Thursday, August 21, 2014

SIX Years Old!

This baby is six!!!  Wha?!  What just happened.  He was just born yesterday!?!!!  Remember?!  Here he is at 5:09 a.m. on his big day.

And here he is later, with his placenta tree and birthday sign.  Well you can't really see his tree but it's at the far right in this picture.  He's too cute.  His sign has drawings of his favourite things; rabbits and fish.

Riley is a ball of positive energy.  He bounces and dances from when he gets up until when he goes to bed at night.  He is enthusiastic about everything.  When he gets upset (which is rare) he's quite theatrical about it and it takes some serious empathy and love to talk him back down.  He likes to sleep in.  But when he wakes up, he's smiling!  He loves to read, swim, dance, ride his bike, eat mushrooms, eat almost anything, all day long... He loves daycare, school, fishing, adventures, ferry rides, and birthdays.  He does not like long car rides.  He does not like long walks.  He does not like going to bed.

Riley is pretty articulate.  He's medium on the empathy scale--he can tell you his own feelings in a New York minute but really empathizing with someone else hasn't totally floated his boat quite yet.  He can also argue persuasively in his favour especially regarding treats and surprises.  He loves gifts.  He takes after his daddy in that area!  He will spontaneously suggest gift ideas for his brothers, grandparents, and friends just because he loves them (these usually involve construction paper and lots of glue).  He still likes pink and purple but has decided these are 'girl colours' and now embraces 'all the colours' as his favourites.

He is his own guy.  People are drawn to his charisma and easy going approach to life, and of course also to his eyelashes.  Which are difficult to truly capture in a photograph, and are epic.  Riley means "valiant" and Alexander means "defender" but I'm not sure what he's a defender of aside from any opportunity for a good joke.

Riley is sensitive and sentimental.  Small changes and goodbyes really impact his heart.  Like, he gets very attached to sticks and rocks.  The family car.  His outgrown socks.  Artwork.  The Way Things Were When He Was Younger.  He's so sweet!  And yet it drives me nuts that I can't throw away holey socks without a ceremony paramount to a funeral.  He also has a strong sense of what is right and wrong and doesn't sit idly by if injustice is happening.

When he grows up he would like to be a garbage collector, or a ferry captian.

Love you sweetheart!  Stay you.  Just the way you are.
So grateful you are mine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vose Summer Road Trip 2014

We took an epic road trip in July.  We booked most of the month off work, loaded the kids and a shit ton of stuff into our Grand Caravan, and hit the road.  It was awesome!  Our littles are finally big enough to survive a road trip without permanent mental damage from utter discontent, and we got to see so much geography and so many people.  It was fabulous.

Our first leg is long.  Four hours in the car, two hours on the ferry, and another hour on the other side and then we arrived in Langley.  That first day of travel took us a little over ten hours, with pit stops and waiting for the ferry.  Then we stayed two nights in Langley at Brent's parents' place, resting, visiting a few friends, and gearing up for the next leg. 

Then we split up; the boys travelled with their grandparents and we took Amarys and did another long day from Langley to Astoria (camping on the Oregon Coast with Brent's parents is a bit of a tradition, and we always camp at Fort Stevens State Park).  That day took about seven hours. 
We love Oregon!  It's so beautiful and peaceful there.  The campground itself is very quiet and clean, considering there are hundreds of campsites and Yurts scattered throughout the park.  Usually we eat breakfast (after sleeping in), strike out to explore a beach or town, and return to eat dinner at the campground. 

The beaches are stunning.  We always visit the Tillimook Cheese Factory because Riley LOVES it.  We always hit Canon Beach a few times.  Climb the Astoria Column.  Eat fresh seafood.  Rest.  Enjoy each other's company.  Forget about jobs and housework and the logistics of raising a family. 

After five days in Astoria (overlapping with Brent's sister and her hubby and baby Dylan, who joined us part way through), we visited Portland.  We have several friends in Portland but they were all out of town while we were there, nasty friends.  Except one, who we didn't realize lived in Portland until after we left (sorry April!).  We spent just the day there, shopping and soaking up the Portland Weirdness-- we both would love to live in Portland if we could choose any city...
We hit Powell's Books, which was a first visit for the kids and it was so fun to let them loose in the largest bookstore in the world!  Each kid chose a book (or five), and Matthew also chose a set of straws that you stick together with removable joints to make fancy, ridiculous, twisty straws out of.  It kept him busy for days.
Then we hit the Nike factory store and got everyone in the family shoes for $140.  Yay back to school!  Then we drove to Kennewick, WA. 

