The Final Stretch: September 18 – October 6

We are shifting gears! Check out one last update before I touchdown on the other side of the world. I write to you now from 30,000 feet above. I am three and a half hours into a 13 hour flight across the Atlantic. I left Madrid, Spain this morning at 10:50 am and arrive in Santiago, Chile at 7:30 pm local time. I arrive in Chile. South America…The other side of the world! As my final weeks in Denmark began to be filled with busy days and lots of travel, I am finally getting to you one last update on my time away.

This final update includes: a trip to the Faroe Islands ( a portion of the greater Danish Kingdom), a final ride with the ambulances in Greve, a trip to Bergen, Norway, final goodbyes to my host family, Copenhagen, and Denmark, and a grand reunion with my brother, Rob, and my sister-in-law, Katherine, in Madrid!

Check out some details below:

  • Monday, September 18: Arriving in the Faroe Islands, I landed in Sorvagur and took a bus to the capital, Tórshavn, which was about an hour away. The Faroe Islands are a cluster of 18 Islands that are part of the Danish Kingdom (Fun Fact: so is Greenland!). Although they have their own government, they are functionally an extension of Denmark with a few differences: The Kroner have different faces, they speak Faroese, and they live way out in the middle of the North-Atlantic. Driving from Sorvagur to Torshavn was mesmerizing. It’s hard to put into words what I was seeing, so be sure to check out some photos below. Traversing across the land or through underwater tunnels, the landscape was unlike anything I had seen before. Steep cliffs jutted out of the waters, covered in long, green grass. Water cut wedges into the landscape and trickled down from every spot it could find…and sheep. Sheep roamed the land and made clear that this place was their home. We even had to slow down and honk at them to move them off of the road! In Torshavn, I checked into my AirBnB and found a spot along the harbor for dinner. Soon after, I traveled to the National Hospital in the center of the City. I was to meet Hjalgrím, who was a Paramedic I had previously communicated with. Starting at 8:00 PM on Monday, I joined Hjalgrím on a 12-hr Ambulance shift – a perfect start!
  • Tuesday, September 19: Waking up in an incredibly comfortable lounger at the Hospital, our shift ended the next morning. Having been up a few times in the night, I took an extended nap back home and set out late morning for a picnic lunch in the city. Torshavn is small: approx 20,000 of the 50,000 Faroese residents live there. It’s size meant I could see a lot of the city in a short amount of time. I had been invited to spend the afternoon fishing with Raní, the other medic who had been working with Hjalgrím. We spent much of the afternoon out on a boat with his kids. Although we received only a few bites, and no fish, I was entirely satisfied with the spectacular views I was receiving. Situated between the two largest islands, we were surrounded by beautiful landscapes and fantastic weather. Fishing is a huge part of the Faroese cultural history and continues to be a major part of their economy, so it was awesome to take part in that for a day. The evening looked a lot like my first; I joined Hjalgrím and Raní for another night shift in the city.
  • Wednesday, September 20: Finishing our shift, Hjalgrím and I had a day planned. We traveled north to Klaksvik, the second largest town (population 5,000) to see the second Hopsital and speak with some of the medics who worked there. In Klaksvik, I spoke and shared lunch with medics, toured the hospital, and got to speak with one of the members on the Search & Rescue Boat teams stationed just below the hospital in the city’s port. Before heading back to Torshavn, we stopped at Hjalgrím’s sister’s house. Treated to coffee and cake, I got to talk their family and hear some Faroese perspectives on my project, and how emergency care works in the Faroes. Heading back to Torshavn, the foggy rain that had plagued most of the day began to let up. Looking into the trail book I received at the airport, I decided to take a small hike. The hike led me along old Cairn Paths. Cairns are rocks piled together into a tower formation, and they serve as trail markers. This path connected Torshavn to an older city south of it. About halfway through the hike, my plan was uprooted when I discovered a pristine piece of land that looked westwards towards the sun. With steep slopes to my back and a few of the other Islands situated in front of me out on the sea, I looked out and witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. I sat there for a while, reflected on how in the world I got to this moment, and gave thanks.
