As he had so many times before, Dr. Evan Weinstein stood in front of 40 paramedics and EMTs leading a training session, this time on how to handle patients suffering from mental duress, often provoked by alcohol or drugs.
A stranger watching and listening to Evan might wonder why he was a bit unsteady on his feet, why he would hesitate in the middle of a sentence, seemingly searching for the right word.
But, his audience that day was never diverted. Indeed, they were rapt with attention for the entire hour, each quietly understanding they were being taught with passion and dedication by one of their own quiet heroes.
It was yet another reminder that Evan wasn’t going down without the fight of his life. There would be no self-consciousness in front of his peers and friends. He had too much to offer them – far beyond his extraordinary medical knowledge.
His seminar – one of the last he would deliver – was a testament to courage under incalculable duress, delivered to men and women who understand intimately how fragile life can be, who try to defeat death as their profession, who place themselves in mortal danger as part of their job.
Evan was dying that day, and for the next 120 days. He would die on his own terms, though, amid so many things to do, so many people to love. For some, receding into privacy surrounded by family and friends might be the instinctive strategy. But, Evan – so meticulous – seemed intent to fashion a more panoramic plan that simply had to incorporate his very identify as emergency room physician, mentor, fellow paramedic, friend.
He would never stop working, teaching, learning, caring until the very last days when his failing brain and body inevitably overcame his will. A few weeks after that training seminar, Evan was working in his cluttered office at Falmouth Hospital, still indefatigably straddling his twin roles as emergency room doctor and medical director of the Cape & Islands Emergency Services System.
There was a subtle choreography to his day now. It took a minute or two to totally rise from his chair, steady himself. Inevitably, a colleague nearby would sidle beside him without words, just close enough for Evan to touch an arm or shoulder to assure his balance. It was a dance of mutual dignity.
For two hours that day, without even a sip of water, Evan would talk, opine, postulate, forecast, ruminate, recall. His speech’s cadence might be fractured for a moment, only because the connections were fraying; his tongue couldn’t quite keep up with his racing mind.
He needed to share. His experiences. His recollections. His knowledge. His passions. About medicine. About helping, often saving people’s lives. About the pace and purpose of the emergency room. About the immediacy and thrill of a racing ambulance. About the fine lines between success and failure. But mostly, about the men and women who were so much more than public servants. They were his own friends and colleagues whom he worked alongside deep into so many nights, side-by-side at multi-alarm fires or horrific accident scenes. They were the professionals who lent him so much purpose and stoked his passions.
“In a single shift, these men and women may respond to a half dozen calls requiring all their medical training and knowledge,” he explained. “Then, that next alarm may be to rapidly don their firefighting equipment and race into a blazing three-alarmer. “Yet, almost to a man and woman, they are extremely self-effacing. They’re quiet heroes, so much so that many of their neighbors don’t realize they also are firefighters who must master skills and tasks entirely different from lifesaving.
“It’s amazing that the ethic is so ingrained in them and that they don’t believe they could be doing anything else. It’s what they do.” The words were not those of some observer. No, Evan lived their lives, shared their fears and joys, their elations and sorrows. Far before he earned a medical degree, he was a volunteer Fire Fighter/ Paramedic. “I remember being on my belly in a drainage ditch full of very cold water starting an IV on an injured man. Never mind that there was manure and diesel fuel all over the place. Your mind is totally focused on the patient,” Evan recalled. “That is just what you do. You adapt and move on. Afterwards, you don’t think anything of it.”
As he described the world of paramedics and EMTs that morning, the words he plied toward his colleagues surely and ironically reflected so precisely who Evan was and always will be.
Self-effacing. Tenacious. Dedicated. Passionate. Humble. Brave.
Not an epitaph. Just the straight facts.
written by Mr. Glenn Ritt