Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #109 | Condition White


I wrote this stream-of-consciousness piece as a ‘soundtrack’ for a series of mixedtapes sent to a few well chosen friends.

Have you ever considered Condition White? Condition White is the lowest end of the mental awareness spectrum developed by American law enforcement instructor Jeff Cooper.

Condition White, according to the disciples of Cooper, is a state of near total relaxation—when you are blissfully unaware of your immediate surroundings.

And for that reason, Condition White is a leave-at-home mental status thing for on-duty street medics. So, it was with beaucoup de surprise that I, a devoted student of the School of Street Survival, found myself floating in Condition White.

We were rolling to a call in The Altered States (aka: the suburbs). Requested to fill in for another Med Unit that was temporarily unavailable.

François was severely into Condition Yellow/Orange—providing me with a running commentary of the things we would have to watch out for on the scene—whenever we got there. François continued his pre-assault coverage, but I was visiting previously charted territory in Condition White.

I was watching the leaves swirl in the wind. I was lost in the rain pounding the pavement into little soldiers. I caught myself remembering the pure innocence of running down Main Street—the wind blowing in my breathless face as the siren wailed.

Running to the firehouse to get lost in the smalltown comraderie of a Bethany fire call. West Liberty needed assistance on a barn fire and Bethany Fire & Rescue was answering the call.

Something special about neighbours responding to each others’ needs without reservation—without concern for payment for services rendered—with only compassion and a willingness to lend a hand in their hearts.

And when I returned to my home there was that unique rearboard windglow on my cheeks. Challenged, the spirit had overcome. The exciting smell of smoke lingered on past the requisite steaming shower. We were good. We were volunteers. It seemed so simple. And right. And maybe just a bit innocent, too.

Condition White is life-threatening in a world gone grey. The innocence lost while screaming to a shooting call in RDP. U2’s Desire pounding out a backbeat to the wailing siren.

The lights of oncoming traffic reflected splitsecond in the windshield. Seven minute high speed slalom through disinterested streets.

The brotherhood of fear linking my partner and I work a trauma code on a blood soaked victim of terminal criminal involvement.

Watching our backs and watching our fronts as too young police officers roam the avenue with flak jackets on and automatic weapons keyed up. Controlled madness leads to shivering teeth inside these tight-clenched jaws. Reflecting calm even in this arena of insanity.

When I get home I am spent. Even the dog’s angled glance of not knowing is too much for me. I turn off the light and drop into dreamless sleep. Work is an exercise in creative confusion.

10881691_10152916542040902_1186545828089801244_nStill I find myself drawn to the station an hour before my shift. Waiting to ride the rig back into my neon war zone.

It is as if I enjoy these excursions into grey.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #106 | Kids are, as always, free and welcome

Sheesham & Lotus

We began hosting concerts in our home because we live in a small town (3,000 people) about two hours away from the closest large music venues (e.g., Montreal QC or Burlington VT) and we wanted our twin teenaged daughters to be able to experience top-quality live music in an audience-friendly acoustically-sound environment.

So we embarked on this adventure and applied to be one of the host houses for the Canadian Home Routes program. We were accepted – as one of only three homes in Quebec. Our original commitment included hosting six artists or groups of artists.

The original formula included the artists staying in our home after each show – however we re-invented that idea in favour of ‘spreading the wealth’ in our economically-rugged town. Artists who perform at our home stay in local inns where the owners have agreed to provide discounted rates in order to further promote the house concert project.

By leveraging the whole community we created an ecosystem to support/be supported by the Stanstead House Concerts Network – SHCN. We learned to leverage the heck out of social media in order to take advantage of multiple marketing ‘channels’ – and to ensure we found efficient means of getting information to people who would actually pay attention to our updates.

Shows start at 7:30 pm and consist of two sets. A typical concert winds up (for the audience) at 9:30 pm. We picked a starting time which suits the needs of our audience – many of whom travel more than 60 miles each way to attend these concerts. We want to ensure they can get home safely at a decent hour.

