Next month, Buzan begins university with a new outlook after beating back leukemia in record time

Buzan Pierard4thumbHave you ever had that feeling that things in your life are too good to be true?

This was the case for 20-year-old Dillon Buzan who had just spent his summer working at Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch near Bragg Creek as a camp counselor. It was the best job he ever had, as it gave him a chance to work outdoors, be physically active and develop new friendships. He also met a fellow counselor named Katie Pierard, who became his girlfriend.

"It was the best time of my life," he says.

As camp was coming to an end, Buzan anticipated starting Mount Royal University.

That was until he noticed a lump on his neck during the last few weeks of summer. Everyone at camp told him it was likely just a swollen lymph node, nothing to worry about.

Stacie-Rae Weir helps women post-mastectomy

tattoothumbIt's a quiet afternoon inside Stacie-Rae Weir's studio, Sacred Space. The artist, making herself comfortable at her "second home," leans back in her desk chair. She turns up the metal music she's selected from her sleek apple desktop, acknowledging that it may clash with the intended ambiance of the studio.

The quaint and clean space is calm and inviting, painted with pastel colors and immersed in soft scents. It feels perfectly suitable for healing services. Few may realize the main service is tattooing, specifically for women seeking areola — the area of the nipple that is removed during a mastectomy — reconstructive services.

Weir tucks her bright red-streaked hair behind her pierced and stretched ears, placing her head in her hands. Her colourful arms are a portfolio of art and read the words "luck" and "love" when placed together. She takes a deep breath.

Read full story here (PDF)

Written by Krysta Remington

Cameron Breadner at 23, has helped deliver a baby, watched a man die from stab wounds, spent months on the rigs alone and away from home; but he is passionate about his career in the emergency services field and sees it as his end game.

SmallBreadnerAmbulance2As a young fresh-faced 21-year-old, Cameron Breadner’s first day as an Emergency Medical Responder or EMR, was a foreboding and jittery one to say the least. For the majority of people starting a new job their biggest worries are being on time, wearing the right attire and making a good impression.  In the emergency services field people’s lives can be at stake and mistakes should not be made. It was October 2007 when Breadner got his first EMR-related job on the oil rigs as that is one of the few things EMRs are qualified to do. An EMR is not qualified to be on an ambulance yet; further education is needed. Rig sites or corporate employers are usually the companies that hire EMRs. Breadner’s first rig site was in the Albertan deep valley, which is within the triangle of Fort McMurray, Edson and Hinton. “I went with the first one [rig company] that called me back. It was based out of Hinton.  I was given my rig location, directions, a map, a radio and they sent me on my way,” Breadner says.

Breadner arrived on the rig site with a head full of swirling images of rig workers getting their arms chopped off, hands getting crushed, multiple workers becoming injured at the same time; basically any worst case scenario. The day became a game of waiting for something terrible to happen. First the drive to the rig site. Three and a half hours. Orientation to the site from the medic he was relieving. A mere 15 minutes. Walking around introducing himself. Half an hour. There were not enough distractions to kill the time. This anxiety did not finish when his first day was over. He was terrified for the first week on the job. It was Breadner’s first ever job in the emergency services field with no previous experience, he was alone and the nearest hospital was a two and a half to three hour drive to Edson. He spent his time (which he had a lot of) conjuring up the most outrageous and gruesome possibilities and then running to his textbook for the answers. Nights were sleepless and when he did sleep it was restless. “It took me several hours to tossing and turning to finally fall asleep and when I did it was not very restful. Twice in that week I got up between 12 and 3:30 in the morning, got up and got dressed, drove down to camp to get breakfast you know and made it into the kitchen before I realized what time it was, then I had to go back to my shack and sleep for a few more hours. When I was actually sleeping it was alright, it was just when I was awake that I was thinking about stuff,” he says. If the thoughts didn’t keep Breadner awake, there was a constant rumbling from the 24-hour rig site with three shifts of workers. The whole ground vibrated, as his sleeping quarters were no more than 40 feet from the rig.

On April 1, 2009 the government of Alberta, through Alberta Health Services or AHS assumed responsibility of Alberta wide emergency services. There was and still is a lot of re-structuring going on and Breadner says this caused a hiring freeze from May 2009 to September 2009. When hiring did start-up again there was a backlog of graduates and transfers waiting to get onboard. He had just finished his practicum at the end of May and since then has found it difficult to find work as an EMTA or Emergency Medical Technician Ambulance, that he had gone back to school for after a winter season on the rigs.

