My 8-year-old grandson, Andrew, likes to come into my office and look at the thousands of books on the shelves. His favorite is one called "Weird Texas," which details various ghost stories and urban legends from Texas. Today, he saw a black book that I keep next to my collection of Mark Twain's first editions (an expensive hobby). The black book he pointed out was a copy of Jim Page's classic text, "The Paramedics."
I got it off the shelf to show it to him. I opened the cover and saw the inscription and autograph that Jim Page had written to me. I had forgotten that the book was even autographed. It reads, "To Bryan Bledsoe -- Presented with personal regards & best wishes." It's simply signed "Jim Page." My mind drifted back to the occasion when Jim autographed the book. It was at a federally funded EMS conference in Fort Worth, Texas -- my hometown. It was around 1976 or 1977, and the federal government had put a lot of "seed money" into EMS through the Emergency Medical Services Systems (EMSS) Act of 1973, and they were going from town to town, giving grant-writing workshops. Many of the EMS icons of the day -- including David Boyd, MD, and Jim Page -- gave presentations. I went just to see Jim Page.
Jim got up to speak. His booming voice filled the hall without a real need for amplification. I was star-struck. I hung on his every word. Afterward, he was at a table signing books. I brought my book to him to sign. He immediately shook my hand and said, "Hi. I'm Jim Page."
I responded slowly and said, "Hi. My name is Bryan Bledsoe. I'm a new paramedic here in Fort Worth." Then, the real conversation started and Jim put me immediately at ease. We talked about paramedics, the Fort Worth EMS system (or lack thereof), the television show "Emergency!" and other things. Jim looked at me when I spoke, and I knew he cared and was paying attention to my stories about EMS in Fort Worth. Jim had the highly desirable trait of making you feel you were the most important person in his life when he spoke to you. He was genuine and interested.
I continued to follow Jim though his new magazine, Paramedics International (which later became JEMS). I saw him at my first EMS conference in Boston in 1978, but we didn't have time to speak. As the 1980s approached and my bachelor's degree was almost finished, I found I was facing some tough decisions. I was barely making a living, and I had a young family. I loved EMS but couldn't support my family on the wages. I looked at law school and eventually decided to go to medical school.
Fortunately, prior to medical school, I wrote my first book, "Prehospital Emergency Pharmacology," and that was soon followed by another book (now out of print) called "Atlas of Paramedic Skills." Jim had seen the pharmacology book and called me out of the blue one day. I was speechless. Jim remembered everything we had spoken of many years earlier in Fort Worth, including the name of the private ambulance service I once worked for there. He complimented the book and encouraged me to continue to write. He said, "EMS needs to be pushed to a higher level."
I applied to medical school and was, fortunately, accepted to two Texas schools. Medical school was a bitch, and I was buried under the work. Occasionally, Jim would call or send a card. He even once offered to loan me money if I needed it. After medical school, one day Jim called with an idea of forming an organization of physicians who were EMS people before attending medical school. The idea became a passion, and because of Jim, the Street Medicine Society was born. When Jim decided to do something, it got done -- a trait I've tried to emulate.
As I finished residency and reengaged in the EMS book business, I started running into Jim more and more. He always made the time to stop, talk, ask me how my family was, and such. As always, you knew he was giving you his undivided attention.
In the early part of 2001, I was in a rut. I was unsure if I wanted to continue the EMS thing or just do medicine fulltime. Jim and I were both speaking at an EMS conference on the Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. I invited him and his wife, Jane, to dinner (I remember the restaurant -- it was called Oscar's). We ate some great fish, and I explained my feelings about EMS. He then laid out a plan for what he thought I should do. He said, "Bryan, EMS is at a point where we need to move to the next level. Many of our practices are wrong -- if not harmful. You are in a position now where it is your responsibility to the help make things better for the profession. You need to challenge the status quo." Jim went on to detail some of the fallacies he saw in EMS. He specifically mentioned Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) and public-utility model EMS. So, I began to search the literature and eventually wrote a highly controversial eight-part piece called "Myths of Modern EMS" that was eventually published in EMS Magazine.
Jim and I stayed in touch more and more. I teased him about buying a gargantuan motor home (I just couldn't see Jim at KOA park playing bridge with the other occupants -- something that would never happen). In fact, Jim took the RV and was driving around the country, looking at small fire departments and documenting their best practices.
Jim died Sept. 4, 2004, while swimming laps in a community pool near his house in a town where he was once the fire chief. There was no AED on the premises.
I feel I'm a better person for having known Jim Page and being able to call him a friend. We actually reached a point where I could tease him a little. It has been almost five years since his death and I still miss his warm voice and intellect. I'm sure the staff at JEMS will agree with me when I say, I wish more of you had the opportunity to know Jim. He would have liked to meet you -- and you would have been better for it.