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In my former job, I worked in an ER. I remember a short lecture that was given by a trauma surgeon regarding our efforts in patient care. Similar to the “Do no harm” motto that medical professionals live by, the central theme of his lecture was, “Every time you touch the patient, the patient gets better.” He went on to explain how moving a broken leg should improve circulation and reduce pain etc. Despite my personality conflict with this doctor, I learned a great lesson from him that I have carried with me ever since. 


In short, all actions should improve a given situation. In rare occasions, despite best efforts, de-escalation fails and force is needed to protect oneself or others.  As an EMT and an Armed Security guard, I still carry that lesson with me everywhere I go. Perhaps this is why I carry pepper spray. 


Pepper spray generates quite a bit of discomfort. In many cases, simply displaying a can of spray is enough to deter using it. However when it is used, it can be fight ending. In terms of medical complications, exposure to pepper spray is uncomfortable and very irritating. However it has an extremely low risk for long term complications. In short, pepper spray alone is not a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of someone who is exposed. In other types of force, even a shove, a person could trip and fall which additional injuries could result. Pepper spray alone is safe and very effective.


One of the factors often overlooked when using pepper spray is that if the threat is stopped by the spray, the force used was limited to the spray can. If a person uses hands on physical force, that force can be interpreted in a subjective way.  How hard was that punch? How hard was that shove? 


These are all questions that can be asked every time force is used however one thing remains obvious but is not often thought about. If you use only the pepper spray, you can’t make it hurt more. Objectively you cannot generate more “force” that what is inherently within the can. Everyone knows that not all punches are of the same force. A professional boxer can punch significantly harder than I can. In the same way not all kicks hurt the same. 


The pain of the pepper spray is limited to the can itself. Anyone can deploy it and no one can make it hurt more. Given that it is a non-lethal option and that it has the potential to stop a threat, it should be considered as a viable option to deter or stop a physical altercation.


In short, avoid physical confrontation and deescalate conflicts verbally when possible. When force is not avoidable, consider using pepper spray as a viable alternative. The goal is not to injure others. It is to help others including the aggressor. 


Safety is the mark of a true professional and while injuries occur and are sometimes unavoidable, we should make every effort to ensure the safety of everyone in every situation we find ourselves in. Our goal should be similar to the lesson given by that doctor. In every situation we are in, that situation gets better.  

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