Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's not that I don't like people. It's just that I feel a whole lot better when they're not around.


These are the people I met tonight:

A lady with a tattoo of red lips on her forearm sitting in Dodge Neon with personalized license plates on the side of the highway. Stains on her white T-shirt, sandals in the middle of winter, and long, curly, painted fingernails with snakes on them.


"Can you check my babies out? Can you tell me if they are hurt?" she puffs.

I poke my head into the back window and look at the dirty-faced children eating soggy french fries off the backseat covered in litter.

"You kids hurt?"

"No," they giggle.

I move back to the front window, "They say they're not hurt. I asked them. Anything else?"




Next, the middle aged man who probably still lives with his mother and plays Nintendo Wii in the basement in-between raging sessions of Dungeon's and Dragon's. Sensible, Colorado-eco-friendly shoes, khaki pants that never wrinkle - the one's with the crease magically always present, and a white button-up oxford with earthy-toned sweater. His coat was off, but I assume it had patches on the elbows and was stitched of herringbone. Very classy, I'm sure his mother was proud.

Talking as if someone was pinching his nose with a thumb and forefinger, he sputtered like a lonely, elderly lady with thirty cats. "Well, he hit me pretty hard. I mean I didn't get knocked out, but he certainly drove under my car and lifted it up off the ground." he rambled and rambled, and rambled. I looked out the small window and watched the snowfall. It sure was pretty.

"Wow, now I'm dizzy. I don't know, though. Should I go?" he rambled, and rambled, and rambled. I watched the passerbyers as they weaved through the maze of emergency vehicles.

"I just don't know. I'm really dizzy. I wasn't this dizzy before, but now that I'm in an ambulance I am really dizzy. Maybe it's all the, you-know, from the accident. Let me call my primary care physician. No wait, I'd better call so-and-so, but I can't, she's pregnant, and it's snowing outside. Would you go?” He rambled, and rambled and rambled.

I was on thirty-five when I answered. I was trying to count to one hundred. "You need to make up your mind. Either come with us or don't, but we can't sit here all day."




Then the man wearing five coats, two pairs of pants, four pairs of socks, white belt with matching stained, white tennis shoes, and a mesh hat picked up from a truck stop. None of it his. In his pockets: folded paper receipts, a telephone book page of financial consultants, a cross, a Gillette Mach Three razor, combs, a lighter, cigarette butts, a wrapped up taqito from 7-11, sunglasses, a wallet reminiscent of George Castanza chained to his white belt, more papers, and finally, a pornographic picture sized to fit in his wallet and showing only the "business" part of that industry.




Then, the seedy motel with 2 drunken guys and an even drunker Polish chick "freshening up" in the bathroom. Stumbling drunk from cheap American vodka in her red sweat suit with white high-tops, she stumbled out of the bathroom as I knocked forcefully on the hollow door with the butt of my flashlight. She was as pleasant as a prostate exam and successfully pushed all my buttons. But what happens when you successfully push all my buttons? You go to detox.




Lastly, the twenty-something gangster. The one that wears the baggy jeans and the white tennis shoes with the red athletic shirt. The one with the stupid hat clocked sideways and the brim flatter than a pancake. The one that rolls around town trying to intimidate people through the tinted windows of his Dodge Stratus with two stock wheels and 2 spinners. The one that had a Venti Latte from Starbucks in the cup holder of the dash -because sometimes he just needs a little pick-me-up on a Wednesday night while he's out on the town trying to create chaos.

"Yo, what up? I wanna venti, caramel mocha latte with extra whip, foo."

"And for my peeps, they wanna cinnamon dolce latte with extra whip and a iced, chai latte, foo! West side!"

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fifteen minutes. (part two)

Sirens wailed in the distance, echoing off the stucco walls of the middle-class neighborhood. Traffic created a new flow and slowly passed the scene of the accident, all occupants inside glued to the drama unfolding before them. He shoved his hand out and stopped traffic as he began to cross the street. He felt so powerful and respected. Who else could stop the inevitable flow of traffic with the palm of a hand?

He knocked on the sedan's driver side window. He knelt uncomfortably and peered into the vehicle, stating he was a paramedic. He asked if anyone was hurt. Still dazed, the occupant nodded her head no as she gasped on the sulpherous odor of the airbag chemicals. He shined his light into the passenger compartment, scanning what he thought was important, scanning what he believed real paramedics would look at.

The sirens were getting closer. The radio chatter on his stolen radio was becoming more pronounced. He heard the police dispatcher sending units and heard that EMS was enroute.

But it was too intoxicating. The lights, the sounds, the blood, and the feeling of power. He was in charge. He was the one everyone on this accident scene was looking to for help. His mind told him to get in his car and leave, his jealousy made him stay.