I never realized how dry and flat Oregon was, because I'd not been East of Portland.  It's a hot, dry prairie.  And then it's downright desert.  With no one.  No towns, no villages, no people--just the odd rest stop and some dirt.  Then as we got closer to the Columbia River, it got prairie like again and there were towns and people again.  It was very stark and hot and amazingly gorgeous.  It also made me deeply appreciate living in a coastal rain forest  =)
There are three or four hydro dams and miles and miles of wind farms along the river that divides Oregon and Washington.  That was really neat to see.  We have a wind farm on the North Island but the only time I see it is when we fly North for medivacs.  We had to stop fairly frequently for cool drinks or boxes of popsicles because the air conditioner on our van is still broken.  But no sales tax and US prices means an entire box of popsicles is under $2!!  For 12 popsicles!!!  We would buy two boxes and eat them all within twenty minutes.  That's how hot it was.  And it was evening.  Crazy.

We got into Kennewick pretty late.  Near midnight, I think.  Several of Brent's cousins and an aunt and uncle live in Kennewick so we stayed with Billy and Jana, who have EIGHT kids, and in the morning Billy's brother and sister in law brought over their EIGHT kids, and his sister brought her three, and his other sister came as well... We had quite a houseful.  That was a fun breakfast!  We were so grateful Billy and Jana welcomed us in, and it was nice to reconnect with these cousins who we see for the occasional Gigi birthday or family reunion, but not often enough.


We forgot to get a group photo.

That day around noon we hit the road again, shooting for the Kootenays.  We drove east and north, through Spokane and across the border again into Canada (yay Canada! And yay rockies!).  My sister and brother in law and little nephew live in Fernie BC.  The forest fires were heavy and close enough to make us a little worried about the route we chose; we didn't want to get detoured so far from familiar territory... But although the air was smoky, all the roads were open so we were okay.

We stayed four or five days in Fernie, visiting my sister's family.  My brother's fiancée came to Fernie from McBride, and brought our nieces!  That was awesome too, because all the cousins from the Smith side were all in one place for an entire five days.  They played.  We hit the farmer's market and an amazing bagel shop and explored the town.  It was the first time we had been to Fernie, the first time we met my littlest niece Bennett, and the first time we had seen my sister's house.  Lots of firsts.

Then we hit the road again.  We wanted to pass west along the southernmost part of the province, and were going to camp halfway, but the kids all voted to do one long assed day of travel (took us over 12 hours) and do the entire leg in one day so they could have an extra day in Langley instead.  So we did!  We saw a ton of geography; the rockies, alpine passes, wild strawberries, dry desert, and then the South Okanagan.  Which is dry and rocky with lush orchards carpeting the valleys and fruit stands every fifty feet.  We bought peaches, cherries, apricots, and tomatoes for canning and jam.  We ate dinner during a thunderstorm, at a McDonald's in Osoyoos.  =)  And we got into Langley close to midnight again.

After two more days in Langley we packed two weeks worth of dirty laundry, $150 worth of Powell's books, too many shoes (except one vital Keene sandal, which was lost somewhere between Kennewick and Fernie), an Ikea trip, a Costco trip, and camping gear back into the Caravan and completed the final leg of our journey, home again. 

We saw every cousin.  We cuddled every baby.  We rested all our bodies.  We twisted all our backs on the ground of the tent.  And we had a great time.  Yay road trip 2014! 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Assorted Pieces--My Entry for CBC Canada Writes Non Fiction, Which Was Longlisted

One of the biggest things I've learned in nearly a decade of emergency medicine is that we don’t often save lives. We deal with death, tragedy, grave illness, and everyday hurts, but most frequently, a person marches towards death with an unstoppable character, like an individual tsunami or a meteor impact: we are witness to it, but powerless to stop it. We are well trained, apply all our tricks, drugs, artificial pumpings and blowings (colloquial for CPR), needles, IVs, oxygen, investigative assessment skills, high quality teamwork, paramedic prayers (uttered by most, and often along the lines of 'SHIT,' 'DAMMIT,' 'FUCK,' or 'Oh, GOD,' but really in spirit are, 'HELP GOD, PLEASE!'), and emotional supportiveness, but the vast majority of the time, if someone is dying, we can't stop it. I've learned that I am small. I'm in awe.

I have also learned that people are not compartmentalized into parts. You cannot simply treat a person's physical symptoms and have done your job with any measure of completeness. It's hardly even possible to treat people this way. People have emotions and souls and families and lives that are inextricably tangled up with their physical selves. Fixing an unstable injury while extricating someone from a car is meaningless if you don't make eye contact or reassure the person attached to that injury. Nobody teaches you this in school.