Ticket prices are $20 for adults, $10 for teens – and kids are, as always, free and welcome. And there are several solid reasons for making our concerts a kid-friendly experience:

  • We want to turn kids on to the power of music to broaden their horizons and fire their imaginations;
  • We know how tough it can be to find a sitter (did I mention we have twins?);
  • We know how underserved kids are as an audience for live events – kids want to be able to sit up front and be treated with respect;
  • Kids bring older people with them – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts – and other adults;
  • Kids talk to kids via social media and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth; and
  • Kids will come back when they’re older kids and young adults and adults.

We’ve learned that people value live micro-venue musical experiences much more than in the recent past. Interestingly, so do the artists – who each reflect on the honesty injected into a performance space where each concert is a truly interactive experience. Artists talk to audience members – they become raconteurs. Audience members chat with artists and share their inspirations, their musical memories – and occasionally their sense of loss soothed through a specific melody.

When Christine Campbell & Blake Johnson (blues & roots singer/songwriters out of Nova Scotia) held court in our livingroom, a young member of the audience – wearing a Metallica t-shirt – shyly asked Christine if she could play Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ to lead off her second set. As it turns out, Christine Campbell grew up listening to Led Zep and her cover of The Immigrant Song was spell-blindingly beautiful. Goosebumps all around. Another favourite moment – a young man with a love of harmonica asked his mom to go home to get his harp so The Cumberland Brothers (bluegrass duo out of British Columbia) could autograph it – which they did while posing for pics together in the kitchen between sets.


We precede each concert with a dinner. These have been grand potluck gatherings and the addition of culinary chaos to the mix seems to appeal to the concept of engaging as many of the artists’ and audience members’ senses as possible. So it’s not only the music. It’s the show. It’s the kitchen. It’s the whole unlikely experience.

We have learned people are never too busy to go to a show they really want to see. And they want to experience these concerts.

Where kids, as always, are free & welcome.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


PS. You can listen to a CBC Radio feature story about our house concerts by clicking on this link.

PS2. You can learn more about upcoming shows from the Stanstead House Concerts Network by joining us on Facebook.


Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #104 | Priorities

I am stubborn. My wife warned me not to try and change that lightbulb on my own. She told me I ought to ask our neighbour from across the street to lend me a hand. I waited for her to go over to one of her friends for tea and muffins and then I decided to give it a go.

“I have fallen and I cannot get up,” I said in slow and determined fashion to the emergency operator who answered the call I placed to 911. I remembered that series of television ads and winced at the realization I had just used the same line to call for help.

“No, I am not having any difficulty breathing. Yes, I hit my head but no, I did not lose consciousness. No, my neck doesn’t hurt. No, no chest pain to speak of. Yes, I do have some terrible pain in my hips. I am 81-years-old. No, I do not take any prescription medications of any kind. No, I am unable to get up on my own. The pain in my hips is quite intense and it gets worse when I try to move.

“Yes, I understand there might be a lengthy delay before the ambulance gets here. I know it’s very cold outside and I understand you must be very busy. I would not have called if I could get up on my own. I fear I have injured my hip otherwise I would not be calling for help.

“Pardon me for asking but I thought we had first responders in our town who might be able to help me before the ambulance crew is available. Oh, I see. They only respond to higher priority calls. Well, I do understand. I will do my best to stay comfortable until the ambulance crew arrives. Yes, I will certainly call you back if anything changes or I feel worse in any way.”

The light of the afternoon faded into the early darkness of a winter evening and the ceramic tile floor quickly lost any of the heat it had retained. I struck up a conversation with the cat but the cat lost interest and walked away. I watched the time on the microwave clock move slowly minute by minute. I fought the urge to pee.

I concentrated on looking at the photographs of our children and grandchildren we had proudly hung on the livingroom wall. I couldn’t remember the phone number at my wife’s friend’s house. I wanted to cry.

I couldn’t believe that I was all alone, had called for help, and no one was on their way yet. I wondered what level of priority my call for help was for that first responder team.

Were they only concerned about life and death? Were they so busy they could not even spare a moment to check on a resident of the community who had confirmed he was in a spot of trouble?

Had they no idea how important it was to provide a physical presence for someone in a time of extraordinary need?

And so, I lay alone on the kitchen floor with a badly bruised hip for more than forty minutes before the ambulance crew and my anxious and bewildered wife arrived simultaneously.

Right. The preceding was just me, Hal Newman, trying to imagine what it would be like to be all alone and waiting for emergency medical assistance after having been classified as a priority Two or Three call on a day chockfull of priority One calls.