SmallBreadnerAmbulance10In order to get his foot in the door, Breadner spent seven long months on about 10 to 11 various Alberta rig sites until April the following year. He had been hired on by Oilfield Medical Services, a company that posts EMR related positions on the rig sites. No serious injuries ever occurred while Breadner was on duty meaning a lot of time was spent just plain waiting. Boredom and loneliness aside, Breadner worked on the rigs for the experience in the field because he eventually wants to go on to become a paramedic. The paramedic position is the highest one can go in EMS and it involves constantly updating their knowledge. Rig salary was also a draw so he could travel and further his education.

The anxiety of expecting the worst on the rigs eventually went away and Breadner became an avid Olympics watcher and a fan of the Battlestar Gallactica TV series.  Breadner saw every single one of Michael Phelps gold medal wins in swimming at the Beijing Olympics. It was toward the end of Breadner’s stint on the rig sites when he arrived at one that really threw him off. He had a sense of what a good crew was like and which drillers and rig managers were heavily into safety and which ones were a bit lax. “They cared a little bit less about it. It was almost a joke to them. It felt as if they were going to be injured at any moment and it made me nervous and made me feel like I was back in my first week on the rigs way back when,” Breadner says. With the anxiety feeling back, this time beyond first day jitters, Breadner contacted his boss to get a transfer to a different rig. Two days after Breadner was gone, one of the rig workers got his hand crushed.

The uncertainty of the oil and gas industry at the time left Breadner jobless with six grand in his bank account. He did what any young, single, 21-year-old male would do.  He went backpacking to Europe for an adventure. After a few months of drinking Guinness and being woken up in the middle of the night by tall, 200-pound German men asking him to go for a beer, Breadner came home. He went back to school that September 2008 for his Emerge EMTA qualification. Since then he has completed his EMTA practicum in a major metropolitan area within Alberta and is currently volunteering at a rural station until he finds a stable position.

Breadner has been unable to find that stable position in the EMS field for the past six months and not for the lack of trying. His grades were always high and he is very personable, but he is licensed to work only in Alberta so his options are already limited. On top of that there was a hiring freeze when AHS first took over, right after he had completed his EMTA qualification at school and was ready to work. He has been to a few initial interviews in Sylvan Lake, the Crowsnest Pass area, Edmonton and a few others, but so far has only been hired at a rural volunteer-based station. He lives with a three roommates and pays his rent by landscaping. He has been with the same landscaping job for years so whenever he needs some extra cash they hire him back on. He loves the physical aspect of landscaping, but his heart is in the EMS field where he can constantly learn and apply his intellect. 

In Alberta there are three levels of Emergency Medical Services or EMS. The first one is Emergency Medical Responder or EMR, which qualifies you for working on a rig site, in corporate settings or on Basic Life Ambulances. Basic Life Ambulances are a rarity in Alberta and are found in small towns and rural areas. In Breadner’s class put on by St. John’s Ambulance in Calgary, there were mostly firefighters, police officers, nannies, stay at home moms or people like himself who want to go higher in the EMS industry. It is two weeks of full time study or six months of part-time study, with self-study beforehand. A current CPR card and valid first aid is required. EMR’s scope or practice is based on symptom relief. Symptom relief means no treatment is done, but they try to lessen their[the] patient’s level of pain and/or suffering. EMRs are not qualified to be in an ambulance. The next level is commonly known as an EMT, but it is actually an EMTA an Emergency Medical Technician Ambulance. An EMTA certification comes from a year long program, usually a class four license is required and it has a large practical portion of the course. They are qualified to work in ambulances, but in large cities a paramedic needs to be in the ambulance with them. Their scope of practice goes beyond EMRs’ with being allowed to administer more drugs and can be a bit more hands on, but it is still symptom relief.  If an additional two years of schooling is done with around six months spent out on practicum than and EMTA becomes an EMTP, which is an Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic. [A] Paramedic’s scope of practice is treatment based. They can realistically give whatever drug or treatment is required on the way to the hospital. Paramedics constantly have to update their knowledge of new drugs and new technologies as the medical field is constantly changing.

All Breadner wanted to be growing up was a police officer. “When I was in kindergarten and we were all sitting in a circle. The teacher went around the circle and did that exercise and asked every child ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ You had the kids who wanted to be a superhero or the kid that wanted to be a doctor and whatever. One of my friends said he wanted to be a bank robber. I was up next so I immediately said I wanted to be a police officer so I could catch him and throw him in jail. After I said that, I thought about it a little bit and decided it would be a cool idea. From kindergarten to about grade 12 all I ever wanted to be was a police officer. The plan was to graduate high school and get into the academy right away.”

SMBreadnerAmbulance1The realization that being a cop would be a lot less about car chases, shootouts and catching bad guys, and more about traffic tickets and walking the beat made Breadner think twice about signing up for the academy. His parents also discouraged this career choice because they were concerned that he would burn out in a couple years, as some police officers do. In high school, whenever Breadner took those career tests in the top three spots he always had paramedic. He dismissed it, but the excitement and medical aspects appealed to him. Breadner grew-up in a medical household with his mother Arlene Breadner who has been a public health nurse since he was born and his photographer father Ross Breadner who had always had an interest in medicine who also completed an undergrad in psychology and anthropology and had even dissected bodies for medical students.

