Sue Greening had just regained consciousness on a sidewalk in Port Coquitlam when she realized something special was happening.
It was Saturday. Greening, along with her husband and a friend, had already cycled the Traboulay PoCo when they headed up Kingsway Avenue.
Her memory of what happened next is unclear. However, after talking to her husband and her friend and taking stock of her injuries, Greening says she’s fairly certain she flew over her handlebars and landed headfirst five feet away.
“I’ve got a row of bumps and bruises across my forehead from where the helmet smacked me,” she says.
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Greening is an experienced cyclist but, as far as she can guess, she had a moment of inattention.
“I probably just lost my situational awareness for a second or two and was too close to the curb.”
She remembers wanting to sit up and then falling back down. Her next memory, she says, is of dimly recognizing that people were taking care of her.
“Oh wow, there’s so many people and look, there’s a tent above me,” she recalls thinking.
Employees at a nearby Yamaha dealership had set up a pop-up tent to give Greening some shade amid the 32 C weather.
“They didn’t have to stop. It was their suggestion,” Greening says.
Among the group of cyclists behind her was a nurse who held her hand and calmed her down. Another cyclist offered to take her bike for her.
As Greening threw up and drifted in and out of consciousness another nurse organized bystanders to keep Greening as shaded and cool as could be. She also called an ambulance.
A police dogmaster stayed by her side instead of heading for lunch and a walk along the dyke. Firefighters brought ice packs.
“No one left,” Greening says. “They stayed with me for an hour and a half. . . . It just almost snowballed into this community event.”
It took paramedics about an hour to arrive at the scene, according to Greening. They apologized, explaining they were short-staffed, and drove Greening to Eagle Ridge Hospital.
The doctor kept the paramedics at the hospital in case Greening had a more serious brain injury and needed to be rushed to Royal Columbian Hospital.
“If I had had a serious head injury the outcome . . . could’ve been totally different,” Greening says.
A one-hour wait for an ambulance is unusual but not surprising, explained Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.
“Unfortunately, we’ve seen some real delays on the weekend,” he said. “We definitely need more stations in the Tri-Cities area.”
Given the area’s population as well as its geography, there should be three or four ambulance stations to serve the Tri-Cities, according to Clifford.
The standard for paramedics is to attend to the most urgent calls within 8.59 minutes, 90 percent of the time. Paramedics around Metro Vancouver haven’t been being that standard, according to Clifford.
“And that’s on the most serious calls,” he added.
Greening’s wait is not acceptable, according to Clifford.
“That’s not meeting the basic requirements.”
In 2020, it took an ambulance a median time 10 minutes and 52 seconds to respond to an urgent call in Coquitlam. Among 22 communities with at least 5,000 ambulance calls in 2020, Coquitlam ranked 20th in urgent response time, ahead of only Delta and Langley. Across the Tri-Cities, ambulance response times had worsened since 2018.
Part of the problem is having two stations on the səmiq̓ʷəʔelə (Riverview) grounds. (Pronounced Suh-MEE-kwuh-EL-uh.) The area needs a more centralized station, according to Clifford.
“Maple Ridge has three ambulances but they’re a long ways,” he said.
But even with a better location there is still a shortage of paramedics as many young people switch to better paying first responder jobs. On any given day, between 20 and 50 percent of ambulances aren’t running because of staff shortages, Clifford said.
There also system-wide strains, according to Clifford. Paramedics sometimes have to stay at hospitals because there isn’t a way to triage patients.
“We just don’t have enough beds so then that ties up ambulances,” he said.
Speaking to the Dispatch three days after her crash, Greening reports feeling a little foggy, a headache and a limp.
“A little battered and bruised but I’m alive,” she says.
Greening says her helmet “absolutely” saved her from a more serious injury.
“The doctor even said, ‘You are so lucky you were wearing a helmet,’” she says. “It always amazes me how many people I see out on the dyke . . . ‘Oh, I don’t have to wear a helmet. I can let the air run through my hair ‘cause it’s a little hot today.’”
Greening has lived in Port Coquitlam since 1980. She’s coming up on her 44th wedding anniversary this July.
The way the community coalesced around her in a time of need is an example of why she’s glad to be part of Port Coquitlam, she explains.
“I’m just so tired all of this negativity. . . . All you ever hear about is the crap that’s going on in the word,” she said. “I just thought, people have got to know there’s good people out there.”