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Thursday, February 09, 2006Love
This is an entry into Stephanie Davies Valentine Day Contest over at Mystickal Incense & More. This is actually something I had written awhile ago... but undusted it last month for something else... and I think it's more fitting here.
I can honestly say that an angel touched my cold old soul tonight.
I have never been a warm person. Normally, most people see the gruff exterior I put out there, and keep their distance. That is what it is there for after all, in an attempt to keep myself from emotional distress when they turn on me. They always do. Yet, tonight you showed me not only that your true beauty is what is inside you, but also you melted the ice that had trapped my own soul.
Tonight had started out like any other night. I arrived at the station ready to spend the next eight hours with nothing but the book I’m reading, my partner, and the misery of those who decide to call upon us for succor. When I got there, Bob was already sitting in the waiting room, casually flipping through a magazine. When I sat beside him, he turned to me and said, “Aren’t you gonna be cold tonight?”
I never wear a jacket. I find them too restricting, so basically I wear my short sleeve shirt and vest all year round. When the snow hits I’ll probably add a turtleneck underneath and maybe a sweatshirt over it all. I just don’t like wearing jackets, and he should know this. We have been partners for four years. So I asked him, “When have you ever seen me wear a jacket?’
“Never. Maybe you should start.”
“Maybe I should, but it won’t be tonight.”
“I’m not going to be the only one getting out of the vehicle tonight,” he huffed, turning back to his magazine.
I could have reminded him that tonight was his turn to drive, and the driver is always the one who gets out first to check for injuries. It’s one of those unwritten laws. I think the only one above it is the “If it bleeds, stop it.” I could tell him so, but what’s the point. Four years as partners does something. It no longer becomes about communication. It becomes about having the instinct to know your partner better than yourself.
I tend to think all relationships are like that on certain levels. The vast majority of my best relationships are the ones where I can agree to disagree with someone. Like Bob, we can have huge arguments and fights, yet on the next call we are more in sync than ever. It always seems to be the people who can’t take criticism or my brutally honest ways that I never get along with. Like Lisa.
Lisa and her partner Jeannie are the EMTs we relieve. You’ve probably seen them around, Lisa has short spikey blonde hair and Jeannie is short with long black hair always in a bun. They’re both all of five foot one, so it is possible to look right past them and never see them. The problem I have with Lisa is she thinks she is the Lieutenant at our station. She does the stock, so she thinks that makes her the boss. At the same time, she feels like she is the mother of us all and is constantly in everyone’s business and knows better than the rest of us.
Lisa walked into the lounge and threw the keys at me saying, “Try not to mess up the truck tonight Bastian.”
I didn’t say a word.
“Are you deaf? I said try not to mess up the truck tonight. You two are always busting the truck up and I’m tired of driving around in the spare.”
Bob dropped his magazine. He stood, grabbed the batteries from the table, and left the room. I stood as well, swiped up the magazine he left, and headed to the door. She stuck her arm out in front of me, blocking my path. The copious amounts of perfume she wore was overwhelming. Her breath was tinged with garlic while hissing, “You have a hard time listening to what people tell you.” Now she’s leaning closer and the garlic is mixing with her perfume to create a noxious odor. “If you mess up the truck I’m telling the Lieutenant and I’m sure you’ll have something to say then.”
I ducked under her arm, and out into the crisp cold night. There I took a deep breathe of clean air while admiring my rolling sanctuary. The sleek curvature of the ambulance stood silently before me. The blackened rotators glimmered under the light of the full moon. Jeannie was already at her car, and she had left the door wide open. If she weren’t such a firefighter freakazoid I would have married that girl just for understanding and always leaving the door open.
With a skip and a jump I was in my soft cloth seat. Pulling the door closed, Bob took his cue and off we went down the driveway. My hand hovered over the available button. The accelerator was pressed and the truck bucked into gear over 30 mph. Ahead our launching pad, a speed bump, lay wide open. With a final grunt Bob pushed the truck to go faster. A second later we were airborne. Launching into the night I depressed the available button. We landed onto Main Street with a thud, a shower of sparks from the undercarriage, and the familiar chirp of a message from the central dispatch computer. The screen was alive. Glowing sickly green in the dark were the two words that remind me why I love this job. Signed On.
