Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #50 Kick at the darkness…

A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #50 Kick at the darkness…*

Welcome to the 50th episode of The Positive Paramedic Project.

I started The Positive Paramedic Project after receiving yet another letter, e-note, or phone call rejecting my application for an EMS posting.

I am sorry I can’t remember which one drove me over the edge. I do know it was after I had sent out a couple of thousand [yes, thousand] letters of intro and more than a hundred applications for positions that seemed to represent a good fit for a person with my collection of skills and wisdom.

Often, I didn’t receive any word at all. No email, no letter, no phone call. I’d make a follow-up call and the human resources manager would seem incredulous that I hadn’t taken the hint in the first place. They were far too busy to tell people who didn’t get the job that they didn’t get the job. “What are you thinking?” one HR director asked me.

More than a few times in Quebec I was told my french-language skills weren’t up to par. That must have been difficult to ascertain given the fact that no one actually talked to me.

I  did have one interview.

I wore the same shirt, tie and jacket I wore to the White House for luck. I answered questions in English and French. I thought it went reasonably well but I was informed the interview was a legal requirement of the hiring process and my application wouldn’t actually be considered for the post. In the end, they decided not to hire anyone at all. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to travel very far for that interview.

One of the final straws came with a note from a HR recruiting firm that said, in part “it has come to our attention, that you are perceived as having an inconvenient voice in the emergency medical services world. Your steadfast, vocal and very effective advocacy on behalf of patients and paramedics has contributed to making your file difficult to handle. With this note, we will be closing said file. We wish you all the best in your future...”


I wallowed briefly in self-pity, toyed with a future as an apprentice cabinet maker, and then ultimately decided to follow the advice of Bethany College classmate Jeff Lampson who is a successful career coach based near Columbus OH.

Jeff reminded me that I am articulate, positive, bright and a seriously creative writer. Among the key strategies he suggests for his clients is journaling – getting your thoughts out of your head and putting them into words. I’m not sure The Positive Paramedic Project is exactly what Jeff had in mind when he suggested keeping a journal but it has worked wonders for me.

I like the idea of forcing myself to write almost every day. There’s a certain discipline required to sit down and transform thoughts into keystrokes. Somewhere, Dr. Larry Grimes is smiling. And I’m loving the idea that the big medicine wisdom I’ve collected over the years has found a new life, new purpose, and new users.

The feedback from readers has been gratifying, heartwrenchingly sad, haunting, and filled with personal insights about life as an EMS provider.

I think if you have been an EMS provider for a while, we all have ghosts. Mine happens to be a member of my own squad. He was actually a member of my household... He had a herniated brain stem and his femoral arteries were severed. He bled to death, but internally...I remember some of the thoughts that went through my head like it was yesterday. The date of that fateful night was November 8, 1981. Pat died a little after 2 that morning. I have told many squad members that story when asked what was the worst call I have been on. I can tell it now without crying thru the whole thing…but it will remain with me for life. It does help to share our stories…it helps to heal, but it does not take them away.” – Gerry Kirkum, Richmond VA [in response to #42 Let go of your ghosts]

Why?? It is always a huge question, as a parent of a SIDS child one would think I would have gone down that road. It is different for everyone. I am a devout Christian as is my wife. Somehow when we lost our son and we thought our life would come crashing in upon, it ended up being one of the most peaceful times of our life. Quite simply is it my belief Christ got us through it..He did not do it alone, we had a whole congregation and community behind us. To this day I can not tell who came to my son’s funeral, there were over 500 people. There are moments I remember – the RCMP escort, then him stopping and Saluting as we proceeded by (thanks Hue Martin), the construction workers who took off their hard hats, but through it all we never asked why...” – John Levac, Yarmouth NS [in response to #48 Asking why?]

Recently, I’ve been asked if I’m available as a guest EMS Storyteller in-residence so I can help other emergency providers find a way to express their own thoughts, hopes and fears. Imagine that. Jeff Lampson had told me I was navigating a crossroads in a career that is an unfolding adventure. Apparently, he was right on.

In sharing these episodes of The Positive Paramedic Project, I feel as if I have found my own voice again.

An inconvenient voice, indeed.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight – Bruce Cockburn, Lovers In A Dangerous Time (1983)

NB: Big Medicine is my nod of respect to a First Nations expression that, roughly translated, means the right people working together at the right time will be Big Medicine. I’ve been saying ‘Be well. Practice big medicine’ for as long as I can remember. It is my own very personal version of ‘Sawu Bona’, the Zulu greeting which means ‘I see you’… I see all of you, I see your good works, I see the difference you are making in the world.


Leave a comment