This was the eulogy I crafted for Dr. Peter Cohen’s farewell service on September 5, 2014 in Verdun QC.
That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of Peter Cohen.
He had such faith.
I met Peter for the first time when I was in my late teens. I was fresh out of high school and headed into my first year of CEGEP. High school hadn’t been the best of adventures. My guidance counsellor’s parting words were something along the lines of “Good riddance.”
I thought I wanted to be a paramedic. I say, “I thought” because I hadn’t really shared the concept with anyone else lest they thought I was daft.
And then I went to a fateful meeting on Beaumont Street in Park Extension.
The place was a bit bizarre. Outside, in the parking lot there was an odd-looking pickup truck painted a brutal shade of green with red flashing lights on its roof.
As I approached the building, there was a short dynamo of a man directing the operator of an immense tractor to “crush the car so that it looks like it has been in a real accident. It needs to feel real so the students believe that it’s more than just a drill.”
Such was my introduction to Peter Cohen.
When I confessed that my dream was to become a paramedic, Peter said only one thing as he put his arm across the small of my back, “Well then, we have lots of work to do so you can achieve your dream. Let’s get started on your journey.”
And that was the thing about Peter. He had faith. He believed so I believed – in myself, in my colleagues, in the paramedic program, in Resuscicar, in Medic One, in EMTAQ, JASMU, in prehospital care, in all the myriad possibilities and opportunities that lay before me.
Peter Cohen was a facilitator. He made it easy for many of us to answer our calling of becoming Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers.
Catherine Booth once said, “There is no improving the future without disturbing the present.” That could have been Peter’s mantra.
Peter Cohen was the godfather of advanced life support paramedics and EMS in Alberta and here – in Quebec. He was considered crazy by many of his peers because he believed, he really believed, that ALS paramedics could change the world of prehospital care.
He had faith that a group of adult students – previously known as ambulance attendants or drivers or brancardiers – could thrive in an environment of academic rigour, complex ideas, and hard science. Peter believed we could do more than merely sustain. He provided us with the inspiration necessary to succeed. He believed. And so we believed, too.
Peter instilled certain truths in me that I have kept close to my heart and soul over the years.
We must care for the patient and the family as if they were members of our own family.
We must be gracious and gentle with the dying. We must be a calming and caring presence for the survivors.
Remember that yours may well be the last voice someone hears before they pass. Choose your words carefully. Let them know they are not alone.
Our responsibility to the patient begins at the cradle and ends at the grave. Death is part of the process. And sometimes, despite your best efforts, your patient will die. Death is a part of the cycle of life. Accept this as something that just is and not as a personal defeat.
And most importantly – Be open to others’ beliefs and cultures. Be an ambassador for EMS – always.
Peter Cohen believed we were going to make a real difference in Canada and well beyond. And he was right.
Marcel Boucher, a former Director of Professional Services at Urgences-sante, said,
“Peter was a leader and a Don Quixotic character who greatly inspired me over the many years we worked alongside or together. Today’s M4 service (Urgences-Santé’s unique response to expected at home deaths in Montréal and the south shore, a non-urgent humane intervention) was developed by our medical team from a Peter Cohen concept and proposition. So, after being a long time pioneer in prehospital ALS he later championed end of life care and dignity. Thank you Peter Cohen for your service, leadership and enviable human qualities. We will never forget you and are in your debt.”
There is a passage in the Torah that reads:
“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Look around this room – and know that beyond these walls there are so many more students of Peter who have gone on to make wondrous and meaningful impacts around the world. So many lives have been touched. So many lives have been saved. And the legacy continues.
I believe it’s safe to say that it can be considered as if Peter Cohen saved an entire universe.
Rest in peace, Peter – and know that we’ll keep that faith.
Be well. Practice big medicine.