He walked over to the upside down SUV. Broken glass crumpled under his steel-toed boots as he approached the vehicle. One patient was already out and walking around. He quickly dismissed this person and began to focus on the one bleeding in the grass. He knelt down, at the patient's head, and began talking. He began rendering patient care and tried to convince the patient, and himself, that everything was going to be alright.

He could see the flashing emergency lights now. He could hear the sirens getting louder and louder, closer and closer. "Run, get out of here," said a voice in his head. But he couldn't. He was powerful, unstoppable, and invincible. He was intoxicated with he power of being in charge and his judgment faded more and more at each turn of the approaching ambulance's tires.

He had seen paramedics on T.V. hold cervical spine immobilization after someone had been in an accident, he saw it on The Discovery Channel. He knelt and held the patients head between his legs, looking down at their bloodied face and proud that he instilled a sense of calmness in the patient in a moment of crisis.

The police arrived. Two squad cars parked on opposite sides of the accident, preventing any and all traffic from passing through. They quickly scanned the scene, taking in all the clues as to what may have happened. In the darkness, next to an upside SUV, was what seemed to be a kneeling paramedic in a white shirt. But where was his ambulance? The police approached the cars as an ambulance came to a screeching halt in the middle of the intersection.

The paramedics from the ambulance fell out of the lifted compartment and quickly separated. One went to the sedan, an officer interrupted the other as he made his way to the SUV. Still, more sirens echoed from seemingly every direction as more police and a paramedic supervisor arrived.

And still, in the darkness, struggling with every feeling to flee, was the fastfood paramedic. He was in over his head, there were too many real professional EMS crews on scene. But, it felt so good. Like a sweet piece of cake after dinner, he savored every moment.

An officer approached and he ducked his head like a child caught stealing. He mumbled that he need to retrieve something from the ambulance and slyly weaved his way around objects so as not to be seen by the real paramedics. He had a gauntlet to run and knew it was going to be difficult. He had to cross the street to get back to his girlfriend's Mustang. In doing that, he would have to pass two cop cars, an ambulance, and the paramedic supervisor's Expedition. And like a Marine taking fire, he tucked his head and swiftly crossed that minefield. Twenty steps. Twenty steps and he would be home free.

"Who's that?" he heard as he dodged the first mine.

"Who? Him? I thought he was with you?" mused one of the real paramedics.

The supervisor approached the ambulance and the police asking, "Who the fuck is that?"

"We don't know. But he's wearing a uniform and has a radio."

He was almost there. He could see the Mustang and his girlfriend leaning against the driver's door. He pointed, as nonchalantly as he could, at his girlfriend, hoping she would understand to get in the car and get ready to leave. He wanted to look behind him, it felt as though the world was watching his every move. Just 10 more steps, just 10 steps and he would be inside the Mustang and able to leave.

"I don't, does he have a patch"

"Yeah, he has a patch. But I've never seen him before."

The paid paramedics questioned one another as they attempted to continue managing the accident scene.

"Well," said the paramedic supervisor, "I'm gonna go see who he is."

5 steps. He told his girlfriend to get in the car and start it up. It was time to leave. His heart was racing. Partly because he done what he had dreamed of for so long. And partly, because he was as scared as he had been that day the police knocked his front door down. 5 steps, and he wouldn't have to go back to jail.

"Excuse me? Hey!" asked the supervisor.

3 steps. He could almost reach the handle.

"Hey!"

He grabbed the handle, pulled it up and sprung the mechanism allowing him to swing the awkward door open. He quickly sat down and closed it forcefully. "Let's go!" he told his girlfriend.

The supervisor tapped on the window and his heart sank. Beads of sweat formed on his brow and he could feel the course injection of blood move through his entire body with each pump of his heart. His girlfriend looked awkwardly at him as if asking, "Well, aren't you going to open the door?"

He rolled the window down and avoided any eye contact with the supervisor.

"You new here?"

He stuttered. The powers of his uniform were failing him. He had no idea what to say. He cleared his throat and awkwardly said, " Excuse me?"

"You new here? I haven't seen you around. Who's your FTO?" Inquired the supervisor.

He shifted in his seat. He couldn't speed away, he wasn't driving. He couldn't lock the door and roll the window up and scream at his proud, yet confused, girlfriend. He mustered his last bit of courage and made up some generic, false name.

"Well," said the supervisor, "I need you to come over to the ambulance and sign something stating you made patient contact." The supervisor grabbed the metal handle, pulled up, and opened the rust stained door. "It'll just take a second."

He looked at his girlfriend with a look of sheer terror. He was cornered, he was busted, and he was about to go back to jail. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his forearm, swung his foot out of the well, and attempted to stand on his feeble legs. He looked at the accident scene and it looked nothing like before. It was cold and chaotic. It was swarming with police and frightened him to death. He knew if he walked back to that accident scene his life would never be the same.

"Alright," he mumbled, "I'll be right over."

"No, let's do it now," the supervisor grunted seriously.