Nobody teaches you, either, how difficult it might be to make this type of connection with someone who was drunk behind the wheel of their car, and hit someone while driving, but who is themselves still trapped and injured and afraid...but it's still essential.

Since the beginning of my career it has been repeated to and by me, and become more and more evident, that alcohol is job security for emergency services. Without alcohol, much of what we see and treat would not exist. It does not take an alcoholic disease for it to be evident how destructive this stuff can be: the destruction is self afflicted, and runs the gamut from MOST assaults, MANY domestic disturbances or violent situations, many traffic accidents, falls, drownings, broken limbs, head injuries, deaths, neglect of children, and unnecessary tragedies. A Friday night party, one too many drinks, underestimation of how much is too much, and people across the social stratosphere cause destruction with alcohol.
I'm no saint. I propose no solution. But this is what I've learned.

Aggression can be a conscious buildup of anger, or it can be a symptom of a medical condition.

Vomit is overwhelmingly disgusting, no matter its origin or cause.

Preserving peoples' dignity is a huge component of my job, and takes enormous skill and compassion in some cases, because nakedness and feces and out of control emotions are so commonplace, and so easily strip someone of their dignity if not handled well by those who witness it. People in need are highly sensitive to the deconstruction of their dignity, more so than in everyday life.

Drugs are not scary. Dark alleys are not scary. Aggressive people are not scary. Mentally ill people are not scary. Skid row is not scary. Prostitutes are not scary. Blood, guts, tears, and screaming is not scary. People are people, wherever they live, whatever they do, and they generally operate the same as you and I. Compassion, eye contact, kindness, and a strong foundation of common sense and boundaries (ie, trust your gut, yell if you need to, get out while you can) serves you well in a 4,000 square foot house or the back alley behind the mall.
What is scary? Poverty. How people get trapped by their own self definitions more than any other factor. Hatred. Complacent medicine. Bullying coworkers. Loneliness. Women who starve to death in Canada, a wealthy country, which is tossing food in the garbage like fish guts and with social assistance for hungry people, but where a 67 pound woman can starve to death of anorexia.

Prison is scary. For similar reasons, so are nursing homes.

People have an incredible capacity to heal. I saw a man once stuck in a rotating planer at the sawmill, his arm was in pieces and I thought for sure he would die, but in the end not only did he survive, but his arm did, too. They managed to piece it back together in surgery, and he was able to work again within a year. I've met survivors of Rwanda, the depression, the Holocaust, Residential schools, horrific childhoods, and terrible tragedies, who have healed.  And some who have not.

Sometimes, silence is a gift.

People really are poor enough to necessitate burning their own furniture in the winter, in Canada, this affluent place.

Poverty has nothing to do with money. It's about emotional pain, lack of resources, drug addiction, alcoholism, emotional trauma, lack of education, lack of healthy community, and lack of an ability to see that life could be any different in any way.

Sometimes, it is just as difficult to die as it is at other times to live. LIFE marches on, and the Universe/God/Fate/Providence has something else in store for us, sometimes. I once met a man who slashed his wrists and survived. A few months later he drove his car off a cliff, landed on train tracks, and was struck by a train traveling over 80 kilometers an hour. When paramedics arrived he was looking up through the sunroof of his car, with broken limbs, still alive.
It's not your day to die. Dude, stop trying and start figuring out what it is you're alive for.

Death can be really, really funny. I mean, you have to have a somewhat dark sense of humor to cope with a job like mine, but some of the most hilarious moments I have encountered in life have been juxtaposed with death. How can I explain this? It sounds so insensitive. But really, it feels more appropriate a response somehow, because it is celebratory of life.

The only place death is consistently never funny is the cancer clinic. Another place that never loses its fearful quality, for me.

Most laypeople don't like to think or talk about death. In an abstract way, they're fascinated with it: in massive catastrophes on television, set in Pakistan or Texas or Southern Russia, or in statistical form: Many Thousands Die in Darfur. But "I did CPR yesterday." Or "last night I saw three dead bodies." Not so much. I mean, it is a bit weird. What does one say in response?  

But paramedics march towards death. Alongside us, firefighters and police officers. Every few years we lose more paramedics to the hazards of the job. Firefighters and police officers, too. Most of the people I work with love to face this primal need for flight in the face of danger, and to fight it instead. This is pretty damn cool.

