I watched as she stood there, this beautiful, young woman. Her long straight blonde hair gently swaying with the evening breeze, just standing there in her black pants and petticoat, with her purse clutched in her hands down in front of her body…I stood in awe. Where did this beautiful creature come from? She was so perfect, like a figment of my imagination, un-dead, un-bloodied, un-touched.
Un-like the scene I was standing in the middle of…
It was about 22:00 (10 pm) on a Friday evening and I was pretty much done for this shift, it had been a long drawn out day and I was already beaten from all the calls we had taken along with driving around in our rig. The only thing I did enjoy was the weather. You couldn’t have asked for a more perfect early fall day, crisp air warmed by the sun, leaves still trying to hold onto all of their color touched by the sunlight throughout the day, almost as if it was kissing each leaf saying “It’s your turn now, turn your beautiful colors as we will gaze upon your beauty. Your reds, your golds, and your yellows, those captivating hues we look forward to seeing, always leaving us with a great desire to wish them to stay as they begin to fade away and fall to the ground.
Funny, I’ve never thought of death when a leaf fell to the ground after its colors had faded. I always knew in the spring it would be back, a soft tiny brand new leaflet, baby soft green ready to grow and show its maturity as it turned into a full-bodied leaf. Taking on strong winds that can tear trees down and rains that would polish its color, at times even cupping it to take in its nutrients. I used to wonder what brutal rains that leaf has taken.
I know now. Not that I want to, it’s been almost 10 years and I still can’t let go of it.
I was back in the crew room settling in, getting my bunk set up which was always the top of course. I’d always hear…”You’re a lightweight, and still a rookie, you won’t ever get the bottom while we all still work here”…the crew room would fill with laughter. Ya ya ya..hahaha. I didn’t mind the top. For some of the guys, I worked with were pretty big. The last thing I wanted was a 6’3” 220 lb guy falling on top of me at 3 a.m.!
As we usually watched t.v at this time or chatted with our fellow workers about our calls we had taken in the ambulance bay, I decided instead to catch my breath and lay on my bunk for a bit of quiet time. I had heard a lot of the other calls that went out that day through the radio. I remember taking in a geriatric patient (typical basic EMT run) for ‘one not feeling well’ to one of the local hospitals, on the way out of the E.R. we were just about to turn the corner to exit and I heard the ambulance entrance doors whip open! Voices loud and chaotic! As my partner and I abruptly stopped to let whatever was going on pass us…..I saw it.
2 paramedics, 2 firefighters, and a ride-along (that’s a newbie in our terms, one poor sick bastard being thrown into an ambulance to either start the job or to figure out if this is what he wants to do after completing a classroom controlled environment of grueling tests and scenarios) They are usually easy to spot since we make them wear this humiliating bright neon yellowish-green vest that reads ‘STUDENT’ across the back. We always did love doing that! I remember when I had to wear mine like it was yesterday! As the stretcher raced past us, I saw the ride along and E.M.T. in front pulling, and 2 firefighters in back pushing, the other medic was straddling a body, leaning over it, soaked with sweat compressing the chest with all of his might as if he were fighting for his own loved one, his family member, his child even. I could hear Joe’s voice calling “Come on dammit! Come on!” mixed with “BREATHE”!!! That was it. They were gone, out of my sight just like that, and into a room, which I now know by experience, had an entire cardiac team waiting for them. What felt like a minute to me must have felt like an hour to them.
As I lay on my bunk re-living that thinking “Thank God that wasn’t my truck that got called” What would I have done? Would I have panicked? Would I have gotten through it? Would I have driven code 3 ok?
Code 1. Code 2. Code 3.
Code 2 is rarely often heard now but still has its importance. Code 1 means driving like all the rest of the idiots on the road. Stop on red, go on green. Simple really but let me tell you, bad drivers were my job security at times! Now code 3 is a bit different. It’s driving with a mission. Go big or go home kind of mission. Lights, sirens, and pulling out all the other bells and whistles. Code 3 means whoever you have in the back needs to get to a hospital now. And I mean like, NOW! I had finished my driving class and received my code 3 status a year ago, so I usually worked with a medic, they saved, I drove. I was good with that.