He stood and in the blink of an eye, ran. He ran as far, and as fast, from that accident scene as he could. He ran from his girlfriend and all his hopes and dreams. He ran for his life, because he knew if he was caught, that it would drastically change forever. Behind him he heard pounding footsteps on the pavement.

"EMS 14, he's running. North bound on this street. Blue pants, white shirt.... Uhh, dressed like one of us. Wearing our uniform."

He turned down a black alley, jumped over a fence and hurdled some lawn chairs. He had lost the supervisor and quickly fumbled for his stolen police radio on his belt. One drunken, lonely friday night he had studied all the police districts of this city and quickly turned the knob to the one he was hiding in.

Police chattered on the radio, airing a description and his last known whereabouts. He could hear the thud-thud-thud of the police helicopter above as they scanned the ground with their floodlight. He found a dark corner, removed all his clothes, including his bulletproof vest, and closely monitored the radio. He quietly hopped from yard to yard as he heard Metro arrive on scene with the K-9. He knew he was in trouble.

For three hours he played cat and mouse with the SWAT team. Cold, scared, and surrendered, he raised his arms towards the sky as the K-9 barked uncontrollably at him. He was caught.

His eyes closed as he was taken to the ground and handcuffed. His hopes shattered as he was forced to the pavement.

He laid there flat on the cold pavement. For twenty-four years he had been a looser. Twenty-four years and no one had ever taken him serious. Twenty-four years and look where he had gotten -flat on the cold ground with his hands cuffed behind his back, K-9 barking at his heels.

He began to cry. And as he was lifted up onto his feet and escorted to the cage in the police car he looked at the flashing lights of that car accident on the horizon. In twenty-four years, it was those fifteen minutes on that accident scene that he'll never forget.

For fifteen minutes, he was respected.

For fifteen minutes, he was somebody.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fifteen minutes. (part one)

He quickly untucked his white shirt, stained with mustard and jalapeno sauce, as he exited the fastfood restaurant he was forced to work at. The fading red 1980's mustang, with the dream catcher hanging from the rearview mirror, sat sputtering in the parking lot. Below it, the stains of oil tattooed the concrete in-between the yellow parking lines from its previous times of waiting, and idling. Inside, a pony tailed young girl sat smoking a cigarette. Four months pregnant, she was there to pick up her boyfriend and take him to his next job.

They were both young and dropouts. He, twenty-four and the eldest of many displaced children, already had a felony record and was on probation. He had already experienced what it was like to wear those bright orange jumpsuits and shuffle from jail to courthouse with legs shackled by steel. And as tough as he was on the outside -in the real world, he had no intention of ever going back. He'd never forget the day the FCC, ATF, and Police kicked his mother's front door down and stormed into his room where he sat illegally programming city owned police radios.

She was in love and not yet eighteen. She had decided school was a waste of time and that her days were better spent in the park smoking weed and drinking bottles of beer wrapped in brown paper sacks. She had been in many relationships and had already been on the receiving end of a domestic violence charge. All she wanted was to find the right man so they could someday settle down and start their very own little dysfunctional family.

Their two-bedroom apartment, on the wrong side of town, was shared with his best friend. They met in juvy. He got him his job at Subway. And between the three of them, bills were paid relatively on time and there was always just enough with their $600 paychecks to buy a bottle of booze, a case of Bud, and a bag of weed. Weekends were worth waiting for.

But tonight, he had his other job to go to. The job that made him feel important. The one that, when asked where he worked, made him smile grandly as he told them which hospital service he worked for. The one that his girlfriend was proud of and the one his best friend was jealous of. The one job that identified him as a valuable person in this society.

The job that he didn't have. The one that was fake. And although he told people, including his girlfriend, that he was a Paramedic for the City and County, that was far from the truth.

He slung his backpack off his shoulder and into the back seat of the rotting Mustang. Although it was after midnight, he informed his girlfriend that he had been called into work and needed to go out into the bustling city to render medical aide to all it's worthy citizens. He told his girl that he only worked at restaurant because it paid the bills, being a Paramedic was what made him feel good about being a man.

She plucked a cassette off the large dash and shoved it into the knobless radio. He climbed over the red, felt seats into the back seat and rummaged through his backpack. He meticulously unrolled its contents and placed them on the McDonald's wrappers in the seat next to him.

Blue cargo pants, black boots, black belt, and white shirt were all draped officially over the front passenger seat. Next, came the orange handled trauma shears, the maglight, the bulletproof vest, and the belt-attached radio holder. The radio, and one other item, remained in the beer stained backpack.

He changed his clothes and instantly felt more important. He felt smarter and stronger and prettier. Although tired from standing for ten hours and making sandwiches, he instantly became rejuvenated and felt awake, alive. He climbed back over the broken seats and fixed his hair in the vanity mirror. He told his girl that when they got near the hospital, she could just drop him a few blocks away, he didn't want her to not see him have enough courage to not walk anywhere near where all the real paramedics were.

