February 09, 2015 - Paul

February 09, 2015 - Paul (1st person I approached)
Everything comes with a price. I was invited to join a couple of friends for a spontaneous ‘brunch’ near my house today. I got ready and went and met them, at a local cheap and cheerful restaurant that does a good all-day breakfast. It was an unexpected visit with friends, that was filled with lots of laughter, and decent food. I decided to venture out to find today’s story immediately after saying goodbye to my friends. It was raining off and on, so I went to check out one of my frequent indoor venues.


I saw Paul eating while looking at his phone. I introduced myself and told him about my project. He agreed to chat with me, and let me take his photograph. I sat down and as I was explaining why I had started the project, it happened. I was talking quite fast, and, I spat on him. A tiny particle of something flew out of my mouth. I'm sure it was breakfast related.


It was one of those slow-motion moments, where you’re looking right at the other person, it happens, and then all eyes start moving down towards the same spot. I froze. This is one of my personal pet fears. An ‘oh-my-gawd-that-didn’t-just-happen’ moment in life. I couldn’t apologize fast enough, or profoundly enough. Paul took his napkin, wiped his arm and made no mention of it. For a mini-micro-nano second, I considered fleeing outside. But of course, I didn’t. I had already told him who I was. I worked through the embarrassment. And blamed it on, my beard?


Paul was born at Surrey Memorial Hospital. Once a suburb of Vancouver, Surrey is now one of Canada’s fastest growing cities.

“I have an older brother and a younger sister,” he said. Paul told me that he had just seen an article, which he didn't read, talking about ‘middle-child syndrome.’ I gave him a quick rundown and he didn't seem to feel it applied.

“If I had to choose whether I was more outgoing or quieter because of being the middle child, I’d say I was quieter. But really, I don’t think it has anything to do with me.”


“We moved to the (Vancouver) Island when I was about one-and-a-half. We went there because of my father’s work. We lived in a small town, just north of Nanaimo, called Lantzville,” he said. Lantzville is a coastal town on the east side of Vancouver Island, with a population of about four thousand people. 


“I went to an elementary school in Lantzville. It was a great place to grow up, a small town, playing outside. You'd hear someone’s parent calling them in for dinner and you knew it was time to go home.” Paul’s parents are both from Malaysia, where the catholic religion is predominant.

“There wasn’t a catholic school in Lantzville. My parents were fairly strict and religion was a part of my childhood. I remember going to an evening religion class at church. Then around the time I was finishing elementary school, I stopped going, and never went back,” he said.

“Being a darker-skinned kid of Malaysian descent, I stood out in the small town, for sure,” said Paul.


“My grade one teacher was really nice. I remember her being friendly and feeling welcomed. It was a good introduction to school. My grade six teacher was the one that no one cared for. Then I had to take the yellow school bus to get to high-school in Nanaimo. I did okay in school, in terms of my grades,” he said. 


“After I graduated, I went to Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University). I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My father and both my brother and sister were into the sciences, so I gave that a go. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I dropped the science classes and took a bunch of other things; history, geography, English,” he said. 


"I had met someone that was a nurse and then became a paramedic. It was one of those times where, as a teenager you think ‘yeah, that would be a good thing to do. Maybe I’ll go into the medical profession.’ I did a few years at Malaspina, doing general courses. I applied to the Alberta College of Paramedics but I didn’t get in. I came over to Vancouver and went to BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), and took the nursing program,” Paul said.


The diploma program to become an RN (registered nurse) was two-and-a-half years long, at BCIT.

“I got a job as a nurse after I completed that. I had worked for about a year-and-a-half, and I just felt burned out. A friend of mine was living in Japan, teaching English and making $10US per hour more than me. And, he was having a great time,” said Paul, incredulously.

“So I went to Japan.” 


Paul was in southern Japan, and found work teaching conversational English, privately.

“I ended up getting a job as a homeroom teacher in a private school. That really was much more than I had planned on doing. I had to ride on the school bus forty-five minutes to get to the school. It was a lot more responsibility than I wanted,” he said.

“I stayed in Japan for three-and-a-half years.”


Coming back to Vancouver, Paul felt he wasn’t sure he wanted to go back to nursing.

“I tried it out again for a little while, but I really didn’t feel like it was what I wanted,” he told me.

“There was a nursing upgrade degree program at UBC (University of British Columbia). It meant that I could go from a diploma in nursing to a degree, by going to university for a year. I figured I’d get the degree, and then figure out what I wanted to do,” he said.


“I met a woman who was working in the Downtown Eastside (DTES, a Vancouver neighbourhood with a large population of residents living with addiction and mental health issues). She took me all around the neighbourhood and showed me what kind of work was being done there to help the community. I applied to work in a detox centre. There was a box that I ticked on the application. It said I was willing to have my application go to other agencies in the neighbourhood,” said Paul. 


“I was offered a job as a nurse at Insite.” Insite is the only safe-injection site in North America. People can go there to inject their own drugs, in a clean and supervised environment, with qualified nursing and counselling staff. They offer resources for people wanting to get off drugs, as well as health checks and referrals to other support agencies. To date, more than 2300 overdoses did not result in death. (*Fact Check - see link below.)


Paul worked at Insite for one-and-a-half years.

“I joined a team of nurses that went out into the community. We worked mostly in the SRO’s (Single Room Occupancy hotels), where the residents need daily care and support. We would set-up a clinic in one of the rooms. I did that for six years. It was tough work. Probably one of the toughest things I could imagine doing. Sitting there surrounded by cockroaches and insects. The smell from crack pipes, cigarette smoke, alcohol, vomit, urine, and all the other things that come along with it. People’s emotions, anger, frustration, rage, despair. You name it. And the stories that people had to share. Everyone has a story, that’s for sure.”


“Six years doing that, and I had to change direction. I needed to step back and take care of myself," he said.

"I’m working in a mental health clinic in East Vancouver now. I’ve been there for almost two years. I’m still in a nursing role, but in more of a capacity where I'm overseeing care. We’re administering support. I’m not changing dressings or things like that.” 


I couldn’t help but tell Paul what great work he’s doing, and that I hoped he was proud of what he does. He’s making a difference, every day. And now he can say he got spat on, too. #notastranger 

*Fact Check - http://www.communityinsite.ca/science.html