Administration and Leadership, Columns

Riders Share Tales of Suicide & Grief on Day 3 of the National EMS Memorial Capital-to-Capital Bike Ride

Entry 4: Remembering Jack Spiker

Free pizza? Oh yeah, I’m in! Regardless of the 80+ miles cycled today with temperatures starting at 1 degree Celsius and climbing only to 10 Celsius throughout the day (high winds included), I could not turn down this opportunity to indulge my paramedic instincts to feed uninhibitedly on free food. My aching muscles screamed “foul,” however, and only wanted me to turn down the bed for some much needed rest. We are, after all, scheduled to bike a little over 100 miles through the mountains of Vermont tomorrow beginning at 0630 hrs.

One of our key riders and support staff members had arranged for all of us to have dinner at a local pizzeria known as August First in Bellingham, Vt., which is owned and operated by his sister. One billion calories were burned today by all the riders, and I’m speaking of each individual rider of course, so the only dough August First made this night was covered in tomato and cheese sauce.

Despite the exhausted state of the riders, spirits were high as we debriefed each other comically between bites, discussing everything from the wind blowing us sideways to American customs letting so much Spandex enter the United States over from the Canadian border. It wasn’t until the last 9,432 pizza slices was eaten did the atmosphere take on a more serious tone. Though each rider and support staff member has a personal story to tell, they are often only shared individually while riding with others between rest stops and meals. A young man providing support services for the riders by the name of Wade MacPherson, a paramedic from Blind River, Ontario, was asked to tell us his story. And when I say us, I mean all of us together.

Initially I thought this 22-year-old paramedic was too young to provide this group, especially me, any significant in-depth insight in regards to the neglected mental health issues of EMS. I was shamefully wrong. Wade began his story with, “For the past year and a half I think about suicide every day,” and from that moment on you could hear a pin drop. Wade was not suggesting he wanted to commit suicide himself, but was referring to how the suicide of his best friend and fellow paramedic last year had left him forever changed.

Wade initially praised his best friend Jack Spiker as not only an incredible mentor in paramedicine, but also as a fellow photographer. Wade’s words flowed smoothly as he described their working partnership in the field, but at times his facial expressions appeared to struggle to adequately find the emotional love he wanted to convey for his friend and colleague.

We learned that Jack had a long history of depression, but with appropriately prescribed medication and counseling, he had appeared to have beaten the demons that had haunted him years before. Jack was even engaged to be married soon, but on March17, 2015, he killed himself while alone in his apartment complex.

Wade and Jack had been partners early on in their careers. More recently they had been working and living separately, but still managed to keep in touch over the long distance between them. Wade spoke of the conversations they shared over a five day period just before Jack’s suicide. Something had changed in Jack, as Wade described his friend as having become more distant and closed from others, and even at times angrily speaking like a jerk. But one day before Jack died, Wade noticed Jack was suddenly happy—recalling with shared laughter the good times they shared as friends and partners.

In hindsight, Wade realized Jack’s sudden happiness was a result of his finding a solution to his pain: to end his life and that the world would be better off without him. Wade spoke of the tears he shed for his friend, and wondered—like any of us would—if he could have done more in preventing his death. “But here’s the thing,” Wade said, “When we see someone standing on a bridge about to jump off, we know what to do because we are trained and immediately aware of the situation.”

So true, isn’t it? We are trained to care for others, but not to save ourselves. It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a room of fellow EMS providers and share such a personal message of pain in an effort to remind us that sometimes others’ emergencies can become our own, despite our denial.

We ride 100+ miles tomorrow, but those miles now seem more trivial compared to the message shared tonight.

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