Breadner ended up somewhat going in the direction of his father and completed a year at the University of Calgary in general studies with courses including sociology, Greek and roman studies and anthropology. Arlene thinks that he might go back to University in the future and she sees him having two to three careers in his lifetime.  “That’s just Cam. He is like a renaissance person. He appreciates a wide range of interests and intellect. He can appreciate good art, good music and good scotch. He’s worldly. He can survive in the bush, but he appreciates culture. He is not your red neck Alberta kid; he is very different and is confident in what he likes.”

As far as university Breadner says, “Everything I took I enjoyed, but nothing was what I could do for the rest of my life.” With that in mind he left school and did some landscaping, worked at a liquor store and essentially tried to figure out what he was going to do for a career. In January 2007, he decided to go for his EMR qualification. “There was no eureka moment, it just kind of crept up on me that EMS might be a good career path for me. That is my end game. This is what I can see myself doing and would like to do for the rest of my life,” Breadner says. He sees life as an active pursuit and thinks that EMS translates well with his drive to do exciting things in life, because it is a dynamic profession.

Breadner graduated from Southern Alberta Institute of Technology or SAIT. According to their website it says that EMTA graduates are in high demand and in 2008 the department, School of Health and Public Safety that EMS is in had graduates with a 97 per cent employment rate. 

Stuart Brideaux, the public educational officer for Calgary’s EMS says that if Breadner upgrades his education to a paramedic, than getting hired will probably be an easier task.  He says past practice in Calgary specifically was hiring approximately 90 per cent or higher paramedics and the remaining 10 per cent EMTA’s. About five years ago, due to demand they started hiring more EMTA’s and now it is roughly70 per cent paramedics and 30 per cent EMTAs, he says. This is due to the by-law that requires at least one paramedic if not both of them Brideaux says in the ambulance at all times for an ALS or (Advanced Life Support) ambulance.

At the moment Breadner is volunteering at the rural EMS station to add experience to his resume, but if he doesn’t get any job offers soon, he might be back to school for his paramedic qualification sooner than planned.   

The emergency services industry whether it is a firefighter, a police officer or a paramedic, are viewed as being the do-gooders of society; sometimes even as heroes. Not in the cliché sense of wearing spandex filled with pumping muscles, but in the making other people’s lives better sense. Breadner’s describes his life’s motto as being somewhat grass roots. He wants to do as much good for the world as possible, while doing the least amount of harm environmentally, physically and emotionally. “I’ll take an active role in helping other people when I can, but at the same time I won’t screw someone else on the way up,” he says.

Breadner doesn’t fit the mold of a typical hero, nor does he want to. He is a medium build, intellectual guy and doesn’t have the infamous police officer moustache. (The moustache as Breadner explained is because in order for oxygen masks to make a complete seal, men need to be clean shaven. The mask goes right over the bridge of their noses, meaning a moustache is the only facial hair they are allowed. Hence; a lot of moustaches.) Breadner refuses to do the moustache thing and is clean shaven with a face full of freckles 23-year- old man now. He’s a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, who sips on scotch, listens to jazz and heavy metal and plays the bass guitar. He is thoughtful with his words coming across as very well-spoken. Arlene describes that even when Breadner was younger he always chose quality over quantity with his friendships.  He still stays in touch with his childhood friends and when his family first moved to Alberta from Calgary the first friend he made is still his best friend. One of his three female roommates Danielle Roberts says, “He’s extremely dependent. You can ask him anything and he will give you straight forward and assertive answers without any extra judgement in there. He looks at both sides of the story, assesses the situation and doesn’t just tell you what he thinks you want to hear. He is the kind of guy that can have fun, but doesn’t take that out of control. He is a cool, calm and collected guy with a sense of humour; which is a bonus.”

He didn’t get into the emergency services field to be a hero; he just has a general interest for the medical field and enjoys the excitement and unpredictability of the job’s nature. This unpredictability means constantly waiting. Waiting for the tones that signal there is a call to tend to. Regardless of years of experience, or level of qualification when those tones start ringing the adrenaline floods and the heart pumps a little bit faster. Breadner can sleep through a 24-hour ongoing rig site with constant vibrations nowadays, but those tones are engraved in his brain from his time on practicum. The tones go off he is awake and alert regardless of how deep the sleep was.

