Guest Author Sean Paul Bedell

It is my extreme pleasure to welcome author Sean Paul Bedell to my blog today. While he has worked as a paramedic and as a captain with the fire service, Sean Paul Bedell has been writing and publishing for more than 30 years. He lives in Dartmouth with his wife Lisa, and Somewhere There’s Music is his first novel.

The Forties and the 40s – a Call for Help by Sean Paul Bedell

Laura, thanks so much for letting me sit in as a guest on your blog. I am delighted and appreciate it. This is my first foray into blogging and using social media as a communication tool. Anyone who knows me will attest that I’m horrible at doing the requisite likes on Facebook and lagging in retweets on Twitter. Don’t get me started about my website….

Though I haven’t met Laura in person (thanks to COVID) I did feel an immediate kinship to her when I bought and read Good Mothers Don’t.

When the first pages spoke of the Forties Settlement, the book took me back to when I was a paramedic working the streets of Halifax. We used 10-codes on the radios then because scanners were everywhere and the encryption technology of today wasn’t in use. Medics used the term “forties” to mean the police. As in telling dispatch, or Control, “send me the 10-40s.” which was then shortened to the “40s.”

I know the “Forties Settlement” has no connection to ambulance crews calling for the “40s.” It’s a case of the same word used in different ways with different meanings.  Except that Good Mothers Don’t then talked about “…crazy, crazy, crazy Elizabeth.”

When I worked as a paramedic, we requested the 40s for calls where there was violence or we worried about getting beat up. But more commonly it was for calls involving patients with mental health issues. In paramedic and dispatch terms we called those types of calls “psychiatric complaints,” almost always shortened on the radio to “psych calls.”

My brain does a sickening little twist now when I think of the language we used then. It wasn’t even all that many years ago. Language and the words we use are a powerful manifestation of how we think. The Greek root logos means both “word” and “logic.”  The words we choose and use colour our perspective, attitudes, and outlook.

It was normal to need the police to help with such patients.  Little wonder we needed help. Though, as we see through the Black Lives Matter movement and incidents with Indigenous people, interactions with police can have tragic results, especially where mental health is the essence of the concern.

Depending on the shift I estimate that anywhere from 10-25% of the ambulance calls I did were for psychiatric complaints. And it’s a hard no; a full moon does not make busier shifts. That myth has been debunked by science years ago. Yet, it still flourishes in paramedic, police, and other first responder circles. It is a convenient reinforcement that someone suffering for poor mental health is the outsider, the one-to-be feared, like werewolves are to be feared. They are labelled through wrong word choice again, words like “lunatic,” from the Latin luna, of the moon. Language is powerful.No, it means the luck of the draw, what calls you get dispatched to, and what is happening on the streets during any given 12-hour period.

Unlike heart-related or breathing emergencies, or even splinting broken bones or dealing with trauma victims in car collisions or other incidents, in a year-long training program to be licensed as a paramedic our training on heart issues was about a month of that year. A month for breathing emergencies. Trauma and patching holes and splinting bones were about as long. All that is good, you want thoroughly trained paramedics responding to such events. In a year-long program, the total amount of learning we spent on psychiatric complaints was one hour. One hour followed up with a few mock scenarios to top up our learning. No wonder we called the 40s for help.

So in Good Mothers Don’t, Elizabeth – in the Forties Settlement – starts to crumble into a disintegrating reality. She is removed, whisked away. That was how we handled crises with injured mental health for so much of our history. Our response has always been a litany of the “ize’s” minimize, stigmatize, ostracize, institutionalize.

I’d like to think much has changed with society’s treatment of those who suffer health setbacks, including mental health concerns. And it has, but we have a long way to go.

Years ago, when I served on the board of Capital Health (a predecessor of today’s Nova Scotia Health Authority) I had the privilege of talking with Senator Michael Kirby as he was doing a cross-country road-show to establish what would become the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

I told Senator Kirby about the ratio of training for mental health issues (one hour) versus the frequency of psychiatric complaints (10-25 %.) Senator Kirby was surprised, but not shocked. That ratio parallels other allied health professions.  Maybe with comments from me and others who know improvement is possible and necessary, we will eventually have a better balance in the training of all health care providers for treating people experiencing mental health crises.

In the Halifax area, the Mobile Mental Health Crisis Team made up of social workers, psychiatric nurses, police officers and paramedics is a step in the right direction. Examining what types of calls police are dispatched to, and how they interact with the people when they arrive needs to be the next pieces to figure out. A recent report by El Jones, Defunding the Police: Defining a Way Forward in HRM, is full of ground-breaking, constructive ideas to start that journey to improvement.  

It was this link that I had observed that lead me, in part, to write my novel Somewhere There’s MusicThis story is about many things, and it’s hard to sum up the complexities of a novel in a few words. It’s a coming-of-age story, it’s about brothers, it’s about fathers, and loss, and about small towns, big cities, and books, and, of course, music. Always music!

A thick thread through the story deals with the impacts of untreated mental health deterioration in general, and the post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that first responders deal with. In my novel, I dig down another level to focus on the families of first responders. I explore how the first responders’ loved ones experience this vicarious trauma and how it ripples or rips, through families.  

Everyone has mental health, everyone has physical health. How we respond when that state of health is injured is key to creating a better state of mental wellness for our communities and beyond.  We need to encourage another word, another “ize” word, and the idea behind the word: normalize. We need to normalize mental health and mental illness at every turn. That begins with inclusive and honest recognition, acceptance, and discussion.

Thanks again, Laura for having me as a guest! I appreciate it, take care. Sean

Thank you, Sean for your service as a paramedic and for providing some insight into that life for all of us.

The launch for Somewhere There is Music is at 7 p.m. on April 21st at Lisa Drader Murphy–Historic Properties.

Somewhere There is Music is available through Amazon.ca Amazon.com Indigo/Chapters , at Kings University Bookstore and at your local Independent bookstore. I hope you will check it out. I know I will be!

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3 Comments

  1. Sirje Ruus

     /  March 25, 2022

    Hi dear Laura, Just want to let you know that I could not access this page. It said to let “the administrator” know. I do enjoy your posts–and these interviews are very special. The Bookstore is opening in April — maybe we can have a date — and a wine at the Osprey — without masks! Hope you are enjoying the euphoria of creation! xo Syr

    Like

    Reply
    • Hi Syr, Everything is up and running this morning, I had a little WordPress mishap earlier. I hope you enjoy the actual post!

      Like

      Reply
  2. Syr Ruus

     /  April 11, 2022

    Excellent post. Thank you Laura and Sean.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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