Wednesday, May 12, 2010

So I´ve managed to find an internet cafe where I can wind out a new post and listen to some music that I neglected to download and put on my ipod before I left for this trip. Anyways, major updates to be had. About a week ago I was offered a position as crew on a 50ft sailing yacht owned by a retired Alaskan couple going west to French Polynesia via the Galapagos Islands. Naturally, I accepted and we´re now finishing up preparations for the crossing this week.

A little over a week ago I took the bus from Panama City to Colon, then caught a cab out to Shelter Bay Marina where I met Chris and Louise while they were docked and waiting for their turn to transit the canal. Their original crew ended up backing out last minute so they we´re forced to take on new crew, and I was simply at the right place at the right time. I joined them a few days before the canal transit in order to get accustomed to the boat and take care of some last minute issues like scraping of the hull barnacles, etc.

For the canal transit, we hired two Panamanian linehandlers to help us and the other two boats that we were rafted with. At around noon, we motored to an area near the mouth of the canal call the ¨flats.¨ We waited there for a few hours until our pilot, the fellow who guides us through the canal, showed up and got us on our way. It´s fairly exciting to transit the canal because small boats are very low priority and therefor have to sneak into opening in the queue, and most importantly not hold up the large boats behind us once transiting. Because of the rushed nature of transiting the canal as a small boat, the canal authority usually arranges crossings so that three small boats will transit together. This means that the the small yachts transiting must raft together (tie the boats together) and navigate the locks as a single unit. Which is fun because this rafting must occure while travelling at the yacht´s maximum speed, again, so we don´t hold up the line. Professional line handlers made this circus alot more managable and there was a minimum if any paint traded during the transit thanks to their help.

Once inside, the locks themselve fill up surpisingly quickly and you can see strong currents in the water that push the boats around significantly. You definitely do not want to fall in. Once we transited the locks, we motored to a moorage in Gatun Lake where we spent the night. Enroute, we passed the massive expansion excavation which was quite impressive. We didn´t get any pictures of it because it was dark but I´m sure there are some on the internet. Transiting the Pedro Miguel/Miraflores Locks was the same deal as the first except going downwards. The only event of note is when one of the line handlers on the aft port side of the port yacht got their line tangled in the cleat, causing our three boats to rotate towards the wall. This accompanied by the starboard yacht linehandlers (not paying attention) not cleating their line almost resulted in the port yacht having its bow sprit broken off. In the end, the Panamanian line handlers saved the day and got everyone through safely and damage free. The transit was very interesting and could almost merit an entire post itself but because of time constraints I need to keep things shorter than I would like.

At the moment, we are moored at Balboa Yacht Club awaiting the delivery of our new dingy motor. Most of the provisioning is done and the boat is almost ready to go so these posts may become very sporadic after the 19th or 20th when we leave. Will post some pictures and possibly video before we leave if everything I´m able to.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Direction

So, this blog will be taking a different tangent in the next few months as I won´t be working in an ambulance in the near future. And I´ll explain this with a little back-story. From about when I was about 16 and onwards, the ultimate destination for me was, and still is, the South Pacific. There is a distant, edge-of-the-earth lure that for some unexplicable reason has drawn my interest for about eight years, and this has turned out to be the year that I´ve decided to go there. I admit that I´ve kept my travel plans on the down-low, not mentioning it on this blog and only telling a few friends about this plan. But since I´ve decided to keep a blog about this trip, which will ultimately supply sufficient defining features about myself that will compromise my interweb anonymity, I really have no choice but to include the history of my previous (and precursor) trip to this one.

On April 3rd, 2008, I left Calgary, Alberta on a 1979 Honda CB750 motorcycle and rode solo to Panama City, Panama through the course of two months, crossing every country in between except Belize. I´ll go into the details of that trip some other time, but that was the precursor for me being in Panama right now. On April 26th, last week, I flew from Seattle, WA to Panama City, Panama. Here is the plan: to join on as unpaid crew on a private sailing yacht who is looking for an extra deckhand, and sail as far as possible towards Australia via the South Pacific islands before I have to fly back to Canada for the next University year. The logical continuation of Canada to Panama by land is Panama to Australia by sea, which is the second leg of my intended round-the-world trip broken up over the past and coming years.

