So, I came across a newspaper story about my mom and me. It’s an old story, but for a few minutes I was taken back to a whole other world where sirens and flashing red lights were an average event we sped to.
We were an ambulance team. I’m pretty sure, in the early 1990s, we were the first mother and daughter team in Ontario. I wonder if we were the first Indigenous mother and daughter team as well. I don’t think either of us gave that any thought at the time. We were really only about applying the lessons my mom earned the credentials to teach for the benefit of our community and our own hearts.
Mom worked so hard in those days, spending 12 hour shifts providing first-aid standby at the gold mine, while in her off-time, she taught varying levels of St John’s Ambulance courses. That work got her called in as a volunteer for the ambulance attendant gig. While she was doing that, I was working through my second “mid-life crisis” during my mid-20s in Vancouver.
I’d discovered that all the things I’d been taught about achieving a successful life was a giant pile of unbaked United Kingdom Spotted Dick. So, what to do? I ended up resigning from my job, selling half my stuff, storing the rest and then I pointed my little car in the direction of east. I had no idea of where I would ultimately end up, but I did know the next step required me to put the pedal to the metal.
After a short stop in Thunder Bay, I ended up in a very unexpected peace as an unexpected resident of a very small town, Pickle Lake – the literal end of the road in northwestern Ontario. After Pickle Lake, the road toward further north becomes only gravel and dirt until bitter winter allows for the very necessary freezing of lakes to drive any further.
Pickle Lake was where my parents lived. I thought it would be a fairly short visit while I worked out the plan for the rest of my life. Well, who doesn’t know the joke about plans and fate? Accordingly, I ended up staying long enough to get roped into taking those first-aid lessons, then onto the next education level to earn the job of volunteer ambulance attendant. The way this works is a little different from full-time city attendants. We were on-call for 12 hours, day or night, for the grand pay of $2.50/hr.
Clearly this was not a life-sustaining role on our side of the gurney. So, my mother stepped in for me on that too and got me a job sharing her role at the gold mine. More 12 hour shifts, but the pay definitely propelled me into ‘able to eat regularly’ status. Both experiences served to teach and enforce the lessons of the other.
I previously wrote a bit of the experience in a tribute to one of the attendants who took me under his wing during the bulk of my training. We worked out most of the kinks in getting me up to par until I was ready enough to work in rotation with any of the other team members, my mother included.
There were many moments of what I’ve heard is the experience of pilots –long bouts of boredom followed by short bursts of adrenaline-fueled terror. Okay, the terrified moments were rare, but the adrenaline is very real. When that phone rang, we had to be prepared for anything and it seemed as though anything was always up for offer. Car accidents, forest fires, plane crashes, overdoses, assaults, industrial accidents, and babies about to be born.
There was story after story, of which many will never be forgotten – the young man we tried to save on Christmas day; the baby that almost landed in my hands instead of the attending nurse’s in rushed chaos; the young man who lost his arms at the mine. There was that time I almost lost my arm to the jaws of life. In the effort to extricate the woman I was holding up in a twisted car, the attendant cutting mistook the reflective band on my uniform for metal. Luckily it was only a nano-second of threat. (Thank you forever, dearest Eric for warning the cutter just in time).
There were other events that didn’t quite work according to plan. Mom and I had to attend a patient who’d fallen down a snowy hill and broke her ankle. We learned she was a friend and so we had a little extra concern with what we’d find. It wasn’t too bad and we got her all snugly secured and ready to lift to the ambulance when I heard my mom yell out, “Robyn, get to that truck now!” I quickly turned to see the ambulance slowing rolling backward down the hill. I stood stunned until I realized I’d forgot to put on the emergency brake. I madly ran into the moving vehicle to slam it on. Holy cow. It was bad enough that I was going to hear about this from our dispatcher and from the rest of the overall crew, but I’m pretty sure I can still feel the burn from the look I got from momma. Oh, and from the follow-up glare of our friend.
There are moments after moment that I share with my mom in these settings that I know bonded us beyond what we’d already had. The aftermath of some of the scenes takes us to places that only others who’ve done it can know. Our entire crew was a set of people as fine as anyone could ever meet. They, and so many that we were sent to help, will always be inextricably held in our hearts.
Even now, decades later, I can vividly hear their voices and feel what we went through. I am so damned proud to have been a part of their team and especially with my mother.
All of it really, was just another gift from momma.
Wishing the best of the new year to all. Stay safe.