As he reached into the back seat and pulled his backpack forward onto his lap, the top opened enough so that his girl could see what looked like a gun. He quickly stuttered and became nervous, but then summoned the powers of his uniform and simply told her that it was a dangerous job and that this was something he needed to carry for his safety. Little did she know, that once she dropped him off, he disappeared into the night running far from that hospital.

She turned onto Avenue and headed west. What little time she had to spend with her boyfriend she wanted to enjoy. She lit him a cigarette and told him how proud she was of him, how wonderful it was to have a boyfriend that saved lives. He sat, blowing smoke out a crack in the window, relishing the fact that he was somebody now. Wishing that he really were going to work that night, dreaming that someday he might just become a real paramedic.

Red lights framed the intersection ahead of them. Hazards flashed as smoke seeped from the hood of one car. In the distance, propped against a wooden fence, was an upside SUV. Bloodied bodies were crawling out the broken glass windows onto the soft, green yard. A lady sat crying in the driver's seat of a sedan involved in the accident. They had driven up onto an accident. Although they didn't witness the actual event, they arrived just as the dust from the airbags settled onto the floorboards.

What was he to do? He was in uniform. He was going to work. This is what he did. He sat sweating in the passenger seat as the Mustang inched closer. What was he to tell his girlfriend? How would he explain to her that instead of stopping they needed to drive on, that he needed to get to work. This is what he did, this was his job. How could he not help?

She looked at him as they neared, excited that she was about to witness the love of her life do what he had talked about so many times before. All those nights getting drunk and high with him in the park and listening to him recant gory details of such gnarly accidents was finally about to be witnessed. A tear came to her eye as she realized that she was about to witness her boyfriend save a life.

They pulled passed the accident and off onto a side street. She flicked the hazard button on the broken steering column and as the yellow lights clicked on and off, her boyfriend, her hero, exited the car. He clipped his radio onto his belt, grabbed his flashlight and began to walk towards the chaos in the middle of the street.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Private Dick.


I don't mind, too terribly, standing out in the middle of the street while snow falls gently upon my uniform and attempts to chill me to the bone. I don't mind, too terribly, working all hours of the night and having to step into 6-foot snowdrifts. And I don't mind, too terribly, those dimly lit rooms with the black and white TV casting its shadows on the altered patient who has not been out of bed, or changed the sheets, in months. I relish those as exercises in humility and patience. Those aspects, as annoying as they sometimes seem, actually make my job personally challenging on a daily basis. There's no routine, and I don't mind that.

What I do mind is my private life being intruded upon. Especially by some "investigator". I'm not the President, and therefore on my days off, when I'm not gallivanting around town in blue pants and a white shirt, I have no official responsibilities to the public at large. I am not a public servant; I am an everyday Joe, a tax-paying, law-abiding, laid-back citizen.

My life away from my job is private. That's why the house isn't in my name, why the phone is unlisted, and getting my social security number is like breaking into Ft. Knox. I don't wear paramedic hats, don't stroll around the block in paramedic shirts, and I especially don't go cruising the town looking for sick and injured people. My private life is just that, PRIVATE!

Obviously lawyers, or insurance companies, or investigators, or whoever it is right now trying to subpoena me, thinks differently. In their cubicle-laden, 9-5 white-collared jobs, they must obviously think that since 40 hours a week I work for the City and County that I must surely always be available for their beck and call. They are mistaken.

Today, an "investigator" decided to try and find me. Because I was sick the last few days I missed a couple of shifts. That blessing-in-disguise foiled their attempts to subpoena me at work. But, instead of pursuing the correct avenues of finding me through my workplace, they decided to go Magnum P.I. on me and hire some paramedic bounty hunter. A private investigator.

First, they got my name. My full name. That's not too hard to do, being as my name is typed on every trip sheet of every call. They then decided to find my social security number, once they have that matching piece of evidence they are certain to not mistake me for anyone else. Who knows, there could be more than one Rocky Mountain Medic in this world. How they got my SSN in disheartening, to say the least.

What next? Let's pull his tax records. That way, they can match my name, SSN, how much I made last year and where I live -privately with my private family. They find the last known address and reverse search it to find the phone number. Mistakenly, I thought if the house didn't have my name anywhere near it, that they couldn't link me too it. Wrong. Every house has a number, and that number was called. In-laws or not, this Investigator has some investigating to do.

A bland, vague, coded message was left stating they were looking for Paramedic Me.

"If you know where he is, gives us a call."

Well, word made it to me that some "investigator" was looking for me. I picked up the phone and called the numbers back, blocking my cell phone number, as the outgoing called bounced off cellular towers. The other end picked up and I was furious.

"We did this, we did that, we couldn't find you so we had to do what we did", retorted the other end of the line.