I was on a 24 this shift, 8 a to 8 a. During most 24s I would have a partner change. So at 20:00 (8 o’clock), I was put with a CCT medic, that stands for critical care transport which when I was first hired in, someone told me “If you hear rig 56 called, there’s some really bad shit going down” Ok, great, checkmark. Never want to be on THAT truck!
Well, I of course was on it several times. And I was fine. But still..don’t think I didn’t do a double deodorant check! Tonight I was on 56 again with my CCT partner Don. Slow night so far. I was content, still thinking of Joe compressing on that person’s chest. Ok, so not content. But I was at least breathing, unlike Joe’s patient.
I remember Joe’s eyes locking with mine as they raced by. We connected for 3 seconds which felt like 3 minutes but it was intense, it was a hundred emotions at once, that poor guy, I want to hold him, tell him it’s okay, console the family, be at their beck, and call, thank God that it wasn’t my rig.
The crew room rang out with the tones and then a call was usually heard after “77 code 1” or “85 Code 3” code 1 easy breezy beautiful, code 3 not so much. That evening had seemed to turn into a code 3 night, we were all getting hammered in and out of the station. Finally around 2330 (11:30) I was in bed, boots off!
And then again…
“33 Code 3” rang loudly through the crew room, I could hear the rustling of that crew get up and leave the crew room, 30 seconds later the garage would door open, then the garage door would close. Within 5-6 minutes later another “34 code 3” another crew up, garage door open, garage door close. So now there’s a basic truck or two left, and us. Usually, we have to cover at this point, which means we hit a common area that takes us to the center of the city since we are the only Code 3 truck left. So as I’m getting down from my bunk “56 Code 3 rings out! SHIT!! GODDAMMIT!! I grab my boots, my CCT medic is up, and we’re in the truck!
Once you’re in the truck you answer dispatch and they tell you where to go from there. Our instructions “MVA rollover ejection at 19 miles and Merrill”. My response….”56 okay” and we’re out, the garage door opens, garage door closes.
As we hit the Michigan left (turn around) and race to the intersection in the dark night air I was drumming through my assessment in my head, do this then do that, Iv’s hung and strung, monitor set with leads attached, stretcher with backboard and c-collar straps, etc. Then I run through my assessment, step after step, deciding each factor of each step to take me to which way next and so on and so on. As we approach the scene there were lights everywhere!! I couldn’t determine the length of the scene due to the fire trucks, police cars, and our two other rigs that were called out just a few minutes before us. I began to slow down as I hear Don say “Careful, rollover ejection remember, we don’t know where our patient is”. Oh man, those words hit my stomach like a lead ball with the most uneasy feeling one could even try to describe.
I call to dispatch “56 on”…Dispatch “Ok 56, keep us posted” they knew this was bad.
I stop where the cop directs me, throw it in park and jump out to get to the back where fire is are already unloading my stretcher (that’s an “oh shit” sign right there) I grab a corner and get to the scene. I see three cars which have damage. The first car is in the center of the intersection, a corolla, decently small car. The two front doors are already torn off and crews are working on cutting the C posts now. (that’s the third post back from the windshield to the rear window, they order A, B, and C.) The other vehicle, a dark mid-size car may be a Ford, two police officers, and a firefighter is tending to those patients. A crew works on back-boarding another patient on the street, I can feel the glass crunch beneath my boots as we position the stretcher and get the backboard ready. Fire is almost done getting the roof off. The small corolla is completely smashed at all four sides, the roof is crushed in, the front end is nearly sitting where the driver and front passenger were. The ‘rollover’ vehicle. The smell of gasoline, hot oil, and airbag vapor fill my nose and throat. It’s like there was no outer world other than our four street intersection of this block, we were in our own snow globe. That’s when I spotted the black SUV.
It was up on its side on the south-east corner of the intersection, I can see the tires spinning and steam coming from the grill, windows all busted out and debris covering the ground around it. That’s when I see, her…
She’s beautiful. Perfect almost. Long straight blonde hair gently swaying with the evening breeze, just standing there in her black pants and a black petticoat with her purse clutched in her hands down in front of her body. Just standing there. There is no sound. I can’t hear a thing. No voices yelling out what they need, no patients moaning or crying out in pain, no cries of “Oh God, please help me!!”.
