General News · 30th September 2018
Anicca de Trey
In 1985 or 86 Gloria Jorg and I were sitting in a meeting about Emergency preparedness at Manson Hall. The issue came up about medical care on Cortes or more to the point lack of it. We had no doctor, no clinic , no ambulance. Gloria and Ginny Ellingsen were nurses and were often called upon to help out at a health crisis but
otherwise people managed their accidents and illnesses on their own.
Cortes was too small to qualify for having ambulance service so somehow, during or following that meeting Gloria and I decided that we would try and organize a volunteer First Aid Service. Most people were in favour but a few complained that “we had managed very well without ambulance service so far - why do we need one now ? next they’ll decide we need a Fire service”.
Our first meeting was held at Gloria and Yendors place with Gloria chairing. We decided that we’d start fundraising to buy supplies, to train a bunch of Cortesians in Industrial First Aid who would agree to take shifts to be on call as first responders. And we would need to find an ambulance.
It was an ambitious goal but there was enthusiasm and drive within the group and we organized the usual series of raffles, bake sales, dances etc. to raise money. I remember 1 dance at Mansons Hall that raised over one thousand dollars. The band played for only their travel expenses bless them - they were fabulous. Their name was Brain Damage - hopefully not a bad omen. Bonnie - I think you applied for grants and Sedley and Yendor went to Vancouver to meet with some of Sedley’s more affluent friends.
With enough money raised to pay for the Industrial first aid training we had 14 volunteers. If we passed the exam we were deemed ready to be set loose on the general population of Cortes and become first responders. After the training the province who had refused to get involved or recognize us as paramedics did agree to provide us with pagers and all calls were relayed via 911 through their switchboard and whoever was on call was then paged with the details and address. They also provided us with jump kits filled with bandages, swabs, masks etc. We were set to go. Cortes Emergency First Aid Service or CEFAS for short was officially in business. We had a rota of
shifts so that 2 people were always on call 24/7.
Trude and Sedley were on shift when we got our first call. They didn’t have to go far. A vehicle had driven off the road straight through their fence and landed in their front yard. At first we had to transport the sick and injured who needed to be evacuated in our own cars, which was at times problematic to say the least. But finally we raised enough money to buy an ambulance. We located one at a logging camp on Haida Gwai and Sully Sullivan went up there and drove it back. It was old and a bit battered but it was white with a red cross on the side but it was an ambulance and it was ours. We celebrated ! We each took it out and learned how to drive. Boy what a tank that was - I don’t think it even had power steering. But getting that ambulance somehow gave us credibility.
We were pretty green and inexperienced those first few years and I’m sure that we made lots of mistakes. But overall I think that we at least did no harm. People were very forgiving. The curious and needy would call us just to be given a bandaid when all they really wanted was a ride in the ambulance. Once all the fun of organizing the whole thing was pretty much achieved I expected the reality of offering such a service would turn out be very serious, sobering and challenging, but I was surprised to find that in amongst the drama, in our weekly debriefing meetings there was a lot of fun and hilarity, in reviewing and giving feedback on some of the more unusual aspects of a call. Of course each call was strictly confidential but in sharing our experiences amongst the group of us there was valuable learning.
I remember arriving at the scene of one call, where dispatch had informed us that an elderly woman had fallen and cut her head and from the symptoms a possible head injury was suspected. We arrived on the scene to find a neighbour stitching up a long bloody scalp wound with a sewing needle and blue thread. She had given the patient and probably herself a large glass of scotch which the lady was tippling back every time the needle was inserted. We watched in horror as the patient winced and drank. After she was sewn up they both apologized profusely for us having to come out for nothing.
Another amusing incident concerned the Jehovahs witnesses who used to come over from Quadra. There was an old lady in Whaletown who hardly ever went out who they used to visit regularly. She lived alone so she welcomed a bit of company and would always invite them in for tea. One day the Witnesses arrived at the lady’s house - knocked on the door twice, got no answer so prepared to leave. They peered in as they passed her window and saw a large lump in her bed. Thinking that it was her lying in her bed under the covers they knocked hard on the window with no response. Concerned, they thought that she was either unconscious or worse dead so they called the ambulance. With this alarming information and the two first responders on call sped to the scene. With urging from the Jehovahs Witnesses they decided to break in, so finding a ladder they climbed up to a window that was open, only to discover that the lump in the bed was just a pile of blankets. The old lady arrived back on the next ferry, getting home to find her house broken into. She was horrified and extremely angry and never invited the Jehovahs witnesses in again. Fortunately there weren’t too many calls as embarrassing as that.
I can’t remember how long it was before we had enough calls during the year for us to warrant being incorporated into the official provincial ambulance service. By this time I had retired from CEFAS but the First responders now called paramedics were given uniforms and remuneration and our dear old ambulance from Haida Gwai was
replaced by a brand new spanking regular one just like you see all over BC. There are a couple of young people who are living in a white van with a cross on it in Courtenay very like the ambulance we got from Haida Gwai. I often wonder where they got it from but it makes me smile and brings back happy memories of the old CEFAS days.
Comment by Rebeka on 1st October 2018
Thank you Anicca, the story and the van photo were truly enjoyed! Such deep care commitment and courage!
I trust you've heard about the 1st res-ponder tax we are voting on, soon?
Comment by Carole Davidson on 1st October 2018
I loved this story...thank you Annica
Our son, a university student at the time, broke his foot while visiting Cortes. He was the recipient of medical care from these early responders, who came and splinted his leg. His girlfriend drove him to CR the next morning where they put on a cast.
Those were the days.
Comment by Patricia L. on 30th September 2018
Those were the days my friend.