  • Thursday, September 21: On the 21st, I met Hjalgrím for a morning tour of the Main Hospital, something we had yet to do. With a small, late-morning break, I spent some time at a Coffee Shop by the Harbor and wrote down some thoughts of my time in the Faroes thus far. Hjalgrím and I traveled to the airport in the early afternoon to meet the Helicopter Crew and learn about the search and rescue operations they perform when necessary. As the afternoon waned, Hjalgrím and I traveled to our next spot: A tunnel south of Klaksvik where we were going to take part in a training scenario. Police, Fire, and EMS staged a multiple casualty car incident that had occurred in one of the many tunnels found in the Islands. Making it as real as they possibly could, I got to watch medics respond to difficult situations and take part in the discussion that followed.
  • Friday, September 22: One final day with Hjalgrím, we joined some of the Emergency Hopsital Staff in training. Though the morning lecture was in Danish, I was able to understand the style and concepts of training the groups were working on. Their goal was improving response and handling in trauma situations. Having sat through lecture, we then got to play out some scenarios to practice what had just been learned. Finishing late afternoon, it was crazy to believe how much I had packed into 5 days, and it was time to say goodbye to Hjalgrím. I went to Barbara’s Fishouse for dinner and treated myself to an amazing meal to celebrate a really incredible week. This also meant that I greatly expanded my palate, as I used to say I wasn’t the biggest fish person. Needless to say, the food was superb.
  • Saturday, September 23: With one free day left, I had planned out a day to myself that would take me on a long hike around the Island of Vágar. Starting early morning in Sandavagur, I had taken the bus and hopped off ready to go. Finding the first Cairn at the top of a hill that lined a gorge, I was already so excited for the day ahead. As I walked, through patches of heavy wind and intermittent fog, Cairn after Cairn would appear in the distance. 17 km into the day, I had made it from the east side of the Island and had reached the northern city of Slættanes, which consisted of 6 houses, many sheep, and no people since the late 1980s. Oddly enough I met three men who had taken the weekend in one of the houses that belonged to one of their grandfathers. I was welcomed with warm tea; I tried dried whale, a delicacy in the Faroes, and was given smoked salmon on bread. It was a blessing, and I got to share an unexpected meal with a friendly man named Bouy. Trekking back out, I set out on the second half of my hike. What would prove to be the more difficult sections, I trekked across sometimes hairy patches of rock, but was always rewarded by unbelievable views to both look forward to and back upon. I came to love the sight of another Cairn off in the distance: a simple confirmation that I was on the right course. Making it over the last mountain range, I descended into Gasadalur, my destination city and set my eyes upon the beautiful Mulfossur Waterfall. The day ended up serving as incredible space and time for reflection on my year thus far and served as a rather perfect metaphor for my journey to date. 35 km under my feet and a bus rude back to my AirBnB, I spent one last night in the Faroes.
  • Sunday, September 24: Flying out in the morning, I peered out the window and thought to myself, “I will be back here, I am sure of it.” And still, I believe it. Arriving back in Copenhagen, I had a great reunion with my host family, and spent the rest of my day catching up with them.
  • Monday, Septmeber 25: Having finsihed an incredible segment of traveling through Denmark, followed by my trip to the Faroes, I had a lot to update, both for myself and for you all! With a break for a run and lunch at home, I spent my day at my two favorite coffee shops getting work done. Morning at Ingolf’s Kaffebar near home, and an afternoon at Den Lille Gule Kaffebar near the City Hall. An evening at home, I spent engaging in thoughtful conversation with Morten, my host dad, as we often do.
  • Tuesday, September 26: Early on the 26th, I set back out towards Greve. Just, the medic, had another 24-hr shift that I got to take part in. Having not been at the station in a few weeks due to my travel, it felt great to return. It even felt a little more natural and I could tell that I felt much more comfortable in being there and engaging with the other medics and firemen. The day was busier than some of my other shifts, so we spent much of the day out on the road, but also took some time back at the station to train. There were some students present, and I got to jump in on the training and practice with them!
