Time is an essential part of life in EMS.
Counting out the seconds in your head while taking stock of a patient’s pulse.
Watching the chest rise and fall and keeping track of the number of breaths per minute.
Performing compressions while keeping time to Stayin’ Alive looping in your head.
I remember the first time I met Joy.
My office was at the end of the hall in The EMS House.
A straight-line shot from the expanse of the front porch to my cramped chaotic office with its collection of clinical guides, select works of fiction and more than a few choice vinyl LPs, i.e., Lou Reed’s Transformer, Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run. No turntable in sight but I had the soundtrack at the ready should one have ever materialized.
I remember the day she applied to be a medic. Seemingly impossibly young – she sat in the chair next to my desk and I reviewed the form she had completed in the hopes of becoming part of our medic training program. She was an outstanding candidate.
When I got to the part about ‘Emergency Contact’ info, I paused. Her mom’s name was listed. I couldn’t believe it.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think you can be a medic here,” I said with a smile. I didn’t give her time to react. “I grew up with your mom – and well – we can’t be old enough to have children old enough to be street medics… You’re in, Joy. Welcome aboard.”
True enough. I had gone to elementary school with her mom, Heidi.
I asked Heidi if she remembered when Joy applied to join Cote Saint-Luc EMS.
“So my reaction at first was – ha-ha – you were too shy to go for a tour at the station – and now you want to work there? In reality, I knew right away she would be amazing because she always wanted to be on the front line and since she was little liked to help people.”
The shyness wore off quickly. Joy was a ball of positive energy – passionate about providing emergency care and compassionate with those on the receiving end of her care.
Her mom isn’t surprised.
“Joy was delicious and a wonderful child. Structured from day one. Caring, loving and shy – and yet nothing stood in her way.”
Nothing at all. Not even cancer.
Last April – in the midst of balancing life as a mom, a first aid coordinator for an elementary school, and as a medic for Cote Sant-Luc EMS, Joy was diagnosed with aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. Breast cancer.
I visited Joy somewhere in the middle of her course of chemotherapy treatments. I was worried. I hoped I didn’t show it. Something had told me it was time to tuck in a visit and so after a quick call to ensure it was all right, I was there ringing the doorbell.
No hugs allowed. Her immune system was severely compromised. Her morale was battered and yet – with the support of her husband and children and family and extended family – Joy wasn’t in surrender mode.
Her long blonde hair was gone – along with her eyebrows – and she was wearing a bandana that gave her a bit of the wild child medic edge I had grown very fond of over the years. My concerns were allayed by the spark of fire in her eyes.
At the end of October, after 24 weeks and 16 treatments, Joy became a chemotherapy graduate. She allowed herself the luxury of working a couple of Sunday evening shifts with her beloved partners at CSL EMS and together with her family, they tucked cancer into a dark corner and they focused on living life well.
On Thursday – this coming Thursday – Joy will undergo surgery. The double mastectomy will be performed with the goal of ridding her of any traces of the cancer she has been doing battle with for the past several months.
It will be tough for Joy to allow herself to become a patient again. However, she’s determined to complete the process she set out upon immediately after learning she had cancer. She’s working hard towards normal – when smoochfests with her children won’t be associated with the end of a round of chemo.
“She is an amazing mom which is the most important. Cares for her family. Her determination and commitment is beyond anything. I could go on but I won’t. I am proud of the woman she has become but she will always be my little girl,” said her mom.
The little girl who became part of my fabric of time as a paramedic. I was there when she was cleared to work as part of the crew for the first time. And then – 14 years later – I worked one of my last shifts as a medic with Joy – who after kicking cancer’s ass – will pass the torch to someone else and continue the cycle of practicing big medicine.