As we enter or leave this world, there are those seldom-thanked individuals that accompany us. We spoke to people who think and talk about living and dying every day


Roman Steinfelder, Rafel Bis, Lisa Schmidt, Markus Rösner

At the Samariterbund, a humanitarian organization that offers emergency medical services in Vienna, teamwork is everything. The staff is made up of volunteers, Zivildiener (male citizens doing their compulsory civilian service), and regular employees. Roman Steinfelder, 59, one of the day-shift ambulance drivers, pointed out the tight-knit nature of his team.

“It has to function, none of us are on our own, there’s only us as a unit, nothing else. It’s like a marriage, we have to get along, or else it doesn’t work.”

Rafel Bis, a member of the team, agreed. When asked how he copes with the more difficult parts of the job, the 44-year-old stressed the importance of his colleagues: “You can talk things through with them, we support each other, even the younger ones can come to us, they don’t just get thrown in at the deep end.”

Lisa Schmidt, 22, a volunteer for the past year, has been impressed by the amount she has learned from her colleagues.
“I definitely learn much more from them than in the training. For example, the symptoms are never exactly the way they’re described in the textbooks.”

Steinfelder emphasized the importance of making an Augendiagnostik – an efficient visual assessment of the patient. “This allows us to properly recognize a medical condition.”

In this regard, Schmidt has turned out to be a quick study. “We’re the connection between the home and the hospital. We see how the patients live. One patient told the doctor that she had quit smoking years ago, but I had seen an ashtray in her apartment full of fresh cigarette butts. These are things they can’t know at the hospital.”

Our fourth and youngest interviewee, 19-year-old Markus Rösner, was a relatively new Zivildiener. Although he understandably had the least to say (“I’m still getting used to everything”), his powers of observation were already keen. In a flustered moment, he was the one who noticed our recorder was still on pause.

It turns out no save is too small.

 

The most important thing I’ve learned in the past year is that death is not something bad or evil, it’s simply the end.

–Lisa Schmidt

 

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Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.