"...and that's how a picture is worth a million words!!! Amazing"
- Firefighter, Houston
"This is amazing!!Never stop doing such amazing art!!"
- Paramedic, Perth, Australia
"Your book was given to me as a gift for my birthday about a month ago. I was so excited to get through the pages to see more pics, but I was so overcome with emotions that I have tucked away for years and years , it took me almost 2 weeks to finish it. It is the most beautiful gift I have ever been given. The way you capture images shows so much intensity, so much emotion and feeling. You get right to the heart of why I do this job and love it, and hate it, so much. The raw emotion is almost too much at times, but I also needed this reminder of how much I really do love this job. I almost gave up and threw in he towel, but after reading your book I felt so refreshed to know someone understands how intense day to day can really be. I thank you, and am looking forward to your next book !!" - Jodi Beck, EMT
"I just retired from 30 years 'on the box'. Your pictures tell the story of my office like none I've ever seen before. Great Work. Thank You!"
- Paramedic, Birmingham, UK
"Every time i see one of your amazing works of art my stomach flips, after 30 years in EMS they bring back so many memories" - Paramedic, NYC
"This brought tears to my eyes! Your work is beautiful and amazing" - RN, Toronto
I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada June 19, 1967. I've been fortunate enough to live in several countries and experience many cultures from around the world. Travel....Music....Photography...Art, throw in a little Paramedic work and Firefighting for excitement and that's me.
I'm passionate about raising mental health awareness for first responders, many of these images are based on real calls I've attended over a 15 year career as a full time paramedic and firefighter. I put a lot of emotion in my work and as you look through these images you may connect with them if you're a fellow first responder. If you've never worked in emergency services then these images will give you a glimpse into our world.
Thanks for visiting my page and feel free to use the 'contact me' link above if you would like to get in touch.
All images © 2011-2017 DanSun PhotoArt
Calm within the Storm
When disasters happen, both natural and man made, it's the first responders that run in to try and stablize the situation. Most of us even on our days off will run in and try to help.
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a correctional facility for a photo session. I had the opportunity to talk with some correction officers, nurses, paramedics and correctional service workers. The rules, dynamics, risks, and dangers are quite different here than for the rest of us.
If I need to work a cardiac arrest in a house I usually have the chance to move the patient to an area where we have lots of room to work. That’s not always the case here, the correction officers will line up outside the cell door waiting to be called to perform CPR while the nurses, paramedics and other COs attempt resuscitation. Violent assaults, suicide attempts and drug overdoses are just a few of the emergencies these men and women deal with…and more often than we realize.
It’s a different world with different rules behind these walls and most of us tend to forget or not think about what happens here. When inmates enter the facility the work is just beginning for these men and women. I have tremendous respect for these people who I consider part of the first responder family, it’s a job I could never do.
Stay safe brothers and sisters.
Here’s a recent set of images I created for OR nurses and doctors. I never really thought of the pressures these people are under. We sometimes joke how nice it must be to work in such a prepared and sterile environment versus a dirty ditch or piles of puke and poop. I had the chance to talk with some OR nurses and realized that in some cases, especially emergency surgeries, the pressure is real and as serious as it gets. When you know your patient and weren’t able to save him the pressure and emotions are sometimes unbearable.
This one is for all the nurses and surgeons working in the OR
DNR? Often I’m called to a home for a very sick patient. The first thing I do in these cases is find and read the do not resuscitate order or advance directives created by the patient. I need to know right away how far we need to go and what we can and can’t do if we need to resuscitate this patient. Sometimes there’s no paperwork but the family states their wishes to us. Other times there is paperwork and the family doesn’t want us to follow it. There’s also times when the family is present and arguing about what we should do. If there’s paperwork for us to follow then it’s easy. What’s difficult for me is when the patient is in an obvious end of life state, there’s no paper work to follow and the family wants us to “full code” their family member…and that’s what we’ll do if there’s no DNR or advanced directives. This happens a lot to emergency workers and hospital staff. If you’re a first responder I’m sure it’s happened to you too.