Calls of every priority should be responded to and not only by an ambulance crew.

Actually, I believe it would be rather interesting to have a first response team specially trained to respond to calls of a lower priority to determine whether or not those patients actually need to be attended to by the much scarcer ambulance-based paramedics.

There should never be a monopoly on saving lives or helping people in an extraordinarily difficult moment of their lives.

The clock begins ticking when someone calls for help. The primary consideration should be who can get there quickest to render aid – not which response organization has a ‘claim’ to the territory.

It’s not about what uniform the responder is wearing. Every EMS organization should take an enormous leap of faith forward, work with all of the stakeholders and establish a model that ensures everyone in the community gets the EMS they deserve.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #103 | Remembering Dr. Peter Cohen



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.



Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #101 Vital signs

SignsA nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #101 Vital signs.
Back in October, I dropped the Bad’Baru off for an oil change and a couple of NASCAR-style body patches at the Garage Generale Stanstead. I loved the place. It was like Cheers! with grease. Everyone really did know your name. There were always folks sitting in the office. Some of them were actually clients. Most were just visiting – sharing a story, sipping a coffee. Kim and his family played the roles of barista, chief mechanic and concierge.When I came back in the afternoon to fetch the Baru, I noticed it was parked out on the apron minus the requested patchwork.

Inside the second bay there was a middle-aged Honda Accord with Maryland plates and its guts spilled out onto two rolling tables brought up close to the engine compartment. Kim and his crew were elbow-deep working in-tight to replace the water pump.

“Did the oil on the Subaru, Hal. We’ll have to do the patches next week. These folks broke down on 55 just outside of town and they’re a long way from home. Gonna try and get them on the road southbound before sunset.”

Standing in the other bay were two older gentlemen. One looked familiar.

“Zack stopped to see if they needed help. Tow truck driver wanted to haul the car up to a dealer in Magog. Zack told him to bring it over here. Good thing. Looks like the last dealer they visited didn’t put the engine back together with all the required parts.”

I asked the other man what part of Maryland was home. He started to describe the state as a map until I gently interrupted with “I used to live in Cockeysville.”

He smiled. “We’re from Bowie. My name is George. My wife and I have been coming up to Canada every year since we honeymooned at Expo 67 in Montreal. We’ve been married 46 years.”

“When we broke down on the highway, I didn’t know what to think. We were a long way from home. Then Zack stopped and we came here. He took us out for a tour of the town. We went for coffee. We visited the Haskell Library, the granite quarry, and that road where the houses on one side of the street are in Quebec and just across the road they’re in Vermont.”

“Canusa Avenue.”

“Yes. Canusa Avenue. In all the years we’ve crossed this border we’ve never stopped in this little town. And here we are – brought here by fate and the kindness of strangers.”

“Well, George, you’re in good hands. I best be getting home to continue working in the garden as promised. It was a pleasure meeting you. Safe travels for the rest of your journey.”

“It was good meeting you, Hal. We’ll see you again the next time we’re up this way. I’ll ask Zack to drop you a line to let you know we got home safe. Seems like the kind of place where folks worry about such things.”

Indeed, George, indeed.

In the months since then, Kim closed the garage to focus on spending time with his family. The garage office irregulars of the office stay in touch with nods, waves, and social media – but it’s just not the same. Almost as if the heart of our little town skipped a beat.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.

Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #102 Regularly irregular


A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #101 Regularly irregular.

My first conscious memory of being unable to adopt a beat was on my 13th birthday when my parents rented a jukebox for my party. Despite listening repeatedly to great tunes like April Wine’s ‘Bad Side Of The Moon,’ I couldn’t dance worth a damn.

The following summer was spent at the Y Country Camp. I remember getting the nerve up to ask a girl to dance at the first ‘social’ of the year. For some reason, I think The Stones’ ‘Ruby Tuesday’ was playing as I did my awful disconnected dance-floor-zombie shuffle.

Verification of my inability to maintain any sort of rhythm followed shortly thereafter with the purchase of a metronome. The metronome was supposed to help me play the trumpet while maintaining some semblance of a song’s inherent pace. Instead, the metronome would tock-tock-tock steadily in the background while my best Louis Armstrong imitations would meander to their own indiscernible bass lines. I was re-inventing jazz and it wasn’t pretty.