Panama also is home to one of the world´s busiest cruiser and trade routes: the Panama Canal, where I hope to find a southwestward bound yacht with room for extra, unpaid, crew. It´s called hitch-hiking the oceans (google that), and it´s how I plan to see French Polynesia, etc. Since it´s only my third day in Panama, prospects are few and far between but I´m making some contacts that may translate into a position on a boat. It´s my intention to keep this blog updated, but circumstances may dictate otherwise. Eventually, however, I hope to have all of my travel writing posted here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It seems when I have a ton of things on my plate to do, I always seem drawn to this blog to write a post. In a way, it's a form of procrastination for me of which I usually resist the urge, but considering I actually have some news to post I figure can justify stealing a bit of time away from studying.
Last weekend was my first shift with BCAS and also my first call in almost 6 (six!) months. Despite being swamped-busy with other things, I still managed to find time to work-in my orientation so I could get back on car. Even though the one call we did get during my shift was an uneventful one that we ended up not transporting, I still was excited to get back in the mindset of EMS again.
Reflecting back on when I wasn't in university, working full-time at a high volume station, I know I definitely took some of the good things about the job - the reasons that I got into EMS - for granted. I would go to work knowing that we'd take a the usual run of non-emergent calls, but I always could count on a few serious, challenging, and exciting calls that reminded me all over again why we do this - the adrenaline, achievement, and general feeling of's hard to explain.
In general, I'm thrilled to be working again...and the thought is always there of how much I'd love to go on to become an advanced care paramedic right now rather than be in university. Despite this, I know being an ACP would satisfy me for a limited amount of time. At the end of the day I would still be handing off my patients to doctors and surgeons, then off to the next call...that desire to be an instrument of definitive care would always be there. Because of that, I'll continue to chew on this bullet called pre-med (it's a pretentious term - but what else would we call it?) studies so I'll have the opportunity one day to be the doctor cracking a chest in the ER, inserting a chest tube, or clamping a lacerated artery. Or hitting patients with a walking cane. House...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lately I've been neglecting the hell out of this blog. Ever since pre-final-exam period, I've put non-essential stuff like this on the back burner. Then came the holiday season and although with full intentions to post a paramedic friend's interesting cardiac call story, the time slipped through my hands and here I am back in the full-swing of the second semester.

I never expected school to be so life-consuming. I think I'm still adapting to the reversion to student life, but there is another factor I can attribute to my staying in and studying weekend after weekend: Up to this point, I've never truly applied myself to academics to this degree. Throughout my earlier years of schooling and onwards through high school, I was a chronic, incurable coaster. I did the bare minimum and got by with passing grades, solely to keep parents and teachers off my case. My priorities lied elsewhere. Nothing could convince me otherwise that school was undeniably a boot camp leading up to a life of indebted servitude in the capacity of a nine-to-five office job. I was having none of it. Instead, I felt out of necessity to rebel against this society prescribed archaic paradigm of what someone's life should be and how they should prepare for it. I threw that notion out on its ass and pursued my drive to become the *best* guitar player in high school. Noble goal, I know. Anyways, I played and played and played, practiced like hell early into the mornings. I heard once that one of my favourite guitar players, Zakk Wylde, practiced for fourteen to fifteen hours a day, playing all through the night and sleeping through all his classes. I never maintained that un-human level of dedication, but I kept my head down and pressed forward into new realms of technique and complexity that I had never been exposed to before. I had always looked at my playing as "not good enough," because eventually I would come across some artist or song that totally blew my mind and raised the bar beyond what I thought was possible. In the end though, I felt I developed a skill into a real talent.

Music drove me and gave me an identity and a purpose at that age that I didn't find in academics, or anything else really. Eventually, my interests broadened and I grew as a person. My thoughts matured and I became to see the world differently...that it's not all about me. I realized that helping others in your full capacity is the most rewarding and noble thing you can strive for. You may have your own philosophy, but this became mine.

To get back to my main point though, this is the first time I've committed myself absolutely to realizing my academic goals. I've never applied myself to this degree in anything else, not even music. I have so much invested in future is interminably bound to how well I perform, determined by the infamous GPA scale, which is the bottom line in a medical school application. Realizing this, my goal is one-hundred percent in everything. Perfect. I do realize that I am human, prone to stupid mistakes and follies, which I give myself the allowance of. At this point though, there is no excuse for not putting forth my best efforts. There is nothing I would regret more than falling short of realizing my goal of becoming a doctor because I let-up and didn't give it my best shot. That, in itself, was the turning point for my academic and ultimately, my life path. The wanting of something far off in the future so deeply that you're willing to sacrifice and commit yourself entirely, with no reservations or back-up plan.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Joining the Dark Side

After seven months of waiting, I received a phone call yesterday from BCAS regarding scheduling an interview in the next few weeks. I sent in my employee application about seven months ago, as I mentioned, when the strike had little resemblance as to what it is now. I was sold a decent sounding job when I first spoke on the phone to the BCAS human resources department, who definitely downplayed the whole $2/hr and 6 month probation aspects. I'm not going to go into details, but it was almost made to sound better than Alberta, if you can believe that. Working for BCAS when I moved out here has always been in my plan, and now that I have the opportunity to be hired by them, I believe I can help in constructive ways to implement change in the structure of the service.