It’s easy for me to disconnect myself from the situation because I usually don’t know these people. I’ve never seen these really sick patients before, I’ve never met the families so it’s easy for me to think, “It’s their time, just let them go”. After being in this situation so many times I think most of us will think the same way.
We were called to very old man who was dying of a terminal illness. He didn’t have a DNR so if we had to we were going to resuscitating this patient, or at least try to. I began having the “it’s their time, just let them go” thoughts until I saw his wife. This is just another old guy dying for us but for her it’s her husband of 78 years. I noticed all the pictures on the walls of their lives together. Their kids, grand kids and great grandkids, their travels and struggles together. I saw a photo of them together when they were very young, a picture taken 30 years before I was born. This couple had a long life together and it was coming to an end. I could see the love and sadness in her eyes as she held her husband’s hand wishing he wouldn’t leave her. It was super sad and I, at that moment, understood why she didn’t have a DNR created. Remove the emotion and it’s clear to me that this patient should have had a DNR but add 94 years of a loving life together and that decision isn’t so easy. I can’t get too empathetic with my patients otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do my job but I think the next time I’m in this situation I’m going to turn my empathy up a couple notches.
Sometimes on my way to work I get anxiety from the calls that will come that day. It’s funny because I never used to feel that way. I’ve been a paramedic for 15 years and now I get anxiety? For the first 2 years as a new medic I crapped my pants every time the tones went off, then for the next 10 years I had all the confidence in the world. Now I feel my confidence slipping, why? I know it’s all in my head, I have no issues actually running calls. Maybe the anxiety is from something else, it comes and goes but when it’s there it’s just terrible. Maybe my devils in the box are just starting to overflow.
I often hear people say that suicide victims are cowardly and selfish “How could they do that to their families?” I’ve spoken with several first responders on the brink of suicide and I’ve also spoken with family and coworkers of those first responders who have ended their lives. This is what I’ve learned.
In one day I had a paramedic from England and a paramedic from New Jersey email me stating they wished for “the sweet life of suicide”. One of them told me it’s terrifying to contemplate suicide while not wanting to die. “I don’t want to leave my family but I feel there’s no other options for me”. Thankfully these two were reaching out for help but I think many don’t have the mental capacity to even know they’re in trouble. They are bombarded constantly by their demons and it only gets worse when they sleep. They need help but they’re too ashamed to ask for it, they feel they have only one option. I think a big step of getting out of that trap is to realize you’re not alone, don’t be ashamed for how you feel and seek help.
I have also heard from several family members and coworkers of suicide victims. Of this group it’s about 50/50 between anger and understanding. It’s my hope that this post pushes this group closer to understanding. PTSD changes the biology of the brain. After hearing from so many first responders who suffer from PTSD and are contemplating suicide I have no doubt they truly believe they have no other option.
There is a way back from what the military calls ‘a step sideways’. If you are reading this and you feel suicide is your only option then please call one of these numbers to receive the help you need –
USA 1-800- 273-8255
Australia 13 11 14
If you are not from one of these countries and know your national suicide help line then please add the country and number in the comments below.
Have a safe and healthy week everyone.
Most of us think about helping and treating the injured and never consider that it may be us that will need saving. I never thought about being saved by the ones we go into rescue until someone gave me the idea for this image.
Sometimes, I’m overcome with emotion…and I don’t know why.
Sometimes, I’m just so SAD…and I don’t know why.
Sometimes, I BURST into tears…and I don’t know why.
Sometimes, I get so ANGRY…and I don’t know why.
Sometimes, I just want to SCREAM!…and I don’t know why.
When did the comfort of everything will be okay evaporate into nothing?
Sometimes…I just don’t know why.
You’re not alone, reach out and get the help you need and deserve.
When I have people come to my gallery they sometimes ask me why some of my images are so graphic. This question is almost always asked by a non-first responder. They assume I’m adding the trauma and gore for a gratuitous effect.