"Do you still live at this address?"

"What's this about?" I inquired.

"Well, all I know is that I have a subpoena with your name on it about some call you ran. Will you be home tomorrow at 1:00 p.m.?"

I replied, "I have no idea. And if you need to get a hold of me call the office and have them page me."

"Well, the trial is this Tuesday and I need to get you this. I'll be in your neighborhood tomorrow morning." crackled the Investigator.

"Good, because I have no intention of being anywhere near here tomorrow", I said to myself.

So, there's no moral to this story, other than watch yourself. In today's day and age it seems all privacy has been lost. And if someone, say an investigator, wants to find you, then that's what they'll do. They'll find you.

I just hope that crazy crack head that said he wanted to squish my head between his fists isn't smart enough to find out where I live. If so, I'm going to have a whopper of a story to tell. That is if they allow blogging in prison.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Svee-dish.


Be forewarned: this one's going to be short, nonlinear, and constructed like a high school dropout high on gold paint.

I am sick.

Legs shaking, back aching, chest congested, "I'm hot" - "I'm cold," sick. It feels like someone has punched me in the face with a hot sack of nickels. I read someone's blog about working sick and came down with this monster of a chest/head cold. I blame that blog; simply on it's power of inference. If I hadn't have read that blog I wouldn't have come down with this throat rattling cough, aching head, constantly dripping nose with a raspy Barry White soulfulness in my voice.

Or, I may be because of the last week I spent attempting to tend to my sick wife. The one with all these remarkably similar symptoms.

But, I did go to work one day. The first day of my four shifts. The day I was probably the sickest and most communicable. I apologize to my partner who is surely to come down with these same ominous signs in the next few days. Nothing like sitting 3 feet from one another while the other sprays infected cough particles all over the already disease infested ambulance cab.

But, I digress - again.

You are reading the words from the person that single-handedly, most-probably has infected that bitterly cold, northern country of Sweden. Watch the news, read the magazines, tune into your local public radio. Sweden is about to hypothetically shake hands with a flu-infected paramedic from the Mile High City, the alpha of their invading flu. They're about to realize how everything here is bigger and better - including our flu's.

We transported a mother, and her family, to the hospital the other night. She was in that notorious and infamous Swedish bigemeny. She had syncoped in customs and was now sidetracking her entire family to a local hospital for the beginning of their American land tour. I, of course being the reasonable paramedic that I am, drove that night. Plus, it was just my turn. I sat up front with the father trying to suppress my chronic cough. Sneezing into my sleeve and dabbing my watering eyes with tissue, I drove as quickly to the hospital as I could. We both laughed uncomfortably as we were delayed by possibly the slowest moving train on Earth. I tried not to talk. The Swede sat next to me taking in all the peculiarities of America, probably wondering if we all talked like I did and if all trains here were that slow.

We dropped the Swede's off at the hospital favored by Russians. As I exited, I looked at the tangled messes in the beds. I was sicker than them all. Bed 3, chest pain -I got it. Bed 6, shortness of breath - me too. Bed 12, bloody stool - ahh... not yet.

So, to all my readers in Sweden, I am sorry. I know that this may stain my International Status of Paramedic Blog Story Telling in that community and some may become offended enough as to not read me anymore. My Swedish friends, you have that right to Blacklist me as one of your past, favorite contemporary American authors, but always remember. I like your meatballs.

The above post is probably why they put all those warnings on cold / flu medicine boxes. Too much of one thing can be hazardous, especially if chased with a shot of Jagermeister.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why I am bulletproof.

This happened three months into my training down at where I work. If things would have gone differently, if that officer would have shot him in the head, splattering brain and blood all over my face and glasses, then I probably wouldn't be working where I am today. This is true. Every last blood-soaked detail.

There are these series of apartment complexes on the far east side of town, so far that they abutt the neighboring city and county. Anyway, these are the addresses that are aired repeatedly on a daily basis. And when it's your turn, when you're on the receiving end of one of these infamous addresses, you can hear a collective sigh of relief from every other ambulance in the city. "Oooh, that hurts. Better them than us," floats in the minds of every other ambulance in the city.

Tonight, it is my turn.

"Number (dramatic pause so everyone nestled up in the black, night air has to awake mildly and bend an ear to listen) 9".

Damn it. "Number 9," I respond.

"Code 10 to this address. All we have is altered mention. Everyone's going". Meaning Police and Fire.

A collective sigh floats above the city streets from every other ambulance. It's my turn. Batter up.

We scream through the night's sky. Slowing down to a comfortable 60 mph at the red lights. Dirty blues harmonica music plays in my head as the red and blue emergency lights ricochet of anything reflective. The dually tires screech around every corner as we rocket down the street. What normally would take fifteen minutes, takes us four. We shut everything off blocks early and creep stealthily to the front entrance of this elderly apartment complex. Not that we thought it was dangerous, but that was habit at night. All stealth. All the time.