As the building passed me by I went over my mental checklist. Trauma shears, check. Oxygen key, check. Black ballpoint pen, check. Soda, missing. Not a good sign when the driving force of caffeine is absent on an overnight tour. Bob is already in sync with me. After ten blocks or so we pull into a bus stop in front of the Main Street Smoke Shop, known to us as Habib’s.
Habib doesn’t own the store. He’s the stock boy inside the store who makes sure our sodas are cold. I walk in behind Bob, who has decided to take the lead tonight. He heads for the newspapers, while I go to the soda refrigerator in the back. After squeezing past the refugees taking shelter in Habib’s warm store while waiting for the city bus, I grab our sodas from behind the chocolate milk which is where Habib puts them specifically for us, and head to the counter.
I snag a comic on the way, Tales of the Night. I just love goofy supernatural comics. I love how they portray werewolves getting all wolf like, aliens descending on the earth to eat our heads, and of course Mummy’s rising from crypts to get back their gold. Of course the absolute best are the vampire comics. Those are so laughable. As if burning holy water, fresh clove garlic, and taking two pieces of wood to form a cross is going to stop a bloodsucker right in their tracks. If they only knew. Then again, thinking back on Lisa’s breath, I can understand the garlic part.
At the counter I throw up my hands so he sees the sodas and comic, and then I’m headed back into the howling wind to get to the truck. Climbing back in the distinct sound of a job coming across my screen comes from the computer. I look, and sure enough it has coughed to life a message about an accident. I depress the enroute key as the speakers boom, “One David for the trauma.” The microphone is already in my hand when I reply, “One David take the verbal sixty-three, it isn’t going through.” The dance begins.
Bob is walking out of the store when the dispatcher comes back over the speaker with, “I just got it One Dave, going northbound on the Wyck. It looks like shmagma.” Ah, shmagma. Yet another make believe word created in the world of the fighting emergency medical services. Shmagma is a curve in the Kew Gardens Interchange where the Van Wyck Expressway northbound melds into the Grand Central Parkway westbound at the same time as the Interboro Parkway eastbound. Sounds confusing? It is, hence the reason why we call it shmagma. It’s all about keeping it simple.
Bob hops into the seat and hits the lights. The street is awash in red as we pull off. Flicking the siren to life as we both light a cigarette puts us into full groove. Cruising down the Boulevard of Death at a steady pace of sixty-five miles per hour, with the flash of our rotators, the mashed sounds of our sirens, radio and Korn’s cover of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, I’m in euphoria. Can you wonder why I love this job?
We weave and slide our way down to the expressway entrance. Turning onto it, we can tell there’s a problem by all the red brake lights now facing us. Bob doesn’t skip a beat, and in a second we’re precariously riding on half the shoulder and half the roadway. Slipping beneath the overpasses we enter the interchange while traffic around us has come to a complete stop. The ride is bumpier as the shoulder starts to rise into the embankment that allows the Interborough traffic to merge.
We’re practically driving on two wheels when we clear off the embankment with a thud. About twenty feet in front of us is the wreckage of a minivan. It’s lying on its roof with the wheels still spinning pointed to the Union Turnpike overpass above it. Bob swerves around the minivan and we come to a stop about fifteen feet past it. I depress the on scene button on our computer with one hand while my other hand opens the door. Hopping down from the truck I toss my cigarette to the ground and squash it. Emergency over. We’re here.
Looking around I see a group of people behind a twisted section of guardrail on the grass directly across from where we parked. They’re in a semi-circle looking down at something, some of them standing and others are kneeling. Bob is headed over to the minivan, so I’m getting the people on the grassy knoll. As I begin walking over one of them says, “Just keep breathing into her mouth.” Hmm… not a good sign.
As I step over the guardrail the smoke eaters pull up on the other side of the group where the Grand Central Parkway eastbound roadway is located. A portly fellow looks up and says, “Oh thank goodness the fire department is here!” At this point I look over his ignorant baldhead and see her. She’s lying on the ground, slightly twisted while a woman tries to blow air into her lungs, and a man wearing a red ski jacket pushes down on her chest with both hands. Her black hair is matted on one side to an ashen gray face by the deep crimson hues of dried blood. My mind tells me she’s dead and there is no hope, but there are other things that guide my decisions when I’m out here. Instinct takes over and thus the dance continues.