Despite what people may think, the tones don’t go off every hour on the hour. The monotony of waiting is part of being in the emergency service industry. Breadner knows this feeling a little too well, “There is lots of downtime. Not a lot happens. People don’t get as sick as movies or television portray. The majority of your calls are non-serious medically related issues. The women who gets into a car accident with four kids in her car, or the gunshot victim, or the 40-year-old stock broker who is having a full blown heart attack don`t happen that often. Just patients who don`t feel well. That could be literally the verbatim problem that they present you with. I just don`t feel right. And then it’s deciding from there whether they are  ambulatory, whether they should be taken in, whether they can go in with their own power, or whether their just scared; because a lot of them are.”

Brideaux who is also a paramedic himself says around 80 per cent of calls Canada wide or at least the vast majority are for medically based issues like diabetes, breathing, heart disease or an already diagnosed disease. The remaining 20 per cent of the time he says are traumatic based calls including injuries, motor vehicle accidents, assaults, electric shocks, falls, industrial accidents and any other dramatic injury.

Fire halls and service stations are equipped with televisions, computers, gyms, and kitchens; anything to distract the workers from the clock. Instead of waiting for the tones of an emergency call, Breadner is currently waiting on the ringing of his phone for an opening in the EMS field. Breadner has completed his practicum and now is hoping to be hired in a Calgary or Edmonton station full-time. Until then he makes the two-hour drive to his volunteer rural station once a week for a 48 hour shift. He gets paid $100 per trip, but after $50 on gas, and $10 on drinks and snacks, he isn’t left with much. Breadner isn’t doing it for the money, but for the experience. Since Breadner is new to the EMS field and is currently looking for work he doesn’t want where he is volunteering or where he did his practicum mentioned.

Unfortunately for Breadner, in the first couple of weeks he has been at the rural station not much has happened. This is a good thing for the people in the area though. There was a heart attack call, but it happened on a night he was driving back home. He was extremely disappointed the next time he was at the station, the call was written on their whiteboard and he realized he had just missed it. The whiteboard keeps track of all the calls they have received and the outcome of those calls. But when Breadner says “Nothing happened,” it should be taken with a grain of salt because he did deliver a baby his first day on the job during his practicum in a major city.

Dressed in his button down black shirt and black pants with reflective striping and SAIT’s EMS student patch, Breadner arrived for his first day of practicum for a big city ambulance last May. [he asked not to say which one, he feels this might jinx his chance of getting hired.]  It was very, very nerve-racking. We didn’t get a call for an hour or so on shift, which is normal but it felt a lot longer than an hour. It was excruciating. I had worked on the oil rigs before, but it’s a different vibe and a different job. I thought we were going to get called out to some multiple casualties shooting.”

Breadner was spending his first time on the job with a paramedic and an EMTA, his two preceptors for the remainder of his practicum. He had arrived at the station, which was joined-up with a fire hall. He was introduced to a couple of the firefighters, shown around the station, they did an equipment and supply check of the ambulance, and then he was left to just hang out until the tones went off.

One of his preceptors was on the computer checking his e-mails; the other one was watching TV and Breadner was left trying to read his EMS textbook; not absorbing a thing. All he wanted was that first call over with. The paramedic had pulled him aside and asked him if he wanted to take the lead of the first call or if he just wanted to sit back and be directed. Breadner chose the latter.

The tones went off. “I can’t describe them, but I can hear them perfectly in my head. It’s not a ringing bell like a fire hall, it’s a standard beepy overhead tones. It’s very loud; it’ll wake you up even if you’re a heavy sleeper. It becomes a conditioned response kind of thing. Because the tones are important and that’s your job, you get conditioned to wake up immediately. I can even hear the tones in my head now and I’ll wake up a little more. Or if I hear them on TV and they are similar to the ones that were in the hall, I feel my body wake up more.”

The type of call isn’t announced over an intercom, but instead sent through in code to personal pagers the team is wearing. The code consists of a number and a letter. The number states the specific type of call it is: cardiac, allergic reaction, sick, chocking, etc. The letter states the severity of the situation. An alpha is the least important. No lights, no sirens. Beta means lights and sirens at discretion. Charlie means lights and sirens and a possible life threatening situation. Delta is a very serious call meaning the standard heart attack, shooting, etc. Sirens are required. Echo means a diseased person. No revitalization is required, as the person is obviously deceased.

Breadner’s first call was a beta, abdominal pain. It was only two blocks away from their station. They turned the sirens on, drove the two blocks and knocked on the door. There are even rules about busting into someone’s house. The first step on arrival is to knock or ring the doorbell. Hopefully someone answers; they can ask what the problem is and usually head on in. If there is no answer, they have to look in all the windows and if they see someone in obvious distress they can try to gain entry be breaking a window or getting through the door. But if there is no response, nothing going on through the windows or if it’s an apartment with no windows; they can’t do anything. They just have to try to find a set of keys or wait for the police to gain entry for them.