**On a side note, even if had the availability to work at the Olympics (classes would prevent this), I would refuse on principle. BCAS may be doing damage control with the hiring they are doing right now, possibly compensating for the currently higher turnover rate and filling positions to do standby at the Games, but I would refuse to be part of their real reason that they legislated an end to a legitimate strike.

But getting back to why I still intend on working for BCAS. Working as a paramedic while in school is integral to my plan for med school, and justifies the money, time, and effort spent getting the credentials to get to this point. The major reason though, the reason that stands above all else, is the fact that I truly miss working EMS. I miss going lights to a call, bringing a sense of control to an chaotic situation, and doing my best to help people. There is a certain pride in knowing that you hold a certain skill set to deal with emergencies, and a humbleness that goes along with constantly learning and reevaluating yourself after every call.

The phone call yesterday really symbolized, for me, the chance to do the job I'm passionate about again, regardless of the politics around it. The storm of discontent and government indifference will pass, but the job remains the same.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I don't really like to go on the internet and bitch about it as Peter Griffin suggests, but I feel compelled to at least comment on this abrupt and disappointing end to the BCAS Paramedic strike.

First, I don't work for BCAS. I'm originally from Alberta and recently (as in 3 months ago) moved to Vancouver Island for university. I did my EMR, then EMT training in Alberta, and worked full-time and casually for a few different services throughout the province for about a year and a half. I didn't have any difficulty finding a full-time position immediately after licensure. I did, however, decide to commute to northern Alberta to work for a remote basic-life-support ambulance service on a native reserve for my first year of EMS. Although Calgary EMS was definitely an option for me, I felt I should follow the advice of senior medics and instructors, and go cut my teeth at a rural BLS service before I worried about working for an urban service. Even though I was away from home nearly all the time, I made a very decent wage, which was augmented by working casual shifts at more proximal services. For the trade off of driving 8 hours twice a month to work, I was compensated for it, and had the opportunity to gain some experience and hone my skills before I moved on to a service in my own community. I did this because I thought it benefited my career, not because I had to, which makes all the difference. There was no 6 month probationary period, no $2/hr pager pay, no union dues, and no requirement of scattered shift-work for five years until the possibility of a full-time position. Imagine how many graduating doctors there would be if this were the job prospects for them...

The reason this strike bothers me is that all the young men and women recently out of high-school, looking for an exciting and challenging career will doubtfully choose EMS in B.C. with the state it's currently in. The advice I give to new EMRs is to do their EMT training in Alberta and continue to work there, so they can actually take home a viable paycheck and serve the community in which they actually live. They can fully enjoy and be challenged by working EMS in a full capacity, without worrying if the power will be turned off when they get home. I honestly think the current system BCAS has in place does little to attract prospective paramedics, and to be honest, I don't think the union helps either. A paramedic's rank and value in a service should not be determined by hire date, but rather their technical skills, knowledge, work ethic, and patient care ability.

This government's decision to forcibly end the strike will only prove to band-aid this plethora of mounting issues that are clearly caused by perpetual mismanagement, bureaucratic ignorance, and incompetent planning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I thought paramedic training was intense. I am now learning that first year undergrad studies with a full course load is as much about time management as it is about work ethic. It's not so much the work load that is challenging as it is the diversity of the work. I hold very high standards for myself in subjects even where my weaknesses lie, which makes excelling in subjects I loathe an exceptionally hateful task. Read: English. 

Paramedic training never delved that deep into the nuances of biochemistry, microbiology, pharmokinetics, or pharmocology. The focus was more hands on, follow protocol, follow procedure, fine tunes motor skills, and so on. I found my base of knowledge was vastly added to when I began working on car full-time. Conditions manifested in real life, with tangible details, are rarely forgotten. These cases of injuries and illnesses described in textbooks could now be taken out of context and literally be seen, heard, and palpated. It is one thing to read about paradoxical chest motion, to see it with your own eyes though, is quite another. Patient after patient, month after month, these cold hard facts begin to crystallize with the ever-growing base of experience. This combination emboldens your confidence, but as more time goes by, you come to understand that there is an absolutely vast amount of information you haven't learned. You shift your focus from perfecting what you already know, to acknowledging your own ignorance. This realization signifies that learning and mastering is a never-ending process, a life-long undertaking.

This is the phase I've entered into now, and am more excited than ever to throw myself entirely into my goal of becoming a doctor. Whatever the workload, the odds, the lack of sleep, or the difficulty, I know that this is the right path(although I'll probably bitch and moan about it).