Rick Herrick>



You hear it first, that blaring, honking noise of a siren. You tense up a little, look into the rearview mirror, and then try to figure out a way to move over. If you’re driving near or around Sturbridge Village, there’s a good chance that Linda Collette is behind you and anxious to arrive at the scene of some accident.

Daughter of Bush and Mim Richardson, married to Joe Collette of Holland, and an East Chop summer resident for sixty-eight years, Linda has worked as a paramedic for thirty years. She currently manages the Brimfield Ambulance Service.

As a paramedic, Linda has seen it all — broken bones, severed arteries, heart attack, stroke, domestic violence, suicide. “You may be surprised to learn, maybe not, that men and women take their life differently. Men are far more violent. They shoot or hang themselves. Typically women either take an overdose of pills or use carbon monoxide.”

A paramedic functions as a first responder, much like an emergency room doctor, during the initial 20 or 30 minutes of treatment. They administer a wide variety of drugs, manage the airway, provide basic life support, administer EKG’s. Often interpretation is involved. Linda was quick to point out that only doctors diagnose. “We interpret.” The point is that an injury or medical condition must be fully understood to be treated properly.

It’s a line of work that brings her face-to-face with death on a regular basis. “I find it an honor to be with people when they are dying. I’m sometimes the last person they speak to. Most know what is happening to them. Rarely do they panic. A few express regrets, but the vast majority ask me to deliver a message. They want a spouse to know that they were loved or a friend to know that they have been forgiven. Of course, I always honor these requests.

“I’ve also been privileged to witness several near death experiences. They are fascinating. Each recipient believed that they had traveled to a better place. A few expressed regrets at having to come back.”

“Why do you think they came back? Did they have a choice?”

“I think they come back because they feel they are needed here. In one case, a woman came back because her husband was begging her to.”

Finally, I had to ask the question that first intrigued me about doing this interview. “Linda, why do you do this work? I mean, what you see at times must be horrible.”

“It can be horrible, and that’s a good question. We have a very high burnout rate in our profession. I love my work because I have made a difference. I have saved people lives, delivered eight babies, comforted people who are dying. As I said earlier, it is an honor to be with people when they are dying. Responding to an emergency can also be exciting—an adrenaline rush. You never know what you’re going to find when you go out on a call. No two heart attacks are the same.”

“Do you ever worry about the danger?”

“No. Again, it’s an adrenaline thing. You focus solely on the person who needs help. And Rick, I hate to lose! Sometimes back at the office, I say wow, that was a close one. But while you’re on the scene, you have tunnel vision.”

“What have you learned in 30 years of responding to these emergencies?”

“One big lesson: life is precious, and very fragile. One moment a person is here, and then they are gone. I no longer take life for granted. I don’t go to sleep mad. If I have something important to do, I do it now.”

In a very different setting, under circumstances with no parallels to the world of a paramedic, I learned a similar lesson about life. The kids at the recent teenie bopper dance expressed an uplifting exuberance about life. The music moved them. Brother and sister, cousins, and friends danced with each other, and then branched off separately in a frenzy of self-expression. Parents clapped to the music and danced along the sidelines. Grandparents watched and smiled. You couldn’t leave the Beach Club that night without feeling good about life. The atmosphere was contagious. Life is indeed precious. Thank you Lisa Knight and your wonderful staff for making it all happen.