In their new post 9/11 black bunker gear, a firefighter approaches the side of the ambulance. This is uncommon, especially here. His face pale, his speech stuttered, he begins talking frantically to my rolled up window. Fingers pointing and hands waving, something has freaked him out. I look at my partner and ask. "Isn't this where all the old people live?"

I exit and the firefighter rambles uncontrollably. "Crazy" and "Police" and "Dangerous" all penetrate the night sky. He is attempting to warn me about something, something that seems to have gone horribly awry. I grab my black, metal briefcase full of medical tools, and like a businessman walking to his cubicle from the water dispenser, I collect my thoughts and wonder what has happened to make this young, fit, firefighter so crazed. How could an elderly man create such a stir?

The police arrive at the same time. One officer. He is large and built like a boxer. I imagine a tattoo of a barbed wire painted on his bicep, under his perfectly starched blue shirt. He follows me along the dimly lit sidewalk to the front entrance, handcuffs clinking and mag light swaying against his hip. We both enter the complex, hop in the elevator made for two, and slowly ascend to the B floor.

As we exit we are greeted by another frightened firefighter. We round the corner and see a huddled group of black bunker gear against the wall, and standing across from them two almost fit security guards leaning against the wall, Dirty Harry revolvers hang from their lopsided utility belts. Apparently, .45 magnums are a necessity around all these old people.

"He's going crazy. We've been out here 10 minutes and all we've heard is screaming. He's tearing the apartment apart."

Still confused, I finally ask, "How old is he?"

"He must be in his twenty's," responds the one I assume is in charge.

The officer leans his head to his right, almost resting it on his shoulder. He punches the small button on the side of the radio attached to his lapel and calls for another car. "Better safe than sorry," he whispers to me.

We wait in the cramped hall listening to the crashing furniture on the other side of the paper-thin walls. An occasional scream breaks the silence and awakes all of us from the horrible daydreaming that is surely occupying everyone's brain.

"He's big, really big." a firefighter mumbles.

The other cop arrives. An identical twin to the giant in front of us, the only difference is that you can see the tattoo on his huge bicep. The two officers huddle together, discuss their plan, and one draws his taser and checks the red, laser light on the wall. He looks at me and smiles. They knock.

"DPD! Open the door!"

No response.

"DPD, open the door or we'll kick it in."

The door slowly swings open. I step forward to the right of the cop with the taser. My logic: I've never seen anyone tased and I heard it knocks them down instantly. The mother has escaped and was able to open the barricaded door. I peak around the door frame and see a monster of a human charging down the cramped hallway. Fire in his breath and emptiness in his eyes, he lurches forward angrily towards the cops.

"STOP, or I'll..."

Zap! The copper wires with small silver fishing hooks explode out the end of the taser. Three in all, and all three striking the crazed man. They penetrate through his shirt and stick to his neck and face. "Click-click-click-click-click," the taser shoots electricity from the handle, down the wire, and into the barbs. It doesn't faze him. He doesn't even flinch as he continues his lunges towards the frame of the door where we are all standing -in disbelief.

He cocks his right arm back and rockets it forward. His fist, like a shot from a canon, connects with the samller of the two incredibly large cops left eye. The taser is still making that depressing sound and has done nothing to impede this marine-cut, shell of a man's charge.

The officers begin to push him back into the apartment's hallway. My partner charges around the corner and I follow as we, the four of us, push him backwards onto a coffee table, exploding the glass like fireworks on a 4th of July picnic. The marine somehow gets to his knees and begins fighting like a caged animal. We push him backwards, again, into his mother's television. It falls off its stand and pops like a kernel of corn.

This is the part I really don't remember too well. Two cops, two paramedics, and one crazed, prison-cut muscle man wrestle on the floor of this elderly lady's small apartment. A cop gets thrown off and I hop on. I'm kicked off and land on my back, another cop dives into the mixture of arms and legs. The sap, a leather tool with a ball bearing in it, does no harm as the officers strike the crazed man on the hip. The mag light, that was ominously swaying on a hip minutes before, ascends into the fear filled room and comes down with a thundering crash. Like a melon being dropped from a three-story building, the sound reverberates off the 70's decorated room. Over, and over, and over the mag light crashes into the marine's head, splattering blood and sweat onto my face and the wall next to us.

I briefly wonder what his mom will think of all the blood on the wall, and how she plans on removing it. But, I am violently interrupted with screams from reality.

"He's got my gun. He's got my fucking gun!" The fear in the officer's voice sends chills down my spine. As I write this, my stomach turns and my arms shiver. It wasn't an order by a man in uniform; it was the shrill of a man fighting for his life.

