself saying the phrase, “My Daddy upstairs loves me! I don’t know why, but He really does love me” over and over again. I grew up singing “Jesus loves me this is know/For the Bible tells me so.” Only recently have I started to dig into this profound truth. I will never understand it, but it is the best, warmest blanket I wrap myself into every night….along with my book and my glass of milk!