I’m a paramedic with Eastern Health. For almost 9 years, I’ve worked everywhere from rural Newfoundland and Labrador to the oil field to metro St. John’s. I’ve even worked search and rescue.
I have seen many things that I will never be able to un-see; heard many things I will never be able to forget; and experienced some of the deepest despair from patients and their families that still sends a chill down my spine.
While I love what I do, the fact is, I can’t save everyone. Sometimes we have to tell families the worst news imaginable and this can take its toll on people in my field.
If you speak to almost any first responder, he or she will tell you there is a stigma in our profession. We often feel we have to appear unbreakable or impermeable to events that most people never face, and as a result many of us don’t ask for help when we need it.
But the truth is, heroes are human. While we suit up in the morning, unaware of what we may face that day, many of us still hold to that stigma – to be tough as nails, thick skinned, and able to handle any kind of scenario. So we keep our stress locked away, hidden, while each traumatic event piles onto the next. Unfortunately for some, this can lead to mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even suicide.
Between April 2014 and December 2016, 90 first responders died by suicide in Canada. That’s almost 100 people who had dedicated their lives to helping others, protecting them, being there for them.
I had read the statistics, heard and seen them on televised media outlets, in the newspaper, on social media, about people in the same lines of work as I, taking their lives. I sympathized, hurt, and even wondered what event was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for that person. You might say I was naïve, that it was somehow separate from me – until August 6, 2015.
That’s when a paramedic I worked alongside of, became one of those statistics. That morning I was at my mother’s place when I received a text message from a close friend and coworker that read: “Hey, did you hear what happened?” I jokingly replied to never start a conversation that way. Then he called me and told me that our colleague had just taken his life. It felt like every statistic I had encountered in my career hit me in the face. This is real, it actually happens. It’s not just something you hear or read.
My colleague and friend, Chris Pearce, had been a paramedic for 10 years. I only had the privilege to work with him for four of those years. A kind hearted, soft spoken soul who always had a smile – and who appeared to me to be fine.
It shook our department and the despair within our little family was thick. There was grief, anger and confusion. I was terrified that this could happen again.
There is Hope
Then I recalled the “Heroes are Human” seminar I had attended the previous year, hosted by Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. When Chris died I remembered everything they were talking about in that seminar. How there is help out there. There are outlets, and, there are resources. Chris’s death also drove home the realization that the stigma we carry had to end.
TEMA is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping first responders and military personnel across Canada who are battling mental illness, and/or PTSD. The toughest aspect is actually getting us to talk, to open up, and to understand that we are human.
In fact, we have to talk about these things or it could potentially lead to devastating circumstances. TEMA not only focuses on helping each individual who reaches out to them, but finally makes us realize that it’s OK NOT to be OK. That it’s OK to ask for help.
Honour through Loss
I was uplifted by this organization and inspired to somehow honour my coworker, Chris. Since he was a motorcycle enthusiast, I felt there was no better way to remember him than to have a motorcycle ride in his memory, so a committee was formed and the First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride was born.
We hosted our first event on August 14, 2016. The outcome was amazing, with people riding from as far away as Nova Scotia to take part.
As we gear up for our second annual event, which takes place Sunday, August 6th, we’ve received countless calls, emails, and messages from first responders and many others who are in a similar line of work, and even members of the public, inquiring about the ride. People want to know how they can help or even take part.
The ride is helping spread the word that there is help out there and that it’s ok to need it. As word gets out, we honour not only Chris’s memory but others who have also passed. Because of him, some of us are slowly coming forward and seeking the help that we need. Even though he’s no longer with us, Chris is still helping save lives. What greater gift is there than that? ■
Learn more about the 2nd Annual First Responders Memorial Motorcycle Ride Event.
Mental Health Resource Links
- Eastern Health DoorWays (walk-in service)
- Mental Health Crisis Line – 709-737-4668 or 1-888-737-4668
- TEMA programs and services
This story was written by Krista Peddle, a paramedic with Eastern Health.