I explain to them that this is the reality of our job. I explain to them that what they see in my work is what I actually saw on that call and in many cases it was much worse. If you are a non-first responder looking at this image imagine what this scene was like before this suicidal patient was sedated. Imagine the noise this patient made while trying to scream without a jaw, imagine trying to keep your shit together as a medic trying to save this persons life.
There’s nothing gratuitous about this image, this is what we see and this is what we do…and we love it.
I also wanted to create another image for my EMS sisters who kick ass in this job and who are just as good and in many cases better than some men I know doing this job.
Stay safe everyone.
The Grim Menace
I once had a dying patient ask me if I was death coming to take her away. I said, “No, I’m a paramedic, I’m here to help you”.
Despite our efforts she died a few minutes later in the back of our ambulance. I wonder if she thought I was death and I wonder if she felt I helped her anyway.
I always thought death was something we were trying to prevent or at least delay. On some tours it feels like I am death because that’s all we see…in some cases I’m sure death comes as a welcomed relief from the pain my patients are feeling. Sometimes it doesn't matter what we do, people just die.
Maybe death is more of a companion to paramedics rather than an enemy. Either way he’s eventually going to get his way.
Have a safe week everyone
Respectfully...and feeling a bit melancholy today,
My mind is always racing. I try to keep it controlled but I often find it’s on its own thinking about seemingly random things. A Buddhist monk would say I have a ‘Monkey Mind’. It’s not so bad except for when I sleep. At night it’s no longer restrained by my conscious mind and it’s allowed to run amok. I rarely sleep well and often when I wake I’m overcome with a feeling of dread. Luckily I can’t remember but know in the evening my brain was overflowing with nightmares.
I’ve been told a mind that never stops is a common symptom creative people share, is that it? Then why the nightmares? Could this be a result of 15 years working on the ambulance? I’m curious if any other paramedics, fire fighters or police officers have this problem.
This image shows an angel telling a paramedic to just relax, it’s going to be okay, I’ve got your back. Chill the f*** out!
I crave solitude
I crave a peaceful mind
I crave a good nights sleep
I crave silence and peace of mind
The False Okay
I’m feeling a bit dark today so if you’re in a good mood maybe just stop reading here, I don’t want to ruin your day.
When I was younger my older brother, who I love dearly, would put his hand an inch from my face and say, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you”. It drove me crazy and he thought it was hilarious. It was all good fun and only lasted for seconds but the point is it was mental torture. I know there are people spending their days pretending everything is normal. They wake up with a pit in their stomach from a night of their brains running free while they sleep. They drag themselves out of bed and wonder how they’re going to make it through the day. They drive to work hoping nothing serious happens because they don’t know if they’ll be able to handle it. They make their way through the day faking it to everyone around them, pretending everything is okay while they are on the verge of losing it all. “How’s your day going?” “It’s great! how about you?” Do people really want to know how your day is going? What would happen if you really told them? If you’re reading this and thinking, how does he know exactly how I’m feeling? It’s because the way you’re feeling is not unique to you, many feel this way.
The trick is to realize you’re not alone and to get help. This isn’t something you have it’s something that happened to you. Rid your demon before it rids you. Call 1 888 288 8036 or 1-206 459 3020 to get help now. If you’re reading this and thinking, this guy is a loser and really shouldn't be a paramedic, I feel totally fine and I’ve never felt that way. Know that you have coworkers that are probably not okay and watch for them. You don’t want to find your partner dead in the ambulance from an overdose and tell yourself you had no idea he was sick. Here’s a link to some information and ways to recognize and help a coworker you may think is suffering from a mental health issue.
There are many of you that may think I’m sensationalizing PTSD and only mention the dark side of EMS. Many more of you are believers in the negative stigma when it comes to mental health among emergency workers. “You knew what you were getting yourself into, get back to work!” “If you can’t handle it do something else” Well, here’s something for you to ponder. This year in Canada 14 paramedics, 2 firefighters, 1 corrections officer, 9 police officers and 5 military personnel have taken their lives. According to Stats Canada 11.5 per 100,000 people in the general population commit suicide. For Paramedics in 2015 it was 47.16 per 100,00 people. I’m trying to raise awareness so that someone who feels like the medic in this image realizes they’re not alone and hopefully decides not to fill their veins with narcotics and sleep forever.
