The Paramedic Cellist

Member Spotlight

Volume CVII, No. 10October, 2007

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Local 802 member Nancy Donaruma has recently decided to retire from her position as cellist with the New York Philharmonic and become a full-time paramedic with Alamo Ambulance in Poughkeepsie. It’s such an interesting switch that Allegro decided to sit down with Donaruma and listen to her story. During the course of our interview, Donaruma spoke about creativity, teamwork and stress. Donaruma has been a professional since 1970, where she started in the New Jersey Symphony playing in the same orchestra as Mary Landolfi.

Allegro Editor Mikael Elsila: Why are you choosing to retire now and start a new career?

Nancy Donaruma: I’ve been playing music for a long time. You know, after a very long career – over 37 years – I just needed a change.

ME: And why paramedic work?

ND: I enjoy taking care of people and I’ve always been interested in medical stuff.

ME: Is there anything about that field that is disturbing?

ND: That’s a difficult question. You have a professional demeanor that you have to keep no matter how horrible the situation is. And if you see something that’s a little bit gruesome, you’re there to take care of the whole patient and whoever is around them. So you don’t focus on someone’s amputated foot or something like that. They teach you a little bit about that. You really have to just get out and do it until you’re really kind of used to it. But it doesn’t mean that you’re not sensitive or that you’re callous to it. On the contrary.

ME: I assume that you don’t go into the field unless you have a certain tolerance for that kind of energy.

ND: Well, you have to have a lot of energy, but it’s almost the same as performing.

ME: How so?

ND: Because you have be on the spot, and you have to make decisions and produce immediately in the situation.

ME: Is there creativity involved?

ND: Yes. You have to be very creative about assessing the environment that the patient comes from. Paramedics are very fortunate because we get to see how the person lives, where they live, who they live with, what their situation is. So we have a better eye for where the patient comes from than the nurse or the doctor at the hospital. Because we take the patients right out of their environment. So the creativity comes from figuring out what’s gone wrong in this environment, what we can do – especially with geriatric patients. What can we do for the person? Also, there’s a lot of creativity in terms of how we move a patient and how to improvise to keep a patient comfortable while we’re waiting for a helicopter, for example. It changes constantly.

ME: Is there teamwork involved, like in music?

ND: Oh, yes. Paramedics work with EMT’s, and there are volunteer people, there are firefighters, police that are involved in a lot of these calls. If you’re really respect each other for what they do and respect the volunteers who are doing it for nothing, and everyone gets a job – it’s a really wonderful thing. Because ultimately you have a better outcome for the patient.

ME: And you’re the front line, the ones that go into a house and pick up a patient?

ND: The buck stops with us. You really have to make the decision about the welfare of the patient over the EMT’s and over the volunteers and the firefighters. You have the most medical training on the scene.

ME: Do you have to have any bedside manner for someone who’s very upset, since you’re the first person there? Do you have to have a certain demeanor?

ND: Of course, you have the same rapport with a patient that a nurse does. You’re starting an IV on them; you’re giving them medications; you’re putting an electrocardiogram on them. You have to reassure a patient, especially a pediatric patient. The kids get so frightened, especially since many of the calls have to do with breathing problems. And so the more agitated you get a kid, the less able they are to breathe well. There’s a fine line between how much you touch them and how much you jostle them around and how much you just try to soothe them and make it to the hospital. That’s the thing: each patient is different and each situation is different and that’s what makes it so much fun because you just don’t know what you’re going to get.

ME: All of us train our whole lives to be musicians and there’s a lot of joy that comes in music. But I notice that even for myself, there’s a certain point where the fun seems to go away and you need to actually step away from music in order to increase the joy of it again. I’m wondering if that describes any aspect of why you’re stepping away.

ND: That and the commute [laughs].

ME: So it’s not so much about being burned out; music is still fun for you.

ND: It is. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m bitter or burned out. I just need a change. The Philharmonic has been really, really, really good to me for over 30 years. I’m having the most graceful change I can possibly create.