I’m brought back when a crew races in front of me with a man strapped to the stretcher, a medic breathing for him, he is dressed in a white t-shirt which is now covered in blood and dirt, his jeans look as if he had been working construction all day, and he has one boot missing….our ejected patient had been found. They load and go and head off in code 3. The fire department has just pulled off the roof of the corolla, the sound of metal scraping the ground spears through my ears as it’s thrown away from the car’s remains. The last patient, my patient, almost completely in a ball on the foot of the rear floor. He is bloody and broken, oh God he looks so young! Oh my God these poor people, how will they ever mentally heal? We get in and carefully pull him out to the stretcher, not even wasting time to strap him in we hold onto him as we load him up. My medic and fire jump in the back and start to work, I quickly climb in the side door to start doing what I do and I feel my medic grab my arm, I look to him immediately, his eyes so clear with instruction, “We need to move!”. I turn, grab the side rail, jump out and fly around to my seat, I hit the lights and sirens call dispatch to notify code 3 and to which hospital. It felt like it took me 20 minutes to arrive when later I learned, while calling for my times it took me less than 3.
We arrive to unload, rushing through the doors, flashback of the scene with Joe rushing in on his CPR race through my head. We get to trauma room 4. The hospital is crazy, nurses and docs everywhere, teams flying through doors from the e.r. to help, we move our patient over and race to get our stretcher out of their way, it’s their call now.
I step back and move the stretcher to the hallway, I call dispatch for times, they advise me to get out my prep and stay put, after all, we are the CCT rig, we may need to transfer one of these patients to a higher facility once stabilized. I acknowledge and start to head back into the trauma ward to get the rest of our equipment.
There are 7 rooms in this trauma ward, the walls are painted a soft green and the curtains are beige with an offset pattern of the same shade. monitors beep and nurses take orders from the trauma teams for x-rays, labs, tests, and medications to give.
Everyone is scurrying around the rooms. Families have been called and are already arriving, a hospital greeter is then taking them to an off-site waiting room where they will try to keep them patient and calm until they have any information at all to give. I head down to trauma room 4. I see my medic leaning up against the nursing station, filling out his report, he’s on the phone with dispatch getting info for which one of these poor souls we need to transfer. I know it’s our patient, he, from what I could see of the rest was the worst. The curtains are all pulled to their ends separating each room from the next, the hustling over the patients causes the curtains to create their own movement. The feeling of sudden despair and a hair-rising shrill covers my body, the last curtain is pulled, but there is no movement. The voices seem to be behind me now instead of me approaching them. No nurses hoard the opening to trauma room 4, no e.r. docs rush in and out, no portable x-ray machine waiting to be called in. No beeping monitor reporting vital signs every 3 minutes. Nothing. Not a sound. Not a soul.
A stretcher awaits in the room to be taken away. A body lies still, covered with a crisp, white, clean linen sheet. I can still smell the burning scent of the airbag linger from his clothing. No family members around his bed, no one left to exasperate every effort of his lost soul, no one to call his name and tell him to be strong, no one to tell him they are doing all they can. No one to say I love you. Just me. Standing at the foot of his bed, feeling lost and empty. Just me. Just him. I force myself to move.
I head out the doors to replenish our supplies, Cathy, a medic who was taking care of the patient missing a boot stops me, she catches me by surprise as her face carries a confused but sympathetic look, She grabs both of my shoulders and asks me if I knew any of them. I shake my head no. She gently touches my cheek, I can feel her fingers slide across the moisture. I reach up and touch my face. Tears. I remove my glasses and wipe my face. I had been crying and didn’t even know it.
About 10 minutes go by as we are outside taking in the night air trying to make sense of the sadness we were just handed, and what these poor injured souls had received, Cathy comes out after finishing her report and says to Don and me, “You’re patient was 21. Today was his birthday”.
I went home the following morning, kissed my sweet sleeping daughters, and cried myself to sleep next to them.