Sometimes life changing events happen in the archives. They are usually discoveries that enlighten people, clarifying their connections to the past. We fill in blanks. Sometimes our researchers experience elevated heart rates, but rarely is a visit life threatening.

Not so when we do our school programs. The unexpected happened just outside Marjorie’s Tea Room at Haney Village when Judith Skelhorne and I met to prepare for the Harvest School Program last month.

It was startling. It was frightening. It wasn’t something we were prepared for.

A visitor parked up at the parking lot and walked down to the school. He’d stopped and talked to Ted McTaggart, who had his ride-on tractor out, doing his grounds keeping duties. Ted is always up for a chat.

The gate was closed because we weren’t open that day but Susan Mackie came in on her day off. She had a delivery of pallets coming so she opened the gate. She was in casual mode, dressed for Pilates.

Ted arrived on the scene ahead of our visitor. He interrupted and said someone wanted to see me. Ted said the man had asked for me by name.

I wasn’t expecting anyone. It was my last day to get ready for the 36 kids who were coming the next day.

I was puzzled and approached the bearded man, not wanting to acknowledge who I was.

“Are you Deborah Chapman?”

I made a comment. “That depends.” One always has to be careful when dealing with the public.

My visitor didn’t seem interested in my response. He turned slightly away from me, dropped the two books he was carrying, and fell hard to the ground. His hearing aid and glasses fell off.

I screamed, not something I often do at work.

Susan and Ted heard me and came over.

We put our visitor on his side, thinking it was the recovery position. Ted picked up his glasses, hearing aid, and phone.

Susan yelled for Judith to get something from the kitchen to put underneath his head. Judith came out with a pile of folded aprons.

Our visitor looked like he was seizing, stopped breathing for several seconds, and shuddered as if he had sleep apnea. Over and over again he stopped breathing and then shuddered. I was relieved. At least he was breathing once in a while.

Susan called 911. The dispatcher was on another call, but we were dealt with quickly.

“Is he breathing?” the man at the other end of the conversation asked.

Then came a set of calmly executed directions.

“Move him on his back. Do not put anything under his head.”

There goes my First Aid circa 1990, I thought. We removed the folded pile of aprons.

“Put one hand on his forehead.”

“Raise his neck.”

Our visitor wasn’t just a visitor any longer. He was our patient.

Susan and I spelled each other off on the head holding and neck lifting tasks. Our patient had a very heavy head.

The Dispatcher said the ambulance was coming.

“Deborah, you talk to the Dispatcher,” Susan said.

I took the phone.

“Tell me when he breathes,” was the request.

We did that for a while. Our patient was improving under our care.

I asked the Dispatcher if he was in Kamloops.

“Yes,” he said.

“But the Ambulance driver will know where we are,” I stated. I didn’t need confirmation. The Ambulance station is in our neighbourhood, on the Trans Canada Highway and just 2 minutes away. I silently hoped the driver would have GPS as a backup.

“Deborah, tell him a story,”Susan instructed. When in doubt, just get the curator to distract with her repertoire of Salmon Arm histories.

Someone handed me the two copies of the book our patient had been carrying. It was published in Abbotsford. Jim McQueen’s photo was on the back cover. He was an author. He wasn’t from Salmon Arm.

So I told Jim McQueen all about the Mt. Ida McQueens. Annie McQueen and her husband Jim Gordon were homesteaders. Annie was a schoolteacher from Sutherlands in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. She had accepted a position in the Nicola Valley and, once there, encouraged her sister, Jessie to come to the Valley. There was a position at a neighbouring school and wages were much higher in BC than Nova Scotia. The two were teachers and on an adventure.

Then Annie met Jim Gordon and they were married in Kamloops. Jim was a cabinet maker. He got the bright idea to try his hand at clearing bush and log home construction. There were 160 acre plots of land in the Salmon Valley for the asking. The building and clearing happened. Babies came. There was a job vacancy at the one room school. Annie was on the school board. She must have put her sister’s name forward as a prospect. She had ulterior motives. Jim was away a lot with paid work and Annie was home alone. . . Annie’s letters home make delightful story material.