It is at this point I begin to concentrate all my efforts on the marine's groin. Punch after punch after punch does nothing. My partner, trapped on his back by the fighting marine, grabs the felon's wrist and is able to prevent the gun from completely exiting the holster. The other officer, still fighting, reaches for his sidearm and prepares for the seemingly life-altering nightmare that is about to occur.

Luckily, my punches aren't without merit and the marine grunts as I connect one squarely. The gun is reholstered, both of them, and the marine is rolled onto his stomach.

"He' biting me, he's fucking biting me!" Those words stab my eardrums and force me to change my plan. "Ohh, shit. He's biting me," my partner moans. My field trainer of 3 months.

I quickly move from his groin to his face. My gloved hand connects squarely on his nose and bursts it like a dumpling full of red sauce. A noise I am unable to describe now, precedes the moaning and cussing of the marine as his fractured nose bleeds profusely.

He stops biting my partner and this is this opportunity that allows an officer to straddle him, tuck his large, tattooed bicep around the marine's neck, and squeeze. He squeezes with every ounce in his soul. He squeezes until his arm cramps and the marine's face turns ghostly white. He squeezes because this is the last opportunity for us to not have to fight again. He squeezes and the marine's eyes go blank, unconscious, he is eased to the floor.

We look at one another. "Are you O.K.?” we ask. Blood covers our faces, dulls the officer's badges, and trickles down my partner's arm.

The firefighters and the armed security enter the room. After asking if they can do anything, one of the officers yells at them like a child caught stealing. It isn't a stern, professional lecture on why we should help one another, it is a screaming at the top of his lungs, fighting for our lives verbal whip lashing. They, the firemen and the security, load the patient onto my bed.

We wheel him out into the ambulance. I sit, exhausted and frightened, on the bench next to the unconscious, bloody marine.

"Do you want to take off the handcuffs?” asks a fireman.

I stare at him blankly and allow him to close the door. Traditionally, you never transport someone with their arms handcuffed behind them, but I don't care. The blue hands would normally frighten me into thinking something terrible could happen because of this procedure, but I don't care. I hope his hands die.

I grab Haldol, Benedryl, and Valium and pump him blindly with all these substances. I have no idea how much I give, but I don't care. I don't want him to wake up on the way the hospital, or truth be told, ever again.

I sit in the captain's chair, knees straddling his head. He is unconscious because of all the drugs I have given him.

I am suddenly overwhelmed with this feeling of wanting to punch him as hard as I can, right in the already bloodied face. But, instead, I sit there and stew on the words the cop just said to me as we departed for the hospital.

"If he would have pulled that gun all the way out of the holster, I was going to shoot him in the head."

That sentence dances around my head as the streetlights on the sidewalk flash pass the patient compartment window.
That sentence still lurks nightmarishly inside my mind.

That’s the reason I wear a bulletproof vest.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

LiveSTRONG.


When I see those little yellow liveSTRONG bands dangling on the wrists of the thousands of people that own them; I don't think of Lance Armstrong, necessarily.

I own one. It sits prestigiously above my latex-free, blue-gloved, left hand and above my watch. I turn the words so I can read them, because when I wear it it's not for others to admire. It's for me to occasionally glance down at in hopes to spark that Carpe Diem philosophy everyone has, yet always forgets. I use it to remind me how precious life is. And even though I'm in the "business" that affords me that opportunity every day, it's that little yellow band that actually clears out my cobwebs.

I admire Lance Armstrong. But I admire that 33 year old, newlywed with child on the way, man who I met sitting in an uncomfortable recovery chair after having received chemotherapy. The orange colored foam recliner was in full extension, feet even with his head. Blood pressure cuff and oxygen tubes leashed this young, fit man to a hospital wall. Around him, frantic nurses trying to remember that one lecture on emergency management. And by his side, round and awkward, was his wonderful wife. Eyes glossed over from not allowing the tears to escape, she sat confidently next to her new husband while he had a host of poisons introduced into his blood stream.

He had passed out. And he had passed out for a considerable time while resting flat, feet level with his heart. His blood pressure had plummeted and his heart rate soared. It was as if his heart was running a marathon and the rest of his body was on break. The wife suffocated every urge to scream and cry as the nurses performed menial, non-beneficial tasks. 911 was called.

I entered the room and quickly found the Waldo that didn't belong in this picture. Elderly, weak patients sat in these recliners reading Harper's and The New York Times. They were skinny, yellow, frail and above all, sick-looking. They were what you expected to see. But in the corner, under a window where the sun illuminated the pregnant belly of his wife like a theater spotlight, he sat. Reclined, he was pale, white as a ghost. He had beads of sweat on his forehead and his recently shaved head was two shades lighter than the rest of his body.

The heart rate monitor beeped like a time bomb waiting to explode. The closer I got to him, the louder it seemed. I smiled as I approached. Introduced myself to both he and his wife and shook their hands like a politician. Like floodgates about to explode, his wife's eyes stared right through me as I began talking to her husband.