While I couldn’t keep a beat, I had no issues detecting a rhythm – anywhere. Although intentional pulses eluded me, I took great joy in the cadence of everyday life. I heard the backbeat of tires crossing train tracks, of elevator doors opening and closing in office building lobbies, and of the 4/4 time of the conveyer belt at the local supermarket.

When I was studying to become a paramedic, there was a great deal of emphasis on learning how to keep track of a patient’s pulse. We had to learn the normal ranges for a heartbeat and the differing qualities that would serve as clues to underlying issues. While my classmates were desperately trying to synch what they were feeling in their fingertips with what they were seeing on their watch faces, I was delighting in exploring entirely new territory – the beat of life.

There shouldn’t have been any surprise when I discovered I was a master at detecting atrial fibrillation, second degree heart block (Wenckebach or Mobitz 1), and sinus arrhythmias. We were talking cardiac heaven for the beatless wonder.

Rolling to calls, I’d take in the reflections of our flashing lights in storefronts while listening to the siren mixing with the honking horns of vehicles trying to get out of our way and the heavy bass beats of backseat boomboxes in cars cruising Ste Catherine Street.

I would find myself immersed in the rhythms of the ER. The patient breathing, the ecg monitor beeping, my partner tapping his wedding ring on the aluminum frame of the stretcher while the radio provided an ambient wash of white noise to fill any gaps in the soundscape.

And, of course, the regularly irregular rhythm of life in EMS was a perfect fit for me. My circadian clock easily adapted to the near-constant interruptions of sleep patterns, eating times, and to the abrupt starts and stops associated with shiftwork when you are lowest on the union seniority food chain.

I had discovered the rhythm of life and took great comfort in being able to tune into my own frequency that included the steady beats, dropped beats, and regularly irregular aural accidents of the physiological soundtrack.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.


Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #100 Shit happens, vomit splashes and dignity is assisted

A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #100 Shit happens, vomit splashes & dignity is assisted.

Transcript from an actual call to 911.

Caller: He’s down on the floor. He collapsed. He’s vomiting.

EMS Communications Officer: Is he breathing?

Caller: I don’t know. He’s in the other room.

EMS Communications Officer: You need to check if he’s breathing.

Caller: Didn’t you hear me? He’s vomiting. I can’t go in there.

I know it’s an actual call because I was down on the floor listening as my wife, Dianne, tried to place the call for emergency medical assistance after I went down with acute abdominal pain. Everything turned out okay. I stopped puking and Di came back into the room long enough to verify that I was indeed still breathing.

In our relationship, I am the designated Vomit Person. Every time one of the kids ends up kneeling in front of the toilet or blowing technicolour yawns into a bucket, I am the parent assigned to seeing them through the gastrointestinal crisis-de-jour. Which is pretty ironic, given that when I started out as a paramedic I had zero gag tolerance and often performed a duet with the patient.

Back in those days, we had big stainless steel kidney basins in case anyone felt the need to redecorate the interior of the rig. I had my own tucked away into a reserved corner of the patient care compartment. I remember one little old lady who patted me on the back from her seat on the stretcher after she got carsick on the ride to the ER. “You’ll be okay,” she said. Classic.

I wasn’t alone. I remember rolling on a cardiac arrest in a parking lot in Montreal. During our resuscitation efforts, the patient vomited. My partner ordered our student to use the portable suction to clean up the vomit on the asphalt because he wouldn’t be able to continue with CPR. And then there was the paramedic student who, after witnessing a patient vomiting, walked out of the house, hailed a cab and was never seen again in class.

Shit happens. Often, actually. More than anyone ever portrays on television or talks about in paramedic school.

When people feel bad, really bad – controlling their bowels is fairly low on their list of immediate priorities. Given the choice of continuing to breathe at regular intervals or not making it to the toilet in time, most people will opt for the whole breathing routine.

Sometimes patients are down for several hours or – even days – prior to being discovered by the person who places the call to 911. Unable to move for medical or traumatic reasons, they may have soiled themselves and the immediate area while desperately hoping for help.