Was this author, Jim McQueen, related to Annie? I didn’t know but he wasn’t arguing.

While I was talking, the present day Jim closed his mouth. His breathing became more laboured. I pulled down on his jaw to see his tongue slack, rolled back, and taking up too much space, in my medical opinion. I spent the next while trying talking straight at his mouth and keeping that airway open. His beard felt rough.

It is funny how sound travels at the park. We hear wildlife. We hear accidents on the highway. As the crow flies we’re close to both the TCH and Highway 97B.

We heard sirens. Our unconscious patient was breathing. Help was coming.

Then the sirens kept going. The driver didn’t know where the Village was. They were headed to Vernon.

Ted went out to the gate and flagged the ambulance when its driver realized he had overshot the address and turned around. It was easy for Ted to spot them.

Two capable medical attendants took over and Jim sort of came to. One of them asked if he knew what day it was and where he was. He passed that test with his eyes still shut. He told them he was waiting for a valve replacement and this had never happened before.

They asked Jim if he could sit up with help, he tried, and collapsed again.

Then “cops” arrived. The Dispatcher had called the RCMP too. That was handy. The uniformed policeman was young and looked like he lifted weights.

Our Paramedics decided to resort to Plan B. They had a backboard that could be split in half to slide under the patient.

One Ambulance Attendant split the board. Susan and Ted lifted an arm each. The second Paramedic and I lifted Jim’s legs. The cop took the heavy part, Jim’s brain.

The backboard was clipped back together under Jim. We lifted him onto a stretcher and he was hoisted into the ambulance.

Jim was asked if he knew anyone in Salmon Arm. He mumbled Joani Cowan’s name. She is the retired curator in Enderby. I knew his connection.

Later I called Joani’s husband Bob and learned that Jim McQueen had driven up the Coquihalla that morning and was to take the couple to lunch. Jim was born in Enderby and was a museum benefactor with connections to the Enderby Museum. Joani had edited his book. Jim’s father had attended Hillcrest School in Deep Creek.

“Oh,” I thought. “That’s who he is.” The researcher who wanted to know about Hillcrest School in Deep Creek. I had answered his questions by email. He had one of those weird Telus addresses. I didn’t connect the dots. Not my strongest hour as an archivist. Jim wasn’t related to the Mt. Ida District McQueen sisters after all.

So I went up to visit Jim in ICU the next day to give him a piece of my mind. I needed to complain to him about his heavy head. He was cheerful and alert, waiting to go to Kelowna for tests to find out what had happened.

When Joani and I finally talked I told her the story about the Mt. Ida McQueens. We laughed. She knew Jim well and said I’d kept him alive – the whole time I was telling my story she knew he was silently arguing with me. He was mentally saying, “Deep Creek, Deep Creek, Deep Creek, NOT MT. IDA!”

Stay healthy Jim and, next time you come, let me know in advance. I’ve got a couple of books for you to sign.

Post Script:

Jim writes from his hospital bed: 
I have known Bob and Joan Cowan for almost 30 years. I was born in Enderby, went to school there and (attended) high school in Salmon Arm. My 50th grad reunion was last year.

My father spent his teenage years working on his aunt and uncle’s farm (Donald & Mary Lindsay) at the southern end of Deep Creek just north of the Spallumcheen boundary. (Dad) finished his schooling at Hillcrest School on Barney Rd. My family lived in Enderby for more than 70 years.

Jim's Breathing:

 My surrogate son works as a Fireman. He and his fireman brother agreed that my description of Jim's breathing was Agonal. The word comes from the post classical Latin "agon."

Agonal breathing is a gasping for breath, triggered by the brain stem, in response to a medical emergency like a heart attack or stroke.