Well it’s our first blog post. . . so here’s goes nothing. You’ll have to forgive any technical error’s. It’s been a minute since I’ve written in HTML.
Its been almost two months since I attended Brave African Discussions in Emergency Medicine (BadEM). I took this length of time to reflect about the experience, to formulate my thoughts and let my feelings ruminate on this. . . thing I had been privileged to attend. By now, many of you have probably at least heard of this incredible event that took place between March 22 and March 25 of this year. The stories, the experiences, the friendships that were forged have poured out into social media in such a tidal wave it would be hard to ignore it! But I chose to wait – wait and digest my experience and see how it has changed me and my practice as paramedic and as a person. And while I probably won’t deviate greatly from what so many of the wonderful (and arguably more articulate) attendee’s have said and published I think it’s prudent to at least get my thoughts and perspectives as a paramedic from Canada.
Travelling across the planet to another continent to attend a medical conference might seem mad – okay, maybe it was a touch mad. But it’s something that I feel pretty strongly about and encourage paramedics (and people in general) everywhere to experience. Life around the world. I’ll be writing something later on about the importance of what I call “The Travelling CME” specifically as it pertains to paramedics in Ontario. But I digress – after a 21 hour flight I landed in Cape Town, haggard and bleary eyed. I was met by smiles, a warm breeze and the unknown of a place I have never been. After all I had left Canada at the end of March – still in the throws of winter. I’m not sure what I expected to be honest but what I got was my first taste of South African hospitality. From airport to hotel my experience was nothing but smiles and laughter from everyone I encountered despite the somber warnings everywhere to conserve water. The warm temperature of the country was a reflection of the warm nature of those I met along my way.
Now, to the crux of it. What can I say about this conference? To call it a conference is not completely accurate nor does it truly do BadEM justice. This was an experience. We drove through the South African countryside to set up about an hour and half outside of Cape Town near Greyton. I was struck with awe as we entered the “conference” site. “Nope,” I thought, “. . . this is different. This is special.” Its hard not to be captivated by the natural beauty of it all – sentinel like mountains against a crystal blue sky with gentle wisps of delicate vanilla clouds overhead. The beauty of this place was unlike anything I had ever seen. We were shown to our accommodation – a tent city set in the lush green grass of a field. Bedouin style accommodation for the next few days complete with field bed, chair and table. We found our way and got comfortable. The next few days are hard to describe but I’ll try.
Everyday brought new insight. The speakers were varied and the discussions deep. The workshops catered to your personal taste: infectious disease, critical care retrieval, POCUS, SALAD and wilderness medicine to name a few. Of course there were the medicine heavy lectures – bringing new topics to the for front to be discussed with the audience. At the end of everyday we were treated to great food and live music. At one point, one of the founders, Kat Evans, described the vision of BadEM as “combining two things that they loved: music festivals and medicine”. After an incredible of discussion and education we were treated to live music by outstanding musicians from South Africa. I think this is indicative of what BadEM was truly about – combining humanity and medicine, something that at times we lose sight of. The most captivating discussions, the ones that kept me sat in trance like attention, the ones that I sopped up like a sponge were those discussing the human factors. Resilience, compassion, context and perspective in medicine. Self care and self reflection coupled with varied self management skills. These were the things I found most compelling. Hearing discussions from Andy Tagg, Kaleb Lachenicht, and Kirst Kingma just to name a few, I found myself captivated by every speaker that hit the stage. I was inspired by these people who did so much, in many cases, with very little. I could sit here and give you the run down of every lecture I listened to but I think the context and overall message are more important. Now, I’m not trying to over simplify every speakers important message – no, not even slightly. Rather I’m trying to provide you a sense of the feeling that every speaker evoked in me. And in the simplest terms, that feeling was kindness. That, my friends, was at the crux of BadEM, be kind. In all things we do we must be brave, we must be kind. These speakers didn’t just educate but they connected with me – they provided insight into life in medicine and life as it is. That we are human capable of great and wonderful things but we must remember that we are only human. They taught me to keep perspective in all things I do, through trial and tribulations and through success and progress and all things in medicine.
Like I said, I could prattle on about all the medical lessons I learned. I’m sure most of us could after a good CME or conference or even falling down a #FOAMed hole on Twitter! But again, I don’t think that’s the point (but for the record I learned tons). The point was to remind us of the human side of medicine – the side we can forget or become dull to in the frenzy that is prehospital medicine. The importance of keeping perspective of the things in life that truly matters, including the important work we do everyday. To be wary of cynicism and burnout which is so prevalent in the emergency medical field. To be inspired and brave in all things we do and aspire to do. And finally to be brave enough to have the conversations about our vulnerability not only as providers but as humans. No, this was not just a conference – it was an experience.