Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #65 Hark the herald angels sing

Snowgeese taking flight from the field behind our place

A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #65 Hark the herald angels sing

We live in the country. The only traffic lights in our town are the ones at the Canada-U.S. border stations advising you whether or not it’s your turn to pull up and chat with the agent. You can pretty much delineate where the boundaries of the town begin and end by where the asphalt suddenly becomes loose gravel.

Early in the morning, at twilight and anytime once it becomes dark you have a pretty good chance of encountering wildlife out on the roads. When the summer heat begins to cook the forest and the insect life explodes, the critters often try to find relief out on the edges of the highways, byways, and sideways.The first-due districts for fire and EMS services out here are enormous. You can run for 20 minutes and still be en route. I once responded to a fire call at a farm in our first-due and had time to stop and corral some horses that had been spooked and were wandering on the road, then further on down the road I put the car in the ditch to avoid hitting a mama moose and her calf standing nonchalantly in the middle, and after I got the car out of the ditch still arrived in time to lend a hand as part of the fire crew.

There is very little use for a siren in these parts. Simply flashing your headlights while driving your car with your hazard lights blinking on and off is often enough to communicate you need to get from here to there in a hurry and other motorists pull to the side. In the country, people know how far it is to the nearest hospital. They know how far away the closest ambulance or firetruck or police vehicle is usually stationed. When they see one coming with its emergency lights flashing they know someone needs help right now.

I’ve got a friend who is a firefighter out here. He told me about the night when a violent lightning storm sparked several fires in the district and the fire service found its resources stripped. He was responding solo in one of the backup firetrucks to a report of a barn and hay on fire after yet another lightning strike. He knew he wouldn’t be able to be able to combat the fire on his own so as he drove from the other end of town he lit up the old Federal Q siren on the engine and let it rip for all that it was worth. He drove through town slower than normal with the siren screaming in the hopes that some of the old-timers would recognize something extraordinary was going on and their help was needed. And so it was that a somewhat raggedy band of older brothers answered the call of duty and worked to save the farmer’s hay and barn.

This past Saturday we were invited for a simple country dinner [in french one would say ‘souper à la bonne franquette’] at our friends Lili & Pietro’s place. We also had hopes of popping in to say hello at another friend’s place who was hosting a corn roast where a favourite band would be providing the soundtrack for dinner and dancing. Lili & Pietro’s place is at the bottom of the same hillside where the corn roast was being held so we figured we might still be able to hear the band playing during the evening. Well, with two donkeys, two horses, a sheep, a couple of cats, a couple of dogs, wonderful home-crafted pizza and tabouli, dessert out by the bonfire under the stars with the northern lights playing on the northern horizon and suddenly it was 11 pm and time to head home – and we hadn’t had a chance to stop up at the corn roast. I had remarked to everyone while we were out by the fire that it was kind of strange that we couldn’t hear the music playing up on the hill.

It wasn’t until yesterday morning that I found out why. One of the guests had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Another guest, an off-duty firefighter/first responder was by his side almost immediately, and initiated CPR. The ambulance responded and the paramedics did their very best but in the end there was nothing that could be done to save his life. And all of this had happened in the same postal code and just up the hill and none of us had heard a thing.

Out here, unlike in the city, life-threatening emergencies often go unheralded.

They just happen – like life itself.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Leave a comment