  • Wednesday, September 27: Finsihing my shift with a quite night, I trekked back to Copenhagen. Following up on my time on the 25th, I got to work finishing out a blog update detailing my Jylland Adventures! In the evening I grabbed dinner with some friends at Paper Island, the food market, knowing it would likely be the last chance I would have to see them before I left. We had a great time, said our goodbyes and wished each other well. This was probably the first of my goodbyes that I am finding will become a regular occurrence.
  • Thursday, Septmeber 28: Previously, I had booked a trip to Bergen, Norway as one final excursion before leaving Europe. After a few weeks of heavy travel, it felt a little weird to be moving so soon again, but it turned out to be a great trip. It sort of balanced out my time in my first three months away. Six weeks in I had gone to Prague and 12 weeks in, I went to Bergen. I spent my evening in the city getting acquainted with the beautiful town.
  • Friday, September 29: Having signed up for a Fjord Tour, I took a full day outside of Bergen. In total, three train rides, a bus, and fjord cruise, I saw so many incredible sights and was breath-taken by the fjords and mountain ranges in front of me.
  • Saturday, September 30: Continuing in some outdoor adventuring, I had been communicating with a guy named Josué, who lives in Bergen and is an Ultra-marathoner. He took me out to run the seven mountains that borders Bergen. A full day out on the trail, we covered 38 km and 8,500 ft mixing running with hiking (and sometimes a few stumbles).
  • Sunday, October 1: A late afternoon flight gave me time to wander the city a little more. I happened upon a church with an English service and entered, although I was a little late! I made it in time to share in the Eucharist and was invited to a potluck lunch with the congregation, since it was Harvest Sunday. Something that could not have been more unplanned, I shared a meal with incredible people who were so caring and hospitable. It was a perfect way to end my trip to Bergen, and begin to seriously close out my time in Europe.
  • Monday, October 2: Monday felt like a checklist kind of day; I spent the morning running some errands and beginning to pack. I spent the afternoon fairly captivated by news back home. I sat angry, sad, and confused – realizing the difficulty of feeling these emotions while abroad. I hurt for Las Vegas, and those affected by gun violence. It prompted me to think a lot about my year and my project as well. Articles I was reading reflected the incredible work emergency personnel did through the night of the 1st, and into the morning of the 2nd. An evening with my family, we went out for one final meal, exchanged a few gifts and ate delicious ice cream.
  • Tuesday, October 3: Anticipatory for my departure in the afternoon, I finished packing and hung out around the home. Grabbing one last latte at Den Lille Gule, and one final bike ride through the city, time shortly came to head to the airport. Morten, Iben, and Rune Drove me over and helped carry my bags to the checkpoint. A sad hug, one last family selfie and they disappeared from view as I went through the gates. I felt both sadness and immense gratitude: for having to leave and for all my (new) family had done for me. With a flight to Madrid, I had officially left Denmark. The next step of my journey and year was beginning.
  • Wednesday, October 4: With EXTREME anticipation, and I do not say that lightly if you could not tell, I greeted Rob & Katherine, and celebrated: for their completion of the Camino, for two years of marriage, and for being together with then for the first time in over 3 months! Settling into our AirBnB, we grabbed delicious paella, and talked for hours. Sunset out in the city, we came back close to our apartment for dinner. Our conversations kept flowing, sharing stories, laughing at old memories and being thankful for the time we had together.
  • Thursday, October 5: Rob, Katherine, and I spent the day in excellent fashion. First, all of us purchased Adventure Hats (a must) and then we spent the day doing what one could only do after such a purchase: adventuring. We roamed the different streets of Madrid, stopped for small bites to eat at new places and marveled at the city. In the Evening we met a friend of Rob’s, named Marc, who he had worked with any Moondance. Marc had been living in Spain for the past 7 years and gave us an evening that couldn’t have been better. Beginning in his flat on the terrace, we shared drinks and good views. Meandering out to dinner, we found a place that felt extremely authentic and ended our evening trying Shandy, a favorite of Marc’s and something new for the three of us!
  • Friday, October 6: Now we are up-to-date. Perhaps not with brevity, but a thorough update at all of the fantastic things that have happened was more than necessary. Today I fly in to Santiago, Chile and will spend the night with a mutual friend from the States. Though this next legs feels a little slightly less structured than before, it is a new beginning, and the most important thing is in check: I have a bed.