“I actually had a call like that. It was an old folk’s home.  A woman`s personal alarm that she wears around her neck was going off. She was quite sick and had terminal cancer. There was no answer at her apartment. We couldn`t see anything through the windows so we called cops, but in the meantime we got a hold of a building superintendant who lives on site who had a set of master keys. We finally gained entry and it was nothing. She had left her pager and had gone out for a walk and it had gone off by itself, she wasn’t even home. You could imagine the controversy if she had come home to a busted down door. With two people standing inside her apartment tracking mud with their boots everywhere,” he says.

At the residence of Breadner’s very first call, the wife of the man who was in pain answered the door immediately and let them in. They went upstairs to the bedroom and an elderly man was lying in bed. He was quite sweaty and pale in his pyjamas. He told Breadner and his crew that his abdominal pain was eight out of 10. “People are pretty good at putting a number on their pain. You will get some 10 out of 10s or 12 out of 10s, but most people are good at giving their pain a rational, actual thought out value,” he says.

“We went through his vital signs, and then we went through his list of medications. I was standing back and assisting when I was told to. The paramedic was running the call and the EMTA was working on the electronic patient care report, so he was sitting in the corner getting the list of medications, listening to the call and recording all the pertinent information to fill out the paperwork later.”

Breadner assisted with the vital signs, taking his pulse, blood pressure, respiration and getting oxygen on in case they needed it. He had done the vitals so much in school that there was no thinking or hesitation.

After about half way through the call (10 minutes had passed) the man suddenly got up and said he needed to have a bowel movement. They got him out of bed, took him to the bathroom and when he came out he said his abdominal pain had gone down to a three out of 10. He had just been constipated. They did a second set of vitals because they always need at least two, asked him if he wanted to go the hospital, he declined and they were on their way down the two blocks back to the station.

“Once the actual call happened I was okay. It was a good first call. School can help you be a better EMTA for your actual skills and give you lots of practical knowledge. But nothing can prepare you for how intense some calls are going to be or how nerve-racking for instance your first call is going to be. Nothing can prepare you for that.”

Half an hour after that first call, Breadner helped deliver a baby. The very next call. The original plan was to let Breadner run this call and the paramedic assist, but that quickly changed when they arrived at the women’s house and they realized birth would be happening right away. The paramedic took over. Breadner got some blankets for the floor of her living room and during his taking of her vital signs she had a second set of contractions and the baby began crowning.

He helped deliver a healthy baby boy. His supervisor cut the cord; they dried the baby off and wrapped him in blankets, got both mother and child loaded onto a stretcher and took them to the hospital. “It was an amazing first day and a really good call,” he says.

Breadner was on the big city ambulance for a month for his practicum. To complete an EMTA practicum it can take longer than a month as long as a minimum of 192 hours are logged, as well as attending a minimum of 40 calls. Brideaux says that in Calgary specifically (using soft numbers) they receive 260 calls in a 24 hour period. “We’re substantially over 100,000 calls per year.” These calls are split amongst 24 ambulances that are on around the clock with staff working in 12 hour shifts, another 18 that are on periodically for 12 hour shifts from morning to afternoon. This means that in mid-to-late afternoon during peak times there are 43 ambulances on duty. Brideaux says that each unit cannot have 100 per cent unit utilization, which would mean they would have to have more ambulances on. Each unit can receive seven or eight calls per day or sometimes two or three calls could take up their whole day he says. He adds that the numbers of calls don’t necessarily change on different days of the week, but the types of calls may change. A Wednesday morning typical call is different from a Friday night typical call.

Breadner survived his first day and an entire month in a big city ambulance, but he describes himself as his own worst critic. He can never live up to his own expectations and never accept a job well done. This is his biggest weakness as a person, but he says it is also his biggest strength. “It’s a double-edged sword, because it allows me to get better at my job. That ability to step back from yourself and kind of assess your situation and what can be improved as a sort of third party.”

Especially on his practicum Breadner found himself expecting to be talked to about his mistakes by his preceptors after each call. “It’s a good quality to have for EMS, but at the same time you dwell on your mistakes more than giving yourself credit for doing as good of a job as you could have.”

Arlene says, “From a toddler on, he was a perfectionist. If he didn’t do a puzzle the first time, he would get frustrated and couldn’t deal with it.” Arlene also describes him as silently very stoic and brave. When he was 10 she remembers when Breadner went to a camp in Ontario three hours away from home on an island for 10 days by himself. He didn’t know anyone, had a great time and when Arlene asked him if he was worried about being away from home he said, ‘Well I knew it was a camp and I knew I was going home.’” Arlene says “He wouldn’t think it was brave, he was very pragmatic about it.”