The person who taught me while shit happens and vomit splashes, it is dignity that must be assisted was Normand Yelle. Norm was a Captain and Paramedic with the Pointe-Claire Fire Department. He was the one who taught me the finer points of restoring a sense of personal dignity to the life of a patient whose bowels had let go or who had lost their breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Norm reinforced the sense of duty we had to our patients and their families to ensure they were able to face the world without worrying about yet another form of physical compromise. He provided a primer on preparing recently-deceased patients to be seen by their family. Norm was the person who shared the art of assisting dignity in being present even in the most extraordinarily difficult and awkward situations.

During my session as an EMS Director I received a call from the nursing director of a seniors residence who was concerned because one of our crews had ‘delayed the ambulance crew from transferring a stroke patient to hospital because they insisted on cleaning her up a bit before she was placed on the stretcher.’

I checked with the ambulance crew to see if they shared any similar concerns. Their response was that it was a non-emergency transport to the ER, the patient was visibly relieved at being able to wear clean clothes, and the family wanted to write a letter of thanks to our crew.

We should have told the family to send the thank-you letter to Norm Yelle.

Thanks for your consideration.

Be well. Practice big medicine.








Newman | The Resurrection Man, part 1

The Resurrection Man, part 1

He looked into the fridge. There was a shelf full of yogurt cups. He scanned the expiration dates stenciled on the top. He picked a lemon yogurt cup sporting yesterday’s date as its best before moment.

He paused before opening the container.

There were three possibilities.

The yogurt would smell like lemon yogurt.

The yogurt would smell like the gulfside of Biloxi three days after Hurricane Katrina had come ashore. That sickly sweet and savage stench of death as it blew through his hair, down his neck and around his ankles.

Or the yogurt would smell like the ruined legs of Jean-Pierre Jabouille after his Renault Turbo F1 car slammed into the safety fence during the 1980 Canadian Grand Prix.

And that was odd because he didn’t remember any fire when they pulled Jabouille out of the wreckage. Perhaps his legs had soaked in fuel during the extrication. Maybe they were exposure burns.

In any case, he readied himself because those were the possibilities. Yogurt, death or burns.

His mind had been working tricks with him for a long time. Somehow those smells – or the memories of them – had become lodged in his brain and like little fragments of hell had freely associated themselves with yogurt just past due.

He remembered the last time. He was loading dishes into the dishwasher and came across a bowl of yogurt that had stayed on the sunshine-soaked counter too long. Should have smelled like yogurt gone bad. Instead, that wind in Biloxi was blowing through the kitchen. He almost gagged in the sink.

He pulled the foil seal.

He loved the smell of lemon yogurt.

It seemed so damned fresh.



Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #99 Time


A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #99 Time.

“Time is fleeting…madness takes its toll.. ahh.. but listen closely.. not for very much longer.. I’ve got to keep control.” – The Time Warp, Rocky Horror Picture Show.

EMS is all about time. We cannot control time but oh, how we try just as hard as we can to compress it, shorten it, and shrinkwrap the seconds, minutes and hours that make up a day.

We try to get trauma victims into surgical suites within The Golden Hour. We work on finding new ways to shave minutes off our response time. We train and retrain to eliminate mere seconds between compressions while performing CPR.

There’s a certain delicious irony about it all because while we’re trying to stuff time into a tiny box, our patients and their families want more of it. More time to live. More time together. Just one more minute, day, week, month. Another Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, New Year or Kwanza. One more family reunion, birthday party, or wedding celebration.

I rolled on a call in slow-motion for EMS – no lights and no sirens. Just a quiet drive on a sunny afternoon to an out-of-the-way street in the ‘burbs. The house was unremarkable – clean, well-kept with a collection of winter boots clustered just inside the front door.

The patient was in his fifties. He was a single dad of four twentysomethingyearold children. He was terminally ill with an aggressive form of cancer. He and his sons had rigged the livingroom with a plasma-screen TV mounted high on the wall and a hospital-style bed. His daughters were in charge of the routine cocktails of meds and painkillers.

The pain had become unbearable and he knew it was time to head into the hospital for palliative care. After assessing his vitals I pulled up a chair and we talked. The ambo was still a long way out and as it turned out it was more like 90 minutes before an ambulance crew pulled their rig up to the curb.

We talked about time. We were the same age – our birthdays were only a week apart. He told me about all the places he had taken the kids in the five years since his diagnosis. ‘We ran the travel bucketlist in fast forward for a while there,’ he said. ‘We went on a safari in Africa, we got to the Galapagos and we even made it to the National Rodeo Finals down in Vegas.’