Want to see some of those incredible sights I talked about? Check them out below — Not holding back this time, so scroll through and enjoy!

Downtown Torshavn
The Old City of Torshavn
Fishing Views pt. 1
Fishing Views pt. 2
Fishing Views pt. 3
Torshavn Sunset – One of the Best I’ve ever seen
Torshavn Sunset
Faroese Hike Pt.1 – One of the many Cairns that guided me
Faroese Hike pt. 2 – Slættanes, abandoned in the 1980’s
Faroese Hike pt. 3 – Sheep seemed to have reclaimed the land
Faroese Hike pt. 4 – Sheep living their best life
Faroese Hike pt. 5 – Buoy, retreating in Slættanes, he fed me whale, cod, salmon and hot tea!
Faroese Hike pt. 6 – Hiking the north face of Vágar
Faroese Hike pt. 7 – Views from the hike
Faroese Hike pt. 8 – Thankful for valleys (away from cliff-sides)
Faroese Hike pt. 9 – Views of the trail ahead
Faroese Hike pt. 10 – The Final Destination: Gasadalur & the Mulafossur Waterfall
Bergen, the old city, Norway
Views from the Norwegian Fjords
Waterfalls were everywhere in Norway
The Scenic Flåm Railway, Norway
Josué, my running partner, and I on the 7-Fjallen 38 km run
Squatting on top of Mountain 7 of 7 in Norway. Mountains 1, 2, and 3 are behind me
One last dinner with the Family! (We couldn’t find a better background)
Goodbye Selfies are important
Hello Selfies are important too! Hello Rob & Katherine!
We bought adventure hats
Adventure hat ready, bring it on Chile!

In all these jam-packed three weeks, a lot occurred, and a lot of great work towards my project was gained. All that I did made me feel so great closing out in Denmark. I will start with my time in the Faroes and expand out to some final thoughts on things learned in Denmark over these first 90 days of an incredible and wild year.

The biggest thing I learned and noticed about the Faroe Islands is the community’s size. With only a population of 50,000 people spread amongst 18 islands, the population is small and often quite separated from place to place. The Islands are geographically isolated, with any major city being at minimum an hours journey (and 2 hours to Copenhagen). Given the size, I also learned that Faroese very fittingly fulfill the definition for “Jack of All Trades.” Individuals who live on the Islands are not just one type of person; and it is true, neither are most of us; however, it seemed to me that those on the Islands do it all. Because of size, most people take on much of their own tasks that we often would outsource others to do; its part of the culture there, and its reflected in the home and in the work place. Perhaps this is also a small town culture versus large, because I have seen reflections of this style of work with some individuals who work and live in Sewanee. In the Faroes, the medics work for the Hospital System which is nationally run. While on shift, not only are they responsible for patients in the field, they also perform numerous in-house duties for the hospital. Sometimes changing beds, taking patients for imaging, or even taking out the trash, the medics had a few more roles that fit into their job descriptions than those I have met elsewhere. Although the medics are situated with these tasks that do not directly pertain to ambulance and pre-hospital care, I learned that most medics seem to generally like the system. A benefit for them is that they’re not external to the hospital: they are able to maintain good relationships with the trauma center and are even allowed to follow-up on calls. Sometimes medics are presented with unusual cases, and in the interest of learning, hearing abut differential diagnoses can greatly help the response to the same situation in the future. Similar to the medics who often do more than just work the ambulance, the same goes for those on the Search and Rescue Boats, or the Helicopter Response Unit. Search And Rescue Boat crew are volunteers working and living near the boat’s location. They hold separate jobs, but are within reach of the boat if they need to respond to a call. The helicopter is the same, the pilots and technicians on board do more than wait for calls to come out. They work as pilots, flight engineers, etc.