My right hand slides to my portable and presses the button to put it on low output while my left hand grabs the microphone clipped to my jacket and presses the button to transmit before saying, “Dee, I got a traumatic arrest.” Taking my hand away from the radio, I placed it on the portly man’s shoulder, “Sir, I need to get in there.” He looked at me with wide eyes and a quivering lower lip as he climbed to stand and allow me through into the circle. “Sweetheart, stop breathing into her mouth like that. Sir, you need to cup your hands like this and move up by about three inches.” I held my right hand out and interlaced the fingers from my left hand on top of it.
While the man in the red jacket re-positioned his hands, I knelt down at the girl’s head. Her eyes were half open. They had been hazel, like yours. They were shallow and empty, unlike yours that are so full of life. I placed my hands on either side and cradled her head, with my fingers right behind her jaw. As I pushed the jaw up the popping sensation of dislocation reverberated through my fingers and up my arms.
The heavy smell of smoke filled my nose, and I turned to the source. The smoke eaters had made it out of their shiny red fire engine to give us lowly EMS guys an audience. The one standing closest to me didn’t look older than twenty years old, and his turn out gear looked about three sizes too big for him. “Get me your BVM set up and let’s start bagging.” He didn’t move. “That means you Smokey!”
From behind the dumbfound firefighter came his lieutenant with their oxygen bag. Here was a boss who had no problem getting down to play in the mud. He was on his knees next to me and had the bag valve out in seconds. Once he passed me the facemask I sealed it over her mouth that was now tinged blue. The lieutenant attached the bag valve to the mask and then turned his oxygen tank on. The hiss of the oxygen filling the bag was soothing as he tried to squeeze the air back into her.
Bob had made it to the embankment with the board and collar. Stepping in between the crowd that had continued to look on, he dropped the board beside her. Then he bent down and wrapped the rigid collar around her neck. Taking a kneeling step back to put the board in front of him he looked directly at me. The groove was back. “Log roll to the right on three…” She looks about twenty years old herself. “One…” someone in the background is muttering about how she was in the back seat. “Two…” and we rolled her onto the side as he used his knees to slip the board underneath. “Rolling left on three…” The boy in the background is crying now. “One…” he’s trying to choke back tears while pointing out a light pole. “Two…” and we rolled her back onto the board. I glance up and see the light pole, thus the image of her slamming into it after being ejected from the car enters my mind. Clarity descends on me as the dance goes on.
Bob straightened her on the board as best he could before strapping her in. He looked at the dumbfound firefighter and said to him, “Probey, get down there and hold stabilization.” The firefighter still didn’t respond. He has been frozen in the moment. Once again, someone stepped in from behind. The smell of smoke was almost overbearing, and as I felt his fingers slip into the pressure points of the displaced jaw I gently withdrew from the coolness.
With my hands freed up, I immediately secured her head to the board using a blanket horseshoe head roll and some medical tape. “You call for medics?” I asked while pulling the first piece of tape across the chin line.
“Of course I did. Zero X-Ray on the way, but we’ll be gone before they find us,” replied Bob as he finished securing her to the board with the straps. I know I didn’t even need to ask, but I always do and there’s no reason to interrupt the groove. “One Boy is already here so once we load we’re out.” I just nod as I pull the second piece of tape across her forehead.
I glance behind me. There, in between the firefighters standing around, I can see him. Wearing a denim jacket over a black t-shirt, I see the tears streak down his freckled cheeks. His arms are behind his back, and I see an arm clothed in police navy blue holding onto him. “… My mom’s car. She’s going to kill me,” he mumbles while he swaggers a little. The long arm of the law has a firm hold of him. He’s not my problem. She is.
“Let’s move her on three…” I say snapping back to the task at hand. The firefighters who had been watching start scrambling around the sides of the board except the Probey. “One…” her color isn’t getting any better, probably because she’s already bled out from the inside. “Two…” and into the air she rose, suspended on all sides by the hands that were there to save her. The two firefighters at the head didn’t miss a breath. I placed my right hand on her chest to continue where the displaced civilian had left off as we started to move towards the stretcher. That’s when I didn’t feet it. There was no sternum, or ribs, or anything solid for that matter. Mush. Nothing but mush. Still, I kept the rhythm as we cadenced to the side rail, past the light pole that had destroyed her insides.
