To be a paramedic is a special thing. It is unique in that it is unlike any other profession or duty. Paramedics are not police officers, yet our hands hold the savagely depraved. We are not firefighters, yet we inhale smoke whilst knelt beside a burning man. We are not priests, though I have heard the last confessions of a dying soul. We are not social workers, but for certain our eyes have captured the horrid sight of a badly beaten child. Did you know that an injured soldier’s second most audible plea on the battlefield is for that of a medic? Followed only by that of screams for their mother’s… we may not be your father nor mother – but make no mistake – we hear you! To be a paramedic is a calling. Being a good paramedic however, means having your bones held together by virtue, not sinew.
I knew one such man; I worked with him. I have seen with my own eyes the heavenly skill that emanated from his well-trained hands and studious mind. I have seen him bring the dead back to life. I have observed as he spoke kindly, softly and empathically to those in need.
When I was first told by my PO (Petty Officer) that I was going to be riding out with Edmonton Paramedics as part of my pre-deployment and maintenance of clinical skills upkeep, I was excited to get back on the ambulance; first time since my practicum. The night of my first ride-out, I had no idea who I was supposed to be meeting with. So, I stood in the kitchen area of the ambulance station in the city’s north end, awkwardly shifting my stance from side to side as a bevy of paramedics came in and out of the building for shift change. And then he came, a tall and sturdy man with a commanding presence but an obvious kindness that followed in behind him.
“Uh, yes sir!”
“No – no, Greg, call me Greg!”
“Sure, yeah, Greg”.
He extended his hand to meet mine, though his shake was firm and authoritative, it was not at all intimidating. I was to shadow Greg over the next several days and nights. I didn’t know it then, but there was no one better…
Greg took me to the back of the rig and showed me around the ambulance, giving me a tour of their equipment and supplies, asking me how much of it was in use within the military where I was currently serving – it was all there. Greg seemed pleased with my eagerness and humility to learn, we got along well. Which is good, ‘cause he could of crushed me!
That was my introduction to Greg; shadowing him for those short days and long nights. When I left the army, I was fortunate enough to be hired by the Edmonton Paramedic Service, later to be known as: Alberta Health Services. I would once again encounter that large, kind man. He seemed larger than life to me. His voice carried a deep baritone that was soothing to those who knew him, and caused immediate attention to those who did not. I got to know Greg over the years. We even worked a few special duties together. One football game in particular – I remember because it was a great time.
As the years passed and my seniority gathered weight, I would eventually see myself stationed at that same north ambulance house where I had met Greg some years before. We even worked on the same truck, albeit on different platoons. Basically, he was on nights when we were on days, and vice versa.
On numerous occasions we would exchange pleasantries and guffaws while stood in the oil stained ambulance bay. We became Facebook friends, no longer just colleagues passing one another ephemerally at shift change.
When that day came, the day where I responded to the bad thing… the really bad thing… Greg was there to hear me out before I went home. I sat on a bench outside of the station and he forwent his responsibility of signing on merely to make sure that I was indeed okay… I will always remember his kindness that day… because I wasn’t okay… even though I said I was…
The fickle permanence of the internet is one that makes memories tangible and gives time the ability of physical recall. As such, I am able to read Greg’s last words to me… I will not provide detail, those are not yours to have… they’re mine. What I will say is that I tried to return the favor and kindness that he had gifted to me on that bench a year or so prior. It was now he whom had been to a bad thing… a really bad thing… as such, his heart hurt. At least, that’s what his words tell me. I told him to stay positive and offered up my company any time he wanted to have a beer and set the world right – he thanked me, and then I never spoke to him again about it.
Fast forward, January 26, 2015; I was living in Ontario now. I was hungover on that cold January morning… I often was back then…
My phone rang, I spoke through remnants of stale beer and whiskey breath to whomever was calling me – it was Rob, a friend of mine, a brother. He was sullen in tone and asked where I was. Asked if I was alone. I knew something was wrong, I could hear it in the silence between spoken words.
“Matty… you knew Greg, yeah?”
“Turner? Yeah, man. I know him… great guy. Why?”
“Shit… They found him dead this morning… He’s dead, Matty…”
“Wait? What?! Greg is?? No…”
“Yeah… they worked him at the station but…”
On January 26th of 2015, Paramedic Greg Turner was murdered by his own mind. Greg was killed by suicide in between calls. Greg was found in the back of an ambulance that rested in that same oil stained bay where laughs and stories were shared.
I wasn’t hungover anymore. I mean, I was but, I didn’t feel it. I felt thirsty though – ravenous for a cure to the pain that had been introduced to me. So, I got dressed. I walked out of my apartment and into the frigid air of winter’s unforgiving wind. I sloshed through the snow, slipping and sliding towards the nearest bar. I pushed on the rusted down door made of wood and steel. I walked into the bleak, drab establishment, removed my coat and took up residency at the bar. I ordered a beer and a whiskey. I asked for them to be on repeat until satiated. I am not sure what time that was, but the light of day was gone, and so was Greg…
Over the next few days TV screens and social media feeds were apathetically boastful with their images of Greg and the words, “Dead”. I read and watched them all through the distorted gape of intoxication. I found myself opening his message that he had sent me about a year before, the message about the bad thing… I read my response and felt lazy in my attempt at comfort. I read ‘failure, loser, idiot, he’s dead, you’re to blame, it should be you… it should be you… you should be dead… not them… not him…’ No matter how much I drank, the voice of regret and self-doubt sang louder and louder, a lullaby before passing out. Not at all a euphonious one.
Greg’s wife became an advocate for speaking out. She challenged the current protection and help for first responders. Greg was the one who made, Bell Let’s Talk, real for me. Painfully so… You see, I would love to talk… talk to him – to Greg – but I can’t… it’s too late for all that.
Sometimes I still blame myself for the diminutive message I sent him on that day. Logic brain knows it’s not my fault, I wasn’t even in the same city as he was at the time. But the thing about suicide is, it does not care about logic nor topography. It does not discriminate. But it is a fucking thief!
Ever since that day, I have remembered two things: One, the time I spent with Greg on the bench out front of Kildare station, and the kindness and willingness to talk that he gifted me. And two, the day I was told he was dead, and the way in which he had died. Those two things act as kindling in the fire of motivation towards spreading the flame of awareness for me. Greg was a good man. A healer and a helper. Greg was a friend… a brother… and in death, Greg shows us all the true importance of talk!
On Bell Let’s Talk day, I will, I am, I continue.
Sometimes I like to think that maybe Greg found my mum along the way; made her trip a little easier… I like to think that because I saw how great he was at calming the chaos of fear within the sick and wounded.
Greg, if you see my mum, tell her it’s alright, it’s going to be okay… I’m talking…