Tuesday, July 31, 2007


"Okay, gonna be a poke here," I said, as the ambulance bumped down the road.

"Is it going to hurt?" he asked, apprehensively, looking at the IV needle in my hand.

I lowered it for a second, looked him in the eye, grinned wryly. "Bro," I said, "You just got shot."

"Oh yeah," he replied, carefully supporting his bandaged, grazed hand, adjusting his legs to avoid putting pressure on the superficial, in-and-out wound on his calf.

"Alright," he muttered to himself as the needle went in. "I'm strong. I'm strong."

"Yeah," I told him, smiling, trying to put him at ease, attaching the IV tubing. "Yeah, you are, and you're gonna be just fine."

Monday, July 23, 2007


When the tones went off I'd been asleep for maybe an hour, in the recliner. "Ladder 12, Medic 38, an unconscious unresponsive..."

Goddamn. We already worked one code tonight.

Outside, my partner is sitting in the ambulance, doing his crossword. I look at the computer as I hop in the driver's seat. Female, unconscious, heavy breathing, the notes said. Good. Not a code.

When we get there a quietly anxious man in his thirties leads us back to a bedroom, where a woman about the same age is in bed, barely awake.

The husband describes, while trying to wrangle a pair of small children, what sounds like a seizure, and she's acting like someone who's just had one. Vital signs are fine, and she's starting to come around. We wave off the sleepy firemen who come trailing in after us.

History, we ask? None, he says, shrugging, a kid on each hip. No medical problems. Oh, but she's had these headaches, real bad, for the past week. Nothing else, though.


I take the gear outside, bring the stretcher in. She's awake and halfway alert now, and gets dressed enough to go.

The house is the kind of happy shambles a young family makes, with clothes and legos on the floor. The older kid bounces around a bit, pointing to her younger sibling and saying, "Baby!" and then to us and saying, "Medic!"

It's adorable.

The father loads them up in his car as we load her in the ambulance. I walk back over to the front door. You know how to get to the hospital? Okay. We're not using lights and sirens; you can drive easy too.

On the way, as I drive, my partner does the necessary procedures and checks -- IV, EKG, etc -- and talks to the woman. She wants to know what's going on, and he explains she's probably had a seizure. Why? Could be a lot of different things, he says. Maybe a metabolic imbalance, blood chemistry off, something like that.

He says that and I want so hard, so much, to believe it, to believe that it's just a little metabolic imbalance, that she'll get checked out and ok'd and sent home in a few hours.

I want to believe that a week of headaches and a new-onset seizure at thirty doesn't scream brain tumor, malignancy.

I also want to believe that the little bit of welling in the corners of my eyes is just exhaustion, the end of a long night, but I can't fool myself there, either.

Monday, July 02, 2007

De Profundis

They say you become cynical, working nights.

They say that you get tired and worn around the edges, trying to sleep fitfully through hot summer days and the lives of everyone else, waking up for dinner, saying goodnight to your kids as you leave for work.

They say that nights are ninety percent bullshit and ten percent ohshit, and that the former makes you tired and bitter towards humanity while the latter takes years off your life and puts white in your hair.

They say, they say, and all of them are correct. (With apologies to David Drake.)

And yet ... every night you get to watch the sun rise.

And for every drunk who wants to fight, for every idiot who needs an ambulance for a tummyache at 3am, for every stupid nursing home that has to "send one out" at the end of your shift, there is a poor dumb scared kid who just wrecked dad's car and just needs their hand held. There is a sick, sick, bad sick old man who has been waiting and waiting, hoping his chest will stop hurting or his breathing will get better.

And sometimes, usually when you least expect it, there is someone who truly needs an ambulance and truly needs advanced life support; not just a ride to the ER but all the care you and your partner can give them.

And that, I suppose, makes the cynicism and trying to sleep in the light and the endless parade of big white taxi rides -- it makes all that okay.

(Welcome back, folks.)