Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #34 Don’t become a human sacrifice

A nugget of EMS organizational wisdom every day. #34 Don’t become a human sacrifice

Have you ever considered Condition White?

Condition White is the lowest end of the mental awareness spectrum developed by American law enforcement shooting instructor Jeff Cooper. Condition White, according to the disciples of Cooper, is a state of near total relaxation – when you are blissfully unaware of your immediate surroundings. For that reason, Condition White is a leave-at-home mental status thing for on-duty street medics. Condition White is life-threatening in a world gone grey.

Working the streets as a medic changed forever for me after I was hauled out of my ambulance and beaten badly by an alcohol-fueled mob hopped-up on the heat and humidity of a late-summer Montreal heatwave. Sylvain and I had rolled on an ‘undetermined’ call that should have been dispatched as a ‘human sacrifice’ call. We rolled right up to that address on Notre-Dame Street Ouest and were immediately surrounded by a roiling angry crowd of people who had worked themselves into a violent frenzy before someone called 911 screamed and hung up.

With nothing but a hellish soundtrack to go on, the call was dispatched as an undetermined emergency to the police and EMS. Unfortunately, we were closer than any of the responding police units.

With no common sense to intervene and authority-figure-confusion running rampant, the mob overwhelmed our ambulance and within seconds I was pulled out into the street and assaulted. Sylvain had time to call for emergency assistance and then he was in turns fending off attackers and protecting me from further injury. I ended up prone on the street as our police back-up flooded the scene.

I was left with a facial injury and the lingering feeling that I could have done something different to avoid the encounter or to have altered the outcome. I sought out the advice of Tony Blauer. Tony is a martial arts practitioner who created the Chu Fen Do street defense system and, at the time, had a small gym on Pare Street in Montreal. His system was developed for police officers but he was warm and welcoming and accepted me as one of his students.

Tony taught me the importance of letting go of everything but the immediacy of the moment. His teachings reinforced the idea that avoidance was the preferred option and he provided multiple strategies for analyzing the threat level of an ongoing situation. Tony taught me – my words here – that if avoidance was impossible, welcome the assault with an embrace of my own, and then escape. His insistence on constant drills created a series of mental index cards that he predicted would become essential and instinctive reading material for my mind in times of mortal danger.

He was right.

Years later on a call for an EDP [emotionally disturbed person] assist to the police on a street corner, the patient surprised everyone by successfully grabbing a police officer’s sidearm. She raised it and swung it in an arc that would eventually end up at my face-level. I slipped into some long-dormant persona. Time slowed down to a crawl. As the gun continued its now-slow-motion journey towards me, I reached for the patient’s hand. I welcomed the assault with an embrace of my own and successfully disarmed the patient in a single fluid motion that left my partner, and the two cops in open-mouth breathless wonder. The patient was down with only a minor injury to her elbow. The gun was safe. And we were all still alive.

Tony Blauer taught me how to avoid becoming a human sacrifice.

Di and I will celebrate 19 years of marriage on Tuesday. Emma and Sophie are 13-years-old and a wonder to behold. They light up a room with their smiles.

Thank you, Tony.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


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