This constant need for improvement combined with Breadner’s constant need to know everything about everything are good qualities for an up-and-coming EMS professional to have, as well as any other job. It doesn’t matter if it is a simple trivia question or what ingredient would make his eggplant parmesan dish that much better (yes a man in his twenties that cooks), he hates not knowing. This is the kind of person that doesn’t just study for his exams to have the information flushed out the next day. He retains the information and will be prepared for whatever obscure and out there kind of calls he gets.

Brideaux who has had experience as a paramedic says, “It challenges your abilities, your skill-set and requires lifelong learning.” He says as long as EMS workers keep broadening their skill-set that it is not the stressful job everyone makes it out to be. Situations become stressful when children are involved or there are multiple patients.

“The calls that I think are fun and exciting are the ones that initially get your blood pumping and maybe are a bit stressful at the time. But in retrospect they are different, they are new, they are that exciting call you have been taught at school but you almost never see. Things like emergency child birth or running a cardiac code or a really serious motor vehicle accident. At the time it may not be enjoyable, it’s definitely something to look back upon,” Breadner says.

The most gruesome call Breadner has had to date was a homicide call. “We picked up a homeless man who had been stabbed in an altercation. He was bleeding to death on the pavement in front of us when we arrived. We got him into the ambulance to take him to the hospital. We tried to revive him on the ride there, meanwhile he was bleeding everywhere from multiple stab wounds. He began vomiting towards the end as well. He died on the way to hospital.”

EMS obviously is not for the type of people that faint at the sight of blood or get the shivers at the sight of needles. Breadner says his calm; almost nonchalant attitude doesn’t mean he is a cold person or that he doesn’t empathize with his patients or even that he is not affected by gore.

Arlene says Breadner “is a cut and dry fellow. He can think through a scene quickly. He likes to open his mind up to other ways of thinking. He is very liberal with his thinking.”

Breadner says, “It’s not like the majority of EMS workers see everyone as walking slabs of meat and don’t picture a person when they see a car wreck. It’s just that within EMS the majority of people have the ability to take themselves out of the situation at least temporarily and put their personal feelings away. Do their job until the situation is over and then they can go back to themselves and work through whatever issue they may have because of it.”

Even if saving a life meant going out of an EMS’s professional scope of practice, Breadner would not do it. He is an EMTA now, so if he ever administered a drug or a treatment practice that was in a paramedic’s scope he could be fined, be tried in court and go to jail or have his license revoked. It is drilled in their heads as students as the biggest if not the biggest rule they have to under no circumstances go outside of their scope of practice.

“It sounds heartless, but even if it was my dying mother I could not in good conscious go out of my scope of practice if I was on duty. I might know what to do, I might have even been informally trained on what to do and could competently perform that action, but if it went outside my scope of practice and it came back that this had happened. Even if it had saved her life and she was under no lasting harm because of it, I could still be reprimanded for it at the very least and at the very worst be sent to jail and have my license revoked.”

I had to ask him if he would feel worse if his own mother died or if he was in jail for saving her life or attempting to save her life?

“Well in the case of my own mother, it’s not very cut and dry. But if it was a stranger on the street. No. Never. I would never go outside my scope of practice for someone I don’t know even if I knew how to do and could do it. It’s absolutely never going to happen.”

Eventually Breadner wants to go for his paramedic, so then he will not have that ethical issue to deal with. Breadner has been sending out his cover letters and resumes, gone to a few aptitude tests, which are usually written testing your knowledge sometimes with scenarios. Breadner has also completed his physical test. The physical test is usually done set-up as an obstacle course with some running or sprinting portions, lifting and carrying weight that is supposed to be similar to a human body and tests your overall endurance. He regularly runs and lifts weights on occasion, so he never stresses out about the physical tests and just treats it like any other workout. Now that all these steps are done, he is just waiting on call backs and hopefully his volunteer experience in the field will help getting him onto a bigger city ambulance. Until then he can spend his evenings off from landscaping sipping on his Lagavulin scotch from Islay, reading and going to see some live music. His love of scotch definitely came from his father Arlene says and his love of cooking comes from their family’s routine. Dinnertime was important. Both Arlene and Ross like to cook and every night was a full course meal. She says they rarely had fast food because of their love of food and it was cheaper to cook from home.

As far as Breadner can see, this is his career path and eventually he might go for his M.D., but he would still want to be involved in EMS in some way. “The only thing I can possibly see is getting burnt out and sick of the monotony of some people’s problems. It is quite monotonous. The fun, interesting and exciting calls are very few and far between. A lot of medics get to the point where they don’t want to deal with that anymore. They move on. I could see myself possibly reaching that point too,” he says.