I told him about going to the NRF with Norm and then being dropped off at the airport for the flight home – one of the more surreal transitions I’d ever made.

‘You know that song by Tim McGraw – Live Like You Were Dying – well that’s how we lived the past five years. You name the insane adventure and we’ve tried it. And all the while, I knew, that in the end – this day would come when I’d have to pull out that attache case over there.. Can you get it for me? That’s it – yeah, right there. It’s got all of my personal papers. It’s amazing how much more organized dying can make you.’ His voice trailed off.

‘You know what I’ll miss most in the next couple of weeks?’

‘No idea,’ said me.

‘I’ll miss being right here in this room at the heart of this old house listening to my boys and girls getting on with their lives even while taking care of their old man. I bought this house so we could all live together under one roof. We renovated the heck out of it. Refinished the floors. Repainted the walls. Best hardest work we’ve ever done.’

He paused for a sip of flat ginger-ale.

‘That’s what I’ll miss. The time together. Don’t waste a second of your time on bullshit and unnecessary drama. Because in the end, and I’m about there – it’s time you’ll crave and it’ll be time you don’t have.’

I said my byes when the ambulance crew arrived. I scanned the obituaries a week later and read that he had passed ‘peacefully, surrounded by his children.’

“Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
“I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
“And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
“And I watched an Eagle as it was flyin’.”
An’ he said: “Some day, I hope you get the chance,
“To live like you were dyin’.”



Newman | The Positive Paramedic Project #98 Blood

A nugget of Big Medicine for your consideration. #98 Blood.

I learned fairly early on in my career as a paramedic that I was okay with blood.

One of my first few calls involved enough blood-letting in a kitchen it could have been fodder for skits performed by Dan Ackroyd as The French Chef on SNL. There was blood sprayed everywhere as the victim panicked after slicing off a good chunk of his thumb with a cleaver. He had eventually collapsed on the floor after searching the entire kitchen, in vain, for the telephone. One of his friends had dropped by for a visit and walked in on the horrific scene. Believing his friend to have been attacked we got the call as a possible shooting. The patient survived but we never did find his thumb.

I was good with the blood. Despite my partner slipping, sliding and falling into a crimson puddle I somehow managed to emerge from the call with only the same stain from lunch on my uniform shirt.

I’m still good with blood as long as it’s not mine. Any time my blood decides that it’s time to leave my body I’m less than stellar. For years I would only allow one person, Rony Czuzoj, to stick me for blood draws lest I’d go to ground. When I get a decent cut – an occasional side-effect of life in the country – it’s my almost-14-year-old daughter Sophie who matter-of-factly deals with the application of a bandage. The shortest line between me and syncope usually involves a splash of my own blood.

As it turns out, I’m not alone.

A number of years ago, a close friend of mine who is also a paramedic – and I were hauling a ski boat back down the road from Mont Tremblant to Montreal. My friend, who will go unnamed, was driving and we had the windows open on a fine autumn day. Suddenly, my friend said “Ouch” and reached his left hand back behind his ear where an insect had apparently impaled itself into his head. When he brought his hand back in front of his face there was blood on his fingers.

He looked at the blood and then he passed out at the wheel. We were moving at about 110 km/h [70 mph] headed down a long hill on Autoroute 15 with a large skiboat on a trailer behind the stationwagon. My friend was down for the count. He was unresponsive to my shouting to try and bring him back to the land of the conscious. He was oblivious to me trying to shake him back to the other side of DFO [Done Fell Out].

I got his foot off the accelerator, grabbed the wheel and guided that big old stationwagon and its trailer on to the shoulder. I was worried about getting hit by another vehicle or having the skiboat come up to the front to say hello during our sudden deceleration. However, the only casualty was the car’s transmission which protested wildly after I broke PJ O’Rourke’s Rule of Rental Cars and shifted the family wagon into park while still moving forward at a relatively slow speed.

A few minutes later, my friend regained consciousness. “Wow. What happened? Last thing I remember I felt something behind my ear and then, hey, who parked the car by the side of the road?”

All these years later, we still laugh about that incident. And we’re both just fine with blood so long as it isn’t our own.

Be well. Practice big medicine.