Out­side the box

Mid­dle­ton para­medic leaves stress be­hind to teach in Mid­dle East

Annapolis Valley Register - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAWRENCE POW­ELL THE SPEC­TA­TOR MID­DLE­TON

A para­medic who had to take a break from the pres­sures of his job in Nova Sco­tia is teach­ing paramedicine half a world away. And lov­ing it.

“The big part for me has been growth in learn­ing to look out­side the box,” said Pa­trick Arm­strong, a 17-year EMS vet­eran. “To look out­side the win­dow of the Val­ley and re­al­ize the world is big­ger, and to get those per­spec­tives from the East to West ver­sus the con­stant bom­bard­ment of West­ern cul­ture to­wards the East.”

He’s been teach­ing at the Col­lege of the North At­lantic in Doho, Qatar where he’s learn­ing as much about him­self as he is about other cul­tures -- and that what you see in the movies and on TV dra­mas might not have much to do with what the Mid­dle East is re­ally like. Pray­ers five times a day? Arm­strong quickly got used to it and re­spects that re­li­gious tra­di­tion.

“It’s given me a lot more re­spect and per­spec­tive to that,” he said of his ex­pe­ri­ences so far in a very dif­fer­ent cul­ture. “Qatar is a small penin­sula coun­try that’s at­tached to Saudi Ara­bia by a very small land con­nec­tion and sticks out into the Per­sian Gulf in the same vicin­ity of the UAE, Dubai, and Bahrain.”

Con­nec­tion Arm­strong made a con­nec­tion with the Col­lege of the North At­lantic, a school with mul­ti­ple cam­puses across New­found­land – and one in Qatar. He said when Qatar was evolv­ing in their growth as a coun­try they went around the world and found all the best schools and best pro­grams to bring into the coun­try.

“My fi­ancé ac­tu­ally worked with the Col­lege of the North At­lantic in New­found­land at one point, and main­tained those con­nec­tions,” he said. “We saw this job post­ing come up and at the time it was the right de­ci­sion to take.”

Arm­strong had al­most two decades in the front lines of his pro­fes­sion and took all that knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence with him to the Per­sian Gulf.

“I’m cur­rently teach­ing mul­ti­ple classes within a three-year win­dow – paramedics start­ing at en­try level, pri­mary care, and up through to ad­vance care paramedicine,” he said. “We teach them to a Cana­di­an­based Cana­dian Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion stan­dard cur­ricu­lum. And then we put them into the field and hope­fully work to that level within their health care sys­tem. So ba­si­cally it’s teach­ing their paramedicine pro­gram.”

Step­ping Back

“My back­ground is 17 years in EMS, pri­mar­ily based here in the Val­ley, the ma­jor­ity ac­tu­ally here in Mid­dle­ton,” he said. “Where this all came about was for my per­sonal health. I had a busy ca­reer up un­til step­ping back, and we’ve had some sig­nif­i­cant changes in our EMS sys­tem. It’s strained. It’s over­loaded. The paramedics right now in the field are get­ting burnt out, not only due to the on­go­ing work­load, it’s the on­go­ing chal­lenges from the com­pany we work for that’s con­tracted by the prov­ince.”

He said all of those chal­lenges are press­ing the para­medic, es­pe­cially in the Val­ley. And then one day he lost a col­league. That death was trau­matic even to the peo­ple who deal with trauma ev­ery day.

“We’ve had the loss of one of our co­work­ers which was a huge im­pact to a lot of us,” Arm­strong said. “So this chal­lenge was as much for me a ca­reer growth. It was an op­por­tu­nity to take the things that I’m very good at and trans­late it to stu­dents. It just hap­pened to be that the chal­lenge that I was able to gain was go­ing to be a cul­tural growth, a per­sonal growth to me be­ing in a Mid­dle Eastern coun­try.”

Big Change

“I left here the first of Au­gust at the height of our sum­mer here,” said Arm­strong. “When I landed and got off the plane it was in the vicin­ity of 50 de­grees and 80 per cent hu­mid­ity. Your clothes seemed to soak from the out­side in be­fore you could sweat.”

The weather did mod­er­ate and by the time he flew home for Christ­mas it was mid-20s. “It was nice and com­fort­able,” he said. “The evenings would get down to high teens. It made it quite com­fort­able.”

But Qatar is about as dif­fer­ent from Wil­mot, Nova Sco­tia, where Arm­strong lives, as it can get.

“The City of Doha, which is the cap­i­tal of Qatar, is a huge melt­ing pot,” he said. “Be­ing that they’re

Step Up

Arm­strong is most proud that he was able to make such a sig­nif­i­cant job and life change.

“I was proud of my­self that I was able to step up and do that and re­al­ize there is some­thing be­yond slam­ming around in an am­bu­lance,” he said.

Where he is in Qatar, it’s worlds away in a fig­u­ra­tive sense as well as ge­o­graph­i­cally. He said he’s work­ing for an or­ga­ni­za­tion that ac­tu­ally, truly ap­pre­ci­ates the job he’s do­ing, and why he’s there.

“They go out of their way to show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion for you, whether it just be a pass­ing with the dean of health sciences or the ac­cess that we have to gym fa­cil­i­ties,” he said. “It’s just as­sumed that you have that, whereas we don’t have that sense of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, that sense of sup­port in the cur­rent EMS sys­tem in Nova Sco­tia, and it’s driv­ing peo­ple out.”

He hopes that oth­ers will re­al­ize there is light at the end of the tun­nel. “You don’t have to do this for­ever,” he said. “You can get out and find some­thing bet­ter, and find some­thing more healthy for your­self.”

While Arm­strong was to fly back to Qatar on Dec. 27 to re­sume his teach­ing job, his leave of ab­sence is over at the end of Jan­uary and he’s been un­able to re­ceive an ex­ten­sion from his Nova Sco­tia em­ploy­ers.

Iron­i­cally, in his job teach­ing new paramedics in a far away coun­try, he’s in­tro­duced a men­tal health com­po­nent into the cur­ricu­lum that speaks to the stress of the job and PTSD. Arm­strong played for­mer Kings County para­medic Kevin Dav­i­son’s video ‘When those Sirens are Gone,’ that deals with PTSD, to his class. Stu­dents learned the song and later when they Skyped with Dav­i­son, who suf­fers from PTSD, they sang the song back to him.

LAWRENCE POW­ELL

Pa­trick Arm­strong of Wil­mot and his fi­ancé Niki are both paramedics. Arm­strong took a six-month leave of ab­sence for health rea­sons and is cur­rently teach­ing paramedicine at the Col­lege of the North At­lantic in Qatar.

PA­TRICK ARM­STRONG

Paramedicine stu­dents at the Col­lege of the North At­lantic in Qatar on the Per­sian Gulf sing the hit song ‘When those Sirens are Gone,’ a song about post trau­matic stress dis­or­der by Kentville’s Kevin Dav­i­son – a para­medic. Watch­ing through Skype is Dav­i­son.

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