Breadner’s stay in the industry also depends on where the industry itself goes. “EMS is quite new in the world. There have been battlefield medics for years and years. EMS has only existed in North America since the mid-1970s and only in Alberta since the early 1980s basically. So, it is an extremely new system when compared even to police and fire that are also part of the emergency services that have been around for quite a long time. Paramedics are still trying to figure out where they fit and where their medical expertise can be and should be used,” he says.

EMS at the moment could be on the brink of expansion and new developments, and Breadner says it already is starting to become such a wide spread career. “It’s no longer a very secular group that attracts a specific type of person down to a T. There isn’t any one type of EMS professional.”

Where Breadner is now in his life he says is because of a series of small, seemingly unconnected events that have led him here. He is not a believer in fate. “Life is random. If you want to do something, generally you can. Never underestimate the power of drive and ambition of a person. Sometimes good things and bad things happen to random people and that’s just the way things are. There is no point in dwelling on that.”

Somebody knows somebody who has been in an ambulance at some point. Breadner understands this. He may see around seven or eight patients a day and work several shifts a week, but he knows that this is probably going to be their only ride in an ambulance. This will be one of the few face-to-face times they have with an EMS professional and that is the impression they will have for the rest of their life. “If you sour that, then you sour every future experience, so I try to minimize that.”

That first day on the rigs Breadner spent worrying about what freak accident he might have to handle and what he would do if it actually did.  He has obviously come into his own because now he actually hopes to for the exciting and traumatic calls that challenge his skill-set. All the blood, gore and broken bones that most people would like to just see only in the movies await  him in at what will hopefully be his lifelong career path.


Written by Kelsey Riecken

How baton twirling and a love of performing led one man to do something he
truly loves

Cory Archer or "Chi Chi" performs at Twisted Element night club December 2009
photo: Kelsey Riecken

The show begins with waving spot lights and loud circus-like music playing from the speakers. The stage is adorned with potted plants, small indoor trees flank either side of the low stage and red theatre curtains hang along the roof. About 70 people, an equal amount of men and women, have come this Sunday night to watch five different drag queens perform at Twisted Element night club.

The fourth act, a lip-synching performance to a Rihanna song, is Chi Chi, or Cory Archer by day. He walks onto stage and waits behind the curtain for his number to begin. He is dressed in a long navy-blue dress with a black trench coat over top. His hair and makeup are impeccable, Archer makes a gorgeous woman, and it takes him hours before each performance to get ready. “It’s addicting, you get a sense of love for the stage. You have a passion in putting on that make-up every Saturday night,” said Archer.

Twisted Element is a gay night club located in Calgary’s downtown on 10th Street and 11th Ave. S.W. Every Sunday night, female impersonators take the stage and perform a lip-synching routine for the crowd that has accumulated.

A drag queen is a man who dresses and acts like a woman for the purpose of entertainment. Certain features, like lips or eyelashes, and mannerisms are often exaggerated for a dramatic effect. “It’s really fun to watch, these guys have a lot of courage to go up there and perform so well in front of everybody,” said Chelsea Boutillier, who was in the audience watching the drag show. Archer performs in drag, not because he wants to look like a woman, but because he loves to entertain people and he loves to perform in front of an audience, it provides him with a sense of excitement and accomplishment.

Becoming a drag queen was only a natural progression for Archer, age 20, who while growing up, was a world champion baton twirler. Archer came out as gay, or as a “walking pride parade,” as he likes to say, while still a teenager. Most of his family supports him, with his maternal grandmother being his main support and his mother having attended one of his shows in the past. However, some of his family, like his father and step-mother, isn‘t as accepting of his lifestyle. “I handled them fine and I really couldn’t care less what they think.” “But of course it still hurts when people don’t accept you but you learn to get over it,” said Archer of his father.

While sitting around an August campfire with some friends, most of whom are gay, I first heard of Cory Archer. They spoke about Chi Chi with a tenor of admiration and told stories about the courageous and sometimes funny things he had done. I asked my best friend, who works with Archer at the downtown Telus call-centre and who is also gay, to introduce me to Chi Chi so we could discuss his life as a gay man and drag queen in Calgary. He agreed and invited me to his home.

Walking towards the quaint, rented bungalow, on a street just off Edmonton Trail, the front door opens and a man, who hasn’t seen me yet and could only be described as flamboyant, begins to do cartwheels down the walkway leading to his home. This must be Archer. He stands, with amazing straight posture, about average height, with short brown hair, a neatly shaven face, and hands that gesture in a wispy sort-of-way when he speaks. Archer finishes a cigarette, and he invites me into the bungalow he shares with three roommates. The house is clean and simple and Archer just recently just moved in. We can speak while he organizes his new drag room, he says. A drag room is a room where he keeps his gowns, short dresses, tank tops, and high heels.