He was my age. He was clean-shaven and dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, Nike's laced to his feet. I looked at him and it was as though I was looking into a magical mirror. The Outside magazine on his lap, the Timex wristwatch on the same arm as mine, the Nalgene bottle full of water with a sticker from Alaska, and a simple silver ring slid over his fourth index finger on his left hand. My stomach sank.

He was pale, sweaty, bald and lethargic. All he could do was smile. The cancerous tumor was growing confidently around his aorta. It was growing exponentially and was feeding on this young, healthy man. They, the doctors, were afraid this would happen, but not this soon. He, too, realized what was happening because his eyes told the story. He looked into my soul, and without words, begged me to help him make it through this.

We loaded him up. Covered him with blanket and strapped the two seatbelts across his chest and legs. The monitor still chirped incessantly in the background and the IV fluids were placed between his legs. The wife gathered all their belongings. The iPod, the magazine, her cell phone, and the emergency hospital bag with changes of clothes in it; the one they carried hoping they wouldn't have to use, the one that was packed just in case he deteriorated and had to stay in the hospital.

I told his wife he was in good hands. With a crooked smile on my face, I told them that this wasn't my first day - it was my second. We all smiled briefly as they both then realized that he was in good hands, that I would do everything in this cold, unjust world to make sure he got to the hospital safely.

We began to wheel him out of the facility and into my ambulance. He grabbed his wife's hand and held it briefly. His pale, cold hands squeezed as he told her he would be alright. The levy broke and puddles of tears streamed down her face.

As he let go I noticed that little, yellow band. The one that read liveSTRONG above his watch on his left hand. The one, just like mine, that faced him so he could look down and be inspired. That same little, yellow band that I now look down at on my wrist in hopes that it will inspire me.

The one that reminds me of him.

Monday, February 12, 2007

See you on the river.


Occasionally in this profession you encounter that one person that rekindles that love of being a paramedic. Someone who makes you realize, or, more importantly, helps you remember why you chose a career where you sit in a cramped ambulance for hours on end, where you wrestle hallucinating, angry, suicidal patients and where you feign interest in the fibromyalgic, eccentric elderly lady who lives with twenty cats.

Not often enough does this person cross paths with you along their journey of life to make these indelible impressions. It's this kind of patient that makes you forget about all the insignificant problems of your work place and reels you back into the realm of why you do what you do.

Finally, I crossed paths with such an individual the other night.

He was elderly. White hair crowned his freckled skull as he sat on the toilet with a towel covering his lap. The venous arms sat crossed on his robust belly, his eyes darting around the room under his white, bushy eyebrows. He glanced, inconspicuously, from paramedic, to firefighter, to son, to wife. He had fallen, and because his 91-year-old wife was too weak to pick him up, the troops were summoned via 911.

I arrived to be greeted by son, neighbor, wife, fire, and some mysteriously quiet woman lurking in the shadows. He was alright. He had just gotten lightheaded and fell to the carpeted floor. Nothing exciting. Just another elderly fall. Embarrassed, he sat quietly on the toilet, hoping we would all vanish like mist into the cold night air. He didn't want to go, but being as life is one big cycle, he had now returned to the part of his life where all decisions were made for him. The son, tall, thin and what I imagined to be mirror image of the man on the toilet 30 years ago, stated he needed to go. I concurred.

The trip, the treatment, the prognosis, and the history are all insignificant and irrelevant. That's not why I'm writing this. I'm writing this because when I looked at him, when I talked with him, we both felt at ease. We both seemed more comfortable with the situation and we both truly enjoyed one another's company.

He sat half-naked under our white hospital blankets. The dimly lit box bounced on the beaten paths to the emergency room. And we talked. We talked about the war, his family, his job, his kids, the fact that he had been married 54 years and I, 5 months. We talked about Colorado and Montana and we talked about fly-fishing.

We had both found a friend. He was as excited to talk about fishing as I was to hear about it. He talked about his favorite spots, his favorite fly, his favorite reel, and the bamboo rod that had been passed down to him from his dad. We forgot we were in an ambulance on the way to a hectic hospital. We enjoyed the 45-minute ride in rush hour traffic.

He made me smile. And I made him laugh.

We got to the ED and his care was transferred to an awaiting RN, clipboard in hand and business on her mind. I shook his hand, smiled, and told him it was a pleasure. I said if I had a nickel for each time I had a patient like him, someone who was genuinely nice, that I'd have at least a buck-fifty. We laughed and I exited.

As I walked away, computer in hand he smiled and said, "See you on the river".

I'm fairly certain I'll never see him again. But I do know that someday, somewhere, our paths will cross again. And hopefully, it'll be on that crisp, flowing river with fly rods in hand.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Is everyone here who needs to be here?

There are these rooms at the county hospital that I work for that frighten, intimidate, and bewilder any soul that enters