I could be. In other words, I wasn’t running
toward anything, I was running away.
My need for success left a lot of damage in
its path. I hurt a lot of people. Regardless of my
title, I never could accept who I had become. I
often told my friends that being called “doctor”
was great for about three weeks. It was what I
did, but not who I was. Underneath, I was still
a public safety professional, and I wanted so
badly to find my way back.
THE FINAL TURNING POINT
Undiagnosed and untreated, the PTSD I
was experiencing surfaced several years after
I became a husband and father. I felt I was experiencing blessings that were far beyond those
I deserved. I was a physician, yet I remained
alone and isolated.
At the same time, I became so consumed
with discovering my new identity that I lost
sight of my family and my marriage was in
trouble. My wife insisted that I seek help and
I reluctantly agreed.
While sitting in the psychologist’s office
on my first visit, he asked me why I continued to spit on his floor. I was startled and realized I had nothing in my mouth except for
the taste of blood. It hit me. I was spitting to
get rid of blood—the blood that was ejected
into my mouth the day I sustained those horrible injuries.
I began to talk more about my symptoms.
After being diagnosed with P TSD, I was finally
able to begin the recommended treatment. I
had the support and understanding of my family doctor who had also served as a colonel in
the U.S. Army reserve. It helped me tremendously and made me realize that acceptance
was the major hurdle that I needed to confront
So here I was, professionally back on top of
the mountain but still facing the continued fear
of losing everything once again. With help, my
symptoms had become manageable and my life
was improving. I felt safer and more protected. I
felt like I finally belonged again, and that I now
had a chance to keep and honor those promises I made in my deepest, darkest moments.
LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD
Early this year I received a phone call from
JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman. He’d
heard my story from my colleagues at the
National Registry, and asked me to present
the keynote address at the EMS Today Con-
ference being held in Salt Lake City. It took
some encouragement, but I agreed to do it. I
thought it would be good way to thank my
During our conversation, A.J. asked if I
would be willing to include photos of my injuries and exhibit how the surgeons used a few
of my ribs to restore my hand to a functional
level and allow me to become a successful EMS
physician. He added that telling my complete
story might offer me the opportunity to further
heal. I told him I would consider it.
I had never looked at the hospital photos
taken of the injuries I sustained that day. I was
terrified that I may see something that I couldn’t
mentally handle. I struggled with the decision,
and it wasn’t until one week prior to my presentation at EMS Today that I finally looked
at them. I accepted that my experience would
still remain whether I saw the photos or not.
Shortly before I stepped on stage in Salt
Lake City, I discovered something I had been
searching for: the reason why my story was
important to tell. It came down to three sim-
ple words: “Am I worthy?”
Am I worthy of all the blessings and acts of
kindness I’ve received in my life? Did I honor
all of those who gave so much? I decided to
simply thank and acknowledge everyone in
attendance, and that’s exactly what I did.
The presentation at EMS Today became
the best 50 minutes of my life. Everything
I’d feared for all of those years was out in the
open. Nobody hated me for my accident and
my departure from law enforcement. I didn’t
have to be ashamed or embarrassed about the
truth of my life.
It helped me tremendously and for that
I’m truly grateful to A.J., JEMS publisher
MaryBeth De Witt, the Penn Well staff and,
most of all, those of who were in attendance
when I spoke on the afternoon of Feb. 23, 2017,
in Salt Lake City.
I returned from the conference and found
that my wife and daughters had seen my presentation on JEMS.com. My oldest daughter
told me she learned more about me during that
presentation than she’d ever known.
It’s extremely difficult for those of us who
save others to save ourselves. We never ask for
or accept help and if we do, we wonder what
will be said if we admit fear or pain.
If you want to experience faith, grace—even
God—ask for help from those you trust most
and offer it to those closest to you. You’ll find
a path toward grace, but you must also be willing to face the pain and potential embarrassment that may come with it. It’s your story
and your experience. As painful as it may be,
sincere people will understand and accept you
for who you are.
I’m thankful every day for this gift of healing as well as the grace of those around me
and the opportunity to climb to the top of my
L. Michael Peterson, DO, is a board certified emergency
medicine physician, a critical care transport paramedic and
certified medical transport executive. He’s the medical director
of the paramedic training program for Mount-West Community and Technical College as well as the medical director for
HealthNet Aeromedical Services—a shared service of Cabell
Huntington Hospital, Charleston Area Medical Center and West
Virginia University Hospital. He’s a core faculty member for
the emergency medicine residency program at Charleston
Area Medical Center and serves as the program’s emergency
medicine clerkship director.
Watch an exclusive video clip from the 2017 EMS Today keynote presentation by author L. Michael Peterson,
DO, in the digital edition of this issue.
Bonus video: Dr. Peterson’s keynote address at EMS Today 2017.