Archer represents a young, gay man in Calgary, albeit, a very flamboyant one. By day, Archer holds down a full-time job at the Telus call-centre downtown, and when we met, was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. By night, he’s Chi Chi, performing on stage at Twisted Element. While Archer unpacks the bags for his drag room, he pulls out and hangs up a black and blue sequined mini-dress, faux-leather skirt, feather boas, and a bright orange and pink floor-length gown. “Obviously I love women’s clothing, and the make-up and everything like that. I am a huge gay boy and I still wear make-up when I am out of drag.”

Archer was born in Invermere B.C. in 1989. His mother, Kim Green, was 15-years-old when she had Archer, so he was raised for the most part by his grandmother, Rose Green, while his mother finished school. Archer’s father was around for the few first years of Archer’s life, but his parents did eventually separate and both parents have since remarried.

Archer’s grandmother always knew he was gay. It was apparent in his actions, he was always with girls, and she just always had an inkling. “I just let him do his own thing, until he got brave enough to tell his mom,” said Green.

Cory Archer or "Chi Chi" prepares for another performance at Tiwsted Element night club December 2009
photo: Kelsey Riecken

Archer told his mother he was gay after a fight when he was 16-years-old. They had gotten into an argument after his mother wouldn’t allow him to travel to Vancouver to visit some friends, “It was basically a screaming match and me screaming back ‘what don’t you get? I’m gay!’ and I slammed the door and walked out of my house, got in my 1997 Cavalier and spun gravel right back at her car.” He returned home at four o’clock in the morning and left a note for her, explaining that he really was gay and he was sorry. “And the next day she was fine,” added Archer. Archer had specifically asked me not to discuss this with his mother, as he feels it still upsets her.

Archer was always a performer, even as a child. “Even when he was little, he used to roll on the floor and pretend to do stunts and wait for us to applaud him. If we didn’t applaud loud enough he would get upset,” said his mother Kim. His baton twirling coach in Calgary, Loranne Meek, echoed similar sentiments: “Cory was a hand full. He always needed attention and always wanted to be watched. As long as he had an audience to perform or practice in front of he was at home.”

Archer began his performing career in baton twirling because he knew he would get more satisfaction from it than anyone of his male peers would get from playing a sport like hockey.

Meek describes baton twirling as combining technical training, manipulation of the apparatus, intricate choreography, musicality, and performance simultaneously by the athlete. In his most successful season, Meek said he was twirling and dancing 20-plus hours a week on top of finishing his schooling. “I would say his ability to juggle all of these abilities simultaneously now allows him to be a charismatic stage performer because now he can fully focus on his performance abilities only,” said Meek. Archer retired from baton twirling because he believes he has gone as far in the sport as is possible, aside from teaching. Meek teases him, saying he will return to twirling in the future. “For now, I love to see him perform in drag on stage and continue to support him however I can. He is like a son to me.”

Archer has travelled to Japan, Spain, Rome, and the United States competing in the baton twirling world championships. Archer was on team Canada, created by the Canadian Baton Twirling Federation, from the age of 12 until he retired from the sport at 18. “I went to six world championships and I was 12 when I did my first,” which was in Saskatoon, said Archer. Archer then traveled to Spain in 2003, Japan in 2004, the United States, where he won a bronze medal in 2005, Italy in 2006 and finally Hamilton in 2007 in the World Baton Twirling Championships.

Cory Archer performing as Chi Chi at the Twisted Element night club.
photo: Kelsey Riecken

Archer began performing as Chi Chi in 2007. He had just moved to Calgary from B.C. to train with Meek, but had recently retired from baton twirling. Archer would dress up in drag with his friends and go watch the drag queen shows or perform in the basement on the open stage at Twisted Element. “Watching them I decided I was pretty enough in drag that I wanted to do it as well.” Six months later, Chi Chi was performing upstairs at Twisted Element. “That was a really quick evolution of a drag queen, it doesn’t happen that quick, ever,” Archer explained.

To Archer, being a drag queen isn’t about looking like a woman, it’s about the performing aspect. Archer said it is something you can never retire from. “This is something you can’t get out of now, you can’t stop being a drag queen. They can try and retire all they want but they’ll be back someday.” “Chi Chi is mine to keep,” said Archer with a smile.

The music has started and Archer bursts out from behind the curtains. You can tell he thrives on performing, and his act is full of energy. The song begins slowly but as the music progresses in intensity, so does Archer’s act. He throws off his trench coat, the crowd cheers, and Chi Chi gives a small grin before continuing his performance of lip-synching and dancing. One can’t help but smile while watching Chi Chi, his performance is entertaining, full of talent, and there is absolutely no fleck of nervousness in his flawless movements. He finishes his act and walks off the stage to the crowd loudly applauding.