Though these are some benefits of the Faroes that I saw, not everything can work perfectly. Just as the small size often benefits the medics and the work they do by creating the small community feel, it can also be damaging. On a personal level, I learned from some of the medics that it can often be two small: too often you respond to a call with some knowledge of the person and their non-medical background. This can be challenging when trying to work efficiently and objectively. On an educational level, a small island also means that there will be inherently less calls on any given day. That correlates to less opportunity for experiential learning, especially for the cases that may not occur as often. On a structural and systemic level, there is a challenge of resources. You can’t just place ambulances everywhere. One is limited by the available medics and the funding provided to the service. Thus, there will be some gaps in coverage. Each station only has one ambulance in service at a given town. For the size of it, it makes sense. It would be a waste of money and resources if the Faroes were to employ more; however, it poses a risk when the local ambulance is out on a call or transporting a patient. The region of land specific a station covers experiences a lapse in coverage and thus the ambulances must shift to reallocate an equal division of coverage.

In talking with Hjalgrím, he mentioned a lot of these concerns and the work the Islands are doing to improve. Clear examples of this are both the B.E.S.T Training in the Hospital and the multiple causalty incident that occurred in the tunnel the day before. Practice and experience is one of the most direct ways to learn. It is absolutely necessary in this field if one is going to be able to respond appropriately in real scenarios. The training I witnessed was a perfect example of the work the Islands are doing to improve. It was an extremely coordinated event. It was professional and thorough. It was followed by collaborative debriefing among agencies and further individual organizational conversation. Policy makers and administrators were able to witness and think about the influence that their work and regulations has on response in the field.

I think as a resident, though it was not directly spoken to me, one must become okay with the isolation that the Faroe Islands create. To live there, one must want to. Given the way the Welfare system is structured in the Faroes, and greater Denmark, it essentially doesn’t work to say that someone isn’t able to get out or away from their current situation. The Faroes, based off of their geographic location clearly breeds a culture of community as a result. I never sensed any feelings of superiority or individualism among neighbors. That was special to be able to see and it is clear that this practice is continued in the medical field as well.

In Greve, on my last shift, we responded to a call of a youth being hit and thrown off the road by a car. From the sound of it, it was not a good situation and we responded rapidly. Barreling down single-laned highways, cars on either side quickly diverted for us. Arriving on scene, we were relieved to find that the situation was not nearly as dire as originally thought, but an ankle had still been broken. What struck me though was the interaction between the child and the elderly woman who had been driving the car. The exchange was incredible and it ended with the 14-year old reaching out their arms to hug the woman. As she leaned in, I could see a tear fall from her cheek. I can’t imagine the own personal trauma she was feeling in that moment or even to this day, but what I saw really stuck with me. This community, and when I say community here, I refer more so to the culture of living found in Denmark, cares for each other.