Once at the guardrail Bob hopped over and carried her by the feet over the barrier while everyone else stepped away upon reaching the barrier. I had to straddle it for a split second before crossing over it. The firefighters doing the breathing stumbled over it, losing the face seal for a few seconds. They were quick to reposition and we continued to the back of the ambulance. Once there I turned to the firefighters and told them, “Jump in first and get ready to resume bagging as soon as we load her.” Like good little puppies they obeyed while Bob hooked the safety latch. I positioned myself at the feet, lifted the stretcher up, and Bob brought the wheels to meet it in mid-air. When I heard the clank of the metal on metal I pushed the stretcher in and the lock cinched closed.
Into the back I went, back to compressing the mush with one hand. With a bang and a clack the back doors shut closed. With my free hand I grabbed the microphone clipped on my vest and called out to the voice, “One David with the priority. ETA for the medics?”
“Zero X-Ray is on your back One Dave. Zero Ex how about it?”
“Zero Ex, we’re about five minutes out, trying to loop around into the interchange.”
“One David cancel the medics and get the crayon out for the notification to hospital ninety-seven.”
“Zero Ex continue in to see if One Boy needs you, and One Dave go with the note,” replied the voice as Bob lurched the ambulance forward, his foot on the accelerator. The sudden motion would normally throw someone off their feet, but it’s a simple twist in the dance and the groove is continuing.
“One David I have an approximately twenty year old female, multi-trauma secondary to vehicular ejection at a high speed in full arrest. Our ETA is three minutes, and clear the bay because the warp drives are engaged and I’m coming in hot.”
Instinctively I let loose of the microphone and grab the handrail attached to the roof as we start into the sweeping left turn that takes us off of the parkway. Its part clockwork, part rhythm, and all groove. Unfortunately the firefighters aren’t tuned into the same frequency, and the one holding the seal of the facemask slides right off the seat. He lands with a thud, but to his credit he rolls with it and scrambles back into the seat as fast as he could.
“One Dave the notes in and the bay’s being cleared,” said the deep raspy voice that could only be Marcus. I guess he woke up in time to make our reservations. I would have answered immediately but we were about to go airborne over the ridge at the top of the hill. Sure enough, up we went. “One Dave you guys copy?”
Grabbing the microphone as the wheels crashed back to earth I acknowledged him with a simple “Four.” Straight and to the point. That’s how I like to be. That’s how Bob drives. Hence the reason we’re now screaming down the one-way street the wrong way.
I peek through the space leading to the front of the cab. I can see good old gray-haired Henry in his orange jumpsuit outside with the garden hose spraying down the bay as the last parked ambulance pulls out. Henry sees us, but he wants to make sure his part of the dance is done.
I’ve only seen it from the outside once. It was about three years ago when I had to work Zero King instead of One David. The boss thought it had been a good idea at the time. Well if he had any good ideas left he wouldn’t be supervising a non-municipal garage of black sheep. So with the ground wetted down from Henry, coming in at forty plus, Bob slams the brakes and cuts the wheel a hard right. The vision of the ambulance swinging into the bay and sliding sideways has never left my mind’s eye, and I can feel every bump as he repeats his patented maneuver. Once again, the firefighter slides off the seat and we lose the facemask seal. I’m half expecting the ambulance to tip over as the wheels rumble across the wet bay in a direction other than they were meant to go and the inertia leans me forward… but we don’t.
The groove is on our side, and we come to a perfect stop a whole three feet from the wall. I’m still pushing on mush as the firefighter is struggling to get back up into the seat. I hear Bob’s door open and then slam closed. The doors fly open as I’m rolling my head around in a circle to crack the tension the cartilage has built up in my neck. “Let’s go,” he says to me, but I’m already hopping out of the back of the ambulance.