Getting back to my brother’s “I’m not touching you” game, image something doing that to you for years and never quitting. No matter what you did you couldn’t make it stop and the torture only intensified when you slept. How many years could you handle it? what options would you think you had to make it stop? The answer is to call a friend and have them beat the shit out of this mind game. Have a safe week everyone. Take care of yourself and your fellow coworkers.
We recently worked a cardiac arrest where a woman collapsed while enjoying a dinner her husband of 50 years prepared for her. When we arrived he was doing CPR on her in the middle of the kitchen floor while following the instructions given to him on the phone by the dispatcher. Other family members were in the living room in a state of unbelief and worry, they greeted us with such relief. People seem to think when we arrive we’re going to save the day and everything will be okay.
While trying to resuscitate this woman her husband was stepping over us to clear the dinner table and began washing the dishes. I could see in his face that he knew his wife was gone yet he continued on as if it hadn’t happened, he even offered me some dinner while I was trying to locate her vocal chords with my laryngoscope to intubate her. He then started to show us their wedding pictures while we were in the middle of performing CPR, starting a second line and pushing our meds.
The mind is an amazing defence mechanism. This poor man knew what the outcome would be yet he continued on as if this was a regular occurrence in his home. We tried to resuscitate his wife and worked through every protocol we had but it was pointless, it was just her time, her initial rhythm was asystole and it never changed.
I sat him down in another room and explained to him that despite our best efforts his wife was dead, one of the worst parts of my job. Thankfully our Victim Services unit arrived and took over care for the family. We packed up our things, cleaned up our garbage and returned to our station. Just another routine cardiac arrest for us but a life changing and horrific evening for that family and that poor man.
Have a good and safe week everyone. For all of you who will have to tell someone their family member has died this week know that myself and 80% of the people who have seen this post have been there and you’re not alone, we’re with you.
Respectfully your brother,
Where I’m from the average career span for a paramedic is 7 years. At that point we usually move on to something else in a similar field or take advantage of the many doors that have opened up for us. Many of us just quit and move onto something completely different. I’ve been a paramedic for 14 years and looking back on my time I’ve noticed I’ve gone through distinct stages as I’ve moved through the years.
As a new graduate medic I had a huge sense of accomplishment and along with that came an arrogant sense of superiority. That quickly vanished after a few hot calls where I had no idea what to do, this is where I learned to appreciate an experienced EMT partner, they've saved my butt sever times. For the next two years I lived in a state of fear as I cringed every time the tones went off. Eventually by years 3 – 7 I felt comfortable in my responsibilities of being the paramedic on my ambulance.
After year 7 even hot calls became mundane and it seemed nothing could get me excited about my job anymore. As the years went by my ‘know it all’ attitude began being replaced with ‘the more you know the more you realize you don’t know’ mindset. The tragedy and hardship started building up to point where I fear I’m on the doorstep of becoming an old burned out medic.
My question to all the EMT’s and Medics who have over 15 – 20 years under their belt is what happens now? How did you get past the burned out stage of this job. How do you still recognize the fun and excitement after doing this for so many years? I would really like to know.
Have a safe week everyone.
Portraits of an Emergency - Art Book
Portraits of an Emergency
This art book is a collection of images created by firefighter, paramedic, and artist Daniel Sundahl. The creation of these images provides a rare insight to the mental toll faced in the world of emergency services. Many of these images originate from real emergencies attended by the artist, and help serve as a creative outlet in processing the terrible scenes he has witnessed. Book design is by the artist with emphasis on a visual experience for the reader.
DanSun Photo Art Scholarship Fund
A portion of the proceeds from this book will be used to create a scholarship fund to help send people to the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation's annual congress. At this congress the attendees will attend presentations on critical incident stress management and learn ways to best deal with these events for themselves and their fellow coworkers.