Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #53 Always have your partner’s back

Sharron Codner & Bob Harrison, mid 1980s/ Mike ‘Elwood’ Crowley, 2009

A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #53 Always have your partner’s back

A long time ago, in another life it seems, François and I rolled on a call for a patient who was 75-percent intoxicated and 25-percent angry and insisted he needed to be seen in an Emergency Room. We weren’t up for an argument. We checked his vital signs and then walked down to the rig. He had refused to be carried in the stretcher which came as a relief because he lived in a third-floor walk-up in the Point.

In retrospect, I wish we had strapped him down on a stretcher. But hindsight is almost always 20-20 isn’t it?

The patient sat down on the benchseat and I took a seat at the head of stretcher facing him. François started rolling quietly towards the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in NDG.

I was filling out the requisite paperwork and got to the section reserved for a patient’s welfare number. If a patient was on welfare, the cost of the EMS transport would be covered by the government. So I asked the patient if he was on welfare.

Apparently he took great umbrage at my line of questioning.

In a flash he unclicked his seatbelt and leapt out of the bench and into my face. He began punching my face and head viciously with one hand while trying to crush my cajones with the other. I screamed out in pain and began trying to defend myself.

François called in on the radio that we were in distress and required police assistance immediately. He got the rig pulled over and then came running around to the back.

He said that when he pulled the back doors open he wasn’t sure he could find a way to pull us apart and that he briefly considered using a blast from the fire extinguisher to get the patient’s attention. When François tells the story he always includes the part about the lights inside the rig flashing on and off as heads and fists kept hitting the switches. He said he couldn’t believe how much damage two people could do in such a tight space.

He did what all great partners do, he tried to find a way to have my back. But the patient’s rage wasn’t affected by me trying to stop him, by the sudden stop, or by Francois trying to find a way to separate me from his grip.

What stopped him – just for a momentary pause of consideration, and that was all I needed – was the sight and sounds of another ambulance arriving on the scene. That ambo fishtailed around the corner with its siren screaming, skidded to a stop right behind our rig, and paramedics Mike Crowley and Bob Harrison were climbing out while the dust was still considering whether or not it was time to settle.

The patient paused with one fist recoiled and ready for another round. I threw myself at his slightly off-balance stance and we both went out the back door of the rig and tumbled to the pavement where François, Mike, and Bob subdued him before multiple police cars arrived.

I’ll never forget the sight of Mike and Bob coming around the corner riding that ambulance like it was lark’s-vomit-green cavalry. They had heard the distress call while downtown and had hauled some serious butt to lend a hand. Mike said he knew by the tone in François’ voice that something really bad was going down.

I have no doubt that were it not for the efforts of other paramedics who had my back, my career could have ended right there in the back of that rig.

I got to thinking about that episode in my life on the street because of a recent phone call from an old paramedic colleague. He has successfully transitioned from a career on the streets to a top-of-the-line Herman Miller chair in the executive suite of a large corporation.

Just calling to check in on you, brother. I’ve been reading The Positive Paramedic stories and loving the visits with you and your life. We’re a long way from working the big city streets now but I wanted you to know I’ll never forget where I come from and if there’s ever a way to help you or any of the other ‘guys’, I’ll find it. Partners once, partners forever.”

Be well. Practice big medicine.


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.







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