He’s grabbed the foot of the stretcher and pulls it out. I allow the wheels to crash to the floor so I can undo the safety latch and let the firefighters out with the stretcher. They’re still bagging away as I jump onto the side of the stretcher to continue compressions. As we pass through the first set of doors I notice Henry moving to the ambulance to shut it off. He’ll finally secure the back of the truck and bring us the keys to end his part of the dance.
Through the second set of doors and into the trauma room across the hall is where we roll. Bob kicks the door open, and then it hits me like a sledgehammer. Vanilla. We’re under the bright lights, the climax of the show, and I’ve lost the groove. Instinctively the words form in my mind, but they don’t come out. Vanilla.
“Twenty something female found in full arrest with civilian CPR in progress,” reports Bob in the distance. My arms are continuing to pump into the mush and I’m beginning to feel the same way as the stretcher turns and I see you standing across the hospital bed. Your golden hair pulled back in a ponytail. Your hazel eyes behind the safety goggles your wearing. Your body embraced by the plastic of the trauma gown. Nothing has ever struck me as so beautiful at such an awful time. “We’ll move her over on three…” My hands are finding the side of the board but my eyes remain locked on you. “One…” deep inside I’m going gooey. “Two…” silently I’m glad I haven’t eaten just in case. “Three…” someone actually said three?
In the air for only a second, she set down softly. The bright lights highlighted her gray skin and sunken eyes as the firefighters continued to breathe for her. Under the radiance of the light I realize my mistake. My eyes lock onto her face and the horrible truth is revealed. She’s not twenty… not even close… she can’t be more than fifteen.
“You’ve brought me a corpse.” Involuntarily my head snapped up as my mind slammed back in place. The scent of vanilla persisted, but no longer held its alluring effect over me. Scanning the faces in the room, I identified the sound of the voice with the short doctor wearing glasses at the head.
“We’ve brought you a patient in traumatic arrest,” I answered him quickly while my insides solidified.
“There is nothing for us to do here. I am after all the doctor,” he replied while using his index finger to push his glasses further onto the bridge of his nose. Behind me came the sound of the individual cracking of Bob’s knuckles. He went slowly, one finger at a time on one hand, and then the other.
“If you’re telling me you don’t want to do anything, that’s fine. Understand this, we brought you a patient. You’re the one treating her like a corpse,” and then no sooner had I said it but I heard your sweet voice echoing in the room. “One and two and three.” There you were, standing on a stool doing compressions.
“Nurse!” yelled the doctor, “What are you doing? Stop that this instant!” I was back in the groove, and casually strolled around to the head of the patient where the doctor was standing. He smelled of bad aftershave and curry. A horrible mixture I would never conceive in the wildest parts of my imagination.
“We at least owe working this patient up to the Eeh Em Tees who brought her in if not to her and her family,” was what I thought I heard you say. I was too focused on the doctor.
The doctor’s face turned a deep crimson. While his eyes squinted down and his jugular extended, I clasped my hand on his shoulder. I know you were wondering what I did then, but I simply leaned in towards him and whispered, “Do as she says.”
“Okay, let’s work her up!” said the doctor after the split second it took my words to sink in. From there, Bob and I stepped back. Our dance had ended, and yours had just begun.
Silently we rolled the stretcher outside into the bay. In the still of the night I light another cigarette from a shaking hand. Adrenaline. It happens whether you want it or not. If you have no love for it, there’s no reason to be here, because there’s plenty of it to go around.
Yet, ten minutes later when the doors slid open, the last thing I expected was vanilla. Your scent preceded you around the side of the ambulance where I was standing. You too were shaking. It wasn’t adrenaline. As I looked into your soft hazel strewn orbs the tears that flowed down your soft cheeks told me that.
I don’t know why, but my arms just opened to you. Into them you fell. My heart skipped a beat as my arms wrapped around you, and then another as yours wrapped around me. For that brief moment, warmth had returned to my body. Your hair, the source of your vanilla scent that has consumed me, was a mere two inches from my nose. I breathed deeply and felt all the tension slip away into the night. “She’s gone,” you whispered.
Then, at my most relaxed, I could also feel your tremendous pain. The compassion and sympathy you felt for this young girl whose life had been snuffed out. It infected me like a virus, and for once in a very long time I felt something other than pain or misery.
Love. I actually felt unconditional love.