The handiest paramedic tools are the simplest: large elastic bands, six inches across and about a foot long, with velcro on them. Multiple, multiple uses: hold broken limbs in a splinted position. Affix a pillow splint to a foot/ankle injury. Hold legs together on a spine board. Tie down the wrists of combative overdoses or head injuries. Hold sandbags or ice packs in place. Splint pelvic fractures. Improvise a rapid infuser by wrapping it around an IV bag very tightly. Improvise a clipboard holder, IV ready pack, Saline bag holder, Yankaur suction tip ready pack holder, lunch bag, coffee sleeve, pressure bandage, or garbage can. I love those things. We call them "Zap Straps," or "Zaps."
Other useful tools: pillows and blankets. Heavy duty vinyl gloves (my favorites are green and have long cuffs that go halfway up the arms). "Sam Splints," a flexible piece of mesh wire wrapped in a thin blue foam: also multiple uses! Mainly for splinting any limb, and holding the head in place when strapped to a spine board. Also good as a coffee cup holder.

The most useful tool is my own brain, and my two hands. I can do more with questions and a physical exam than I can do with any of the expensive gadgets in my ambulance or jump kit.

Any call with Search and Rescue is a hell of a good time.

Babies compensate well and then crash hard and fast.

It's amazing how rapidly a human being moves from a dynamic presence in the room, to an inanimate object once they die. We're generally aware of each others' presence, and recognize each other as human, but once someone has died their body rapidly becomes something markedly non alive. Significant, but inanimate.

Kneeling on one's stethescope will bend its arm so you can't hear properly on one side.

Driving fast with lights and sirens is really fucking fun.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dragon Boat Festival

Last summer when I moved to town, there was a dragonboat booth at one of the local summer festivals.  I've always thought dragonboating would be COOLER THAN SHIT, plus it's nice to join a team to meet people and get exercise.  So I signed up.

Our season started the end of March.  Somehow (thanks to my coworker and teammate Amy), I wound up on the most competitive team in a 100 mile radius, so at my first practice I was like Please be kind, I'm as green as bananas...

The coach sat behind me and gave me 3375 tips and corrections for me to get the very, very basic paddle technique down.  Everyone was really nice about me being so green.  Even the girl who was unfortunate enough to sit in front of me and get continually splashed by my errant paddle topping a wave on the return arc.  =)  At the end of that first practice, during which I held on by my toenails and made myself look frantic and discombobulated for the good of my sport, the coach asked me how it went.


I couldn't wait to go again.  I died every practice. I crawled out of bed the following two mornings feeling like a 92 year old robot with rusty joints.  I gasped and splashed and wrestled with the paddle and the proper hip movement and the proper grip and the proper shoulder angle and the proper reach and the proper paddle depth and the proper facial expression, and I loved every minute.  My back gave me huge hassles, but I managed.  This sport is so much fun; partly because it is an all ages sport, with all levels of competitiveness from recreational to seriously committed.  And partly because it requires your team to have many paddles but one mind.

The most memorable practice was one where we did a drill that lasted 19 minutes without stopping.  And then we had to switch sides and do it again.  I almost defeated myself with that drill because our helmsman warned us the drill would be 19 minutes and I totally freaked out inside, certain I would die.  I did not, and in fact we paddled all 38 minutes with very little mental anguish.  I surprised myself with what I (we) could accomplish.

My team is pretty fierce.  Last year they drove themselves hard, and this year they wanted to take it a bit easier, do fewer festivals, and have a shorter season.  So we entered two festivals.  The first was in Victoria but I couldn't find childcare so I had to miss it, but the second was in Nanaimo this past weekend.  Holy shit was it ever fun!

Brent was working--in order to be able to go, I had to bring all the kids with me, and my mom came over on the ferry with her camper to babysit for me.  (YAY MOM!!!)  We camped at Englishman River Falls near Parksville for the weekend.

Ayden was camp champ; he helped me set up and organize the tent, and started the campfire (including chopping kindling).

The first evening was sprinkling rain but the trees kept the forested areas dry so the kids played in the woods and went to bed late, after a good dinner and some s'mores.  The next morning we were up early because I had to be at the paddler's village for 8:30.  Fed and ready for racing.  It was supposed to be warm and sunny.  It was not.

My paddling partner's name is Deb, and my team is the Pussycats.  Here we are waiting for our first race!  It was epic.  I was wildly nervous because there are over 70 teams competing at the Nanaimo Festival, and the energy and noise and excitement were incredibly high.  Also, I'm a new paddler.  I didn't want to slow the team down or lose my paddle or fall overboard or something.