A life in a small town, or a poor town is no different than a life in a big city, or a rich city. A life is a life and it deserves to be preserved. The work that medics do are often at the forefront of this preservation. Yes, it is true that medics in more isolated areas may not respond nearly as much as the medics I spoke with in Copenhagen, but it does not negate the critical importance of their work. It is equal. As I close out my time looking into Denmark and the greater system within it, I have found that my project has often lead me to investigate more structural aspects of the service rather than the anecdotal evidence from members in the community and medics alike. I do not think I had originally thought that this would be the case, but as I am seeing now, it has provided me with an incredible base of knowledge about an extremely regulated and structured system. I learned that structure works. Discovering Life Amidst Emergencies is often what I have reflected upon at the center of my year. Where is their life within these communities, how does the community respond to these situations? For the most part, life continues as normal. Perhaps I will see this elsewhere, but perhaps the structure has an incredible influence on removing fears and replacing them with senses of security. Thus allowing for life to go on as normal. Of course, there are plenty of people I never heard from, but those I did always spoke positively. It always came down to structure, to the welfare state, to not having to worry. A large piece that I have taken away about Danish Culture and even more so, Scandinavian Culture is that people keep to themselves. Small talk at the bus stop is non existent. Most people keep their heads down or headphones in when walking down the street. I have even found that eye contact and a smile sometimes draws concerned look towards me. On the outside, it can seem like this culture is quite closed, but as you begin to understand it a little more, and understand the structure that is in place, you begin to see a little more. Much is provided; people often stay quite and reserved, but at the same time, everyone pays into it. No one is external or above the welfare state. Your neighbor and the family on the other side of town that you don’t know pays for your care and you pay for theirs. So yes, people are reserved, but they’re always providing for each other, and in the times they are called upon, which seems to be few given the successful structure, people step in. People show up. People respond. That, to me, is where life is.

Lastly, here are some project related photos from the past few weeks:

Ready for work in the Faroes!
Faroese Rescue Helicopter. Much larger than the life-flights back home
Equipped for it all, including high-angle rescue
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 1
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 2
Scenes from Faroese Tunnel Training – pt. 3
Last day with the medics in Greve, Denmark

And there you have it, my time in Denmark has officially come to a close and a new journey is about to begin. Full of unknowns, challenges, successes, failures, moments of awe, and many more emotions. I am excited to keep sharing with you all. Thanks for sticking around.

Vi ses og (y) vamanos.

– Mark

2 thoughts on “The Final Stretch: September 18 – October 6

  1. Your last call experience in Greve sounds very powerful, Mark — thank you for sharing that story with us! Do you remember the show Mr. Rogers? We have referenced it in my class recently because in his show, Mr. Rogers used to tell others to “look for the helpers.” In times of crisis, look for the helpers. When people are sad, look for the helpers. When people are confused, look for the helpers. We are certainly all in need of helpers, no matter where we live or how we are living, and it sounds like your time in Denmark has revealed an overly willing population of helpers. How beautiful is that. I am praying that you will continue to encounter helper after helper during this next leg of your incredible and wild year. 4312!


  2. Kerry Hamilton

    Mark! Amazing, amazing, amazing! I’m so happy for you to be in such beautiful and exotic places. Your love and admiration of the locations and the people along this journey (including the uniting with Rob and Katherine) are so obvious and pronounced in your journal. I can’t think of a better person than you Mark to be graced with this opportunity to explore these new places in the quest for knowledge and experience in the field of emergency medicine. I know you and your humility has charmed the residence of your travels, after all you are so polite and cute as a button. I know you will thoroughly use this experience and appreciate the reality beyond our own neighborhoods when you get back to the states to ignite your career and passions. I see you in the Norway pics wearing the buff bandanna I got you … It’s like a piece of me is there with you, although that just sounded really creepy.

    So proud of you my little Quester Dude – Be safe and remember, God loves you and so do I.


    On Sat, Oct 7, 2017 at 8:35 PM, Discovering Life Amidst Emergencies wrote:

    > Mark McAlister posted: “We are shifting gears! Check out one last update > before I touchdown on the other side of the world. I write to you now from > 30,000 feet above. I am three and a half hours into a 13 hour flight across > the Atlantic. I left Madrid, Spain this morning at 10:5” >


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