Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project – #3 Celebrate Coaches

Left to right – CSL EMS: Scott Johnston, the late great Barry Tottle, Naomi Cherow, Larry Rinzler, Rick Liebmann, Evan Savelson, JD Silver, Dawna Hobbs, Arnold Zwaig – and yes, yours truly

A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day. #3 Celebrate Coaches

Has it really been more than a decade since the late great Barry Tottle died? He was one of the all-time EMS Coaches and his far-too-early departure serves as a reminder to Celebrate our Coaches while they can still enjoy the well-deserved accolades in the company of the people they care most about.

I read this piece at Barry’s funeral. Seems like only yesterday.

My guess is that God was making preparations for the arrival of the Rocket [Maurice ‘the Rocket’ Richard] Saturday evening. He must have figured he’d need the best paramedic to man the bench in Heaven. Someone who was salt-of-the-earth and didn’t believe in any middle ground in emergency medical care. Either you were trying to save lives or you weren’t. Simple as that. And so Barry Tottle answered the call. He always answered the call.

I spent the better part of the last few days reminiscing about life with Barry Tottle and what made him such an excellent paramedic. My friend Keith Driscoll with the South Australian Ambulance Service in Adelaide helped put these thoughts in order.

How do you measure a ‘good paramedic’? Is it by the number of protocols, by the number of hours in training, by the number of skills they have, by the number of cases they have attended, by the number of years on the job? Or is it better measured by not how many protocols they have but how they apply their knowledge, not the number of hours but the quality of education, not the number of skills but the ability to choose when to apply them, not the number of cases but the number of satisfied patients and families, not the number of years but the wisdom they have accumulated.

Barry Tottle joined Cote Saint-Luc EMS in 1994 and was the driving force behind our extremely successful education program. He was a paramedic, an educator, a mentor, and a coach. And he was a very good friend.

Barry was responsible for the education of many of our paramedics, myself included. He was my instructor all those years ago [1979] when paramedics were taught at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He saw through the teenaged rebellion and bravado and helped me realize my dream of becoming a street medic. He taught us to focus on the needs of the patient in the face of any and all other distractions.

Ask the patient how they measure a good paramedic and what would they reply? Would it be a paramedic who was able to get a 16-gauge cannula into an 18-gauge vein? Or would it be someone who knew when to make the call between Adrenaline and Atropine? Or would it be a paramedic who could diagnose a myocardial infarction from a three-lead ECG?

More likely they will say it is someone who created order from chaos with a confident, professional approach at a time when their world had been shattered. Someone who, with little fanfare, delivered the treatment and care needed, instilled confidence and trust that allowed a complete stranger to take control of their life and ask intimate questions with an assured confidentiality. And at the same time, put the dog out back, collected the slippers from under the bed, left a note for the relatives and locked the front door before transporting them to the hospital.

That was Barry Tottle. When he wasn’t volunteering his time in Cote Saint-Luc and elsewhere, Barry was a lieutenant with the Pointe Claire Fire Department and a part-time paramedic with Urgences Sante [Montreal EMS]. More important than his life with EMS was his life at home. He was a caring and devoted husband to Evelyn and an involved dad to Jason.

Barry Tottle understood that by aggressively asserting his right to take over a scene and patient he may have won that day’s battle, but in so doing discouraged the other party from seeking his help in the future. He was a quiet provider of care. He waged his battles in the classroom, continually striving to improve his students’ knowledge and understanding of emergency medical care.

Barry Tottle died when his failing heart finally gave out on him early last Saturday morning. His passion for caring had carried him as far as it could. His dedication to EMS will live on with each new generation of medics. His simple philosophy of treating the patient as if he/she was family forms the central core of everything we do.

Be well, Barry Tottle. Practice big medicine.


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