I don't look super nervous here, but I am.

Paddler's Village is this huge collection of tents, teams, music, warmups, the marshaling tent, and the most hilarious volunteer ever who was marshaling coordinator and had his own mic.  For each $1000 he raised from the racers, he shaved half his head.  All the funds raised through the festival go to breast cancer research.

My first race was a bit of a shock.  We paddle faster and way more powerfully in the race than in a practice, and there was so much going on around us that it was hard for me to do anything but breathe and flail.  Races are 500 meters but feel like a million.  They last just over two minutes but feel like an hour.  The type of hour that flies by.  Afterwards we are all so spent we can't talk, paddle, move, or climb out of the boat.  We won our first race by almost 8 seconds!  I think we all surprised ourselves.... Coaching feedback I got from that race was ...You were a bit too excited.  Just as I thought.  Breathe and flail.  It's my signature move.

This is another team lining up to race

We won our second race too!  And improved on our time by 6 seconds.  I did much less flailing that time.  And was much, much calmer mentally.  Perhaps these two facts were related.

Winning both heats meant we were in the platinum competition for the following day; competing for top 4 or top 8...
It also meant some double fisting in the beer garden afterwards...

That evening we went out for dinner as a team.  My mom had brought the kids to watch us race, play in the playground, and browse the farmer's market, but they were tuckered out by mid afternoon so they went back to the campground while I went out with my team.  I had a rack of ribs, prawns, Ceasar salad, coleslaw, and a spinach dip appie.... And I ate nearly all of it.  We were all starving.

Next morning started even earlier, since our first race was early in the morning.  I woke up to several inches of rainwater in the vestibule of our tent, soaked race gear, clothing, shoes, and kid gear.  That was fantastic.  I drove back to Nanaimo in soggy gear, making it just on time.  We had an amazing start, our technique was good, and our timing was synchronized, but we still came third in that race.  We lost to stronger teams.  We needed to win first or second in that heat to qualify for top tier and be medal contenders, so our next race would determine where we placed in the 5th to 8th category.  But man, after winning so beautifully the day before it was a real hit to miss the top 4.  Our fourth race was later that afternoon, and we came second!  So we placed 6th overall among over 30 teams in our division.  Not too shabby!  We were SO CLOSE to 5th place; we lost by only 2/10ths of a second!  So painful!!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Canada Day

So Canada Day started off well, with a 4:30 call from dispatch to do this:

To fly over this:

And go here:

Later, after a crazy call and several hours of cleaning and restocking, I went home and we went to the local Canada Day festivities with these guys.... (and the fascist, who refused to be photographed)

Local festivities are considerably lower key than ones we have attended in the past, but had the super amazing perk of offering free airplane rides for the kids (!!!) ---Here are Riley and Ayden in the plane ready for takeoff... Riley blew me kisses as they taxied down the runway.  So cute!

Then we finished off with hot dogs and corn on the cob, and Brent took the kids to a movie and I went back to work.  Woohoo!! 

During the previous night's shift I had only about 2 hours of sleep so while we were waiting for the boys' airplane ride I had a nap in the van.  I'm not a napper.  I have a hard enough time sleeping at night let alone sleeping during the day, and I have too much energy to make naps realistic.  But that day I slept semi reclined in the front seat of our van with my face smashed in the upholstered arm of the chair, for an hour.  In the heat.  I was so fucking tired.

Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Big News!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So in February I took a big leap of faith and submitted a piece I wrote on being a paramedic to the CBC Canada Writes nonfiction contest.  I have not submitted anything to actual writing contests or for publication since 1999 when I was in the Creative Writing program at UVic (only for one year before switching back to English Lit at another university).  I have very little faith in the merits of my writing~but my good friend Tamie who is a REAL writer had encouraged me to get this particular piece published, so I went for it.  She actually encouraged me to publish it about five years ago, and I just got around to it this year  =)

I polished the piece a bit including slashing it in half to meet the maximum word count but I'm a terrible editor so when I go back and read it now, it just seems like a hot mess.  Most artists wallow around in self doubt; I've dug myself a burrow in it.  And convinced myself I'm awful.

This year, I leapt.  And last Friday I got a letter.  It said my piece made the long list of entrants which means that out of several thousand pieces, mine made the TOP 35!!!!!  This is wild.  Like, this contest is a pretty big deal in Canada.  FUCKING EH!!!

Here's a link.  To see my name published on the CBC Canada Writes website.

DYING of happiness.