By Daniel Diner ’14

Daniel Diner '14
Major: Philosophy
Member: Amherst College Emergency Medical Services

Were someone assigned to keep daily tabs on me, their first observation would concern my sharp fluctuations in dress. I prefer to wear smart casual: Stafford wingtip shoes and oxford cotton button-downs. Of course, some days I’ll wear sweats, pretending that I will finally make it to the gym. Still other times I adhere to no coherent style convention at all. In fact, my last shopping outing came after a friend noticed me in suit pants with sneakers and a ski jacket.

But what unifies my wardrobe is a blue, horribly baggy windbreaker that I wear at least three days each week. This is my uniform for ACEMS, the student-run, student-staffed volunteer emergency medical corps that services Amherst College throughout the academic year. And while I might wish to be noticed for my collection of ties or for my prized leather jacket, I know that it’s this ill-fitting windbreaker that ultimately catches people’s attention.

Usually my temperament leans toward diffidence, but when I’m in the uniform, I feel a higher level of significance, a small sense of having authority. The ACEMS logo—the group’s name underneath a Star of Life banner—is stitched onto the front of all our apparel. The design is easily recognizable; my peers have surely noticed it on the back of an EMT pushing his way through party crowds late on a Saturday night, or on the side of an oversized medical bag being carried by an exhausted-looking ACEMS member trudging into Val on a Sunday morning.

The nature of my social interactions also changes when I put the jacket on. Other students see it and know that, should they ever need medical help, mine is the face they may see within minutes of calling the police line. Every now and then they offer a gesture that legitimizes this alien feeling of authority: a smile or nod from a former patient, an anonymous thank-you note, a phone call asking for medical advice. These signs of recognition and appreciation, however subtle, make me feel valued, respected and justified in this role. It shows me that my skills and efforts are remembered even after the call has ended.

Since my freshman year, I have held the rank of med-10, the top of the ACEMS crew hierarchy. This means that in an emergency (which may involve anything from alcohol intoxication to a respiratory attack), I am responsible for both the patient and the other two crew members. It becomes my job to manage an evaluation and decide on a treatment plan. During the course of a call, I enjoy near-complete authority. I forget any awkwardness that plagues my non-uniformed life. Any personal relationship with the patient becomes irrelevant.

For that moment, I am yielded that patient’s agency; my identity is based on how I handle that responsibility. The patient and I exist only as the manifestations of our roles. These periodic instances constitute the most intimate and rewarding experiences of community service in which I have ever taken part. There exists no more personal a method of helping someone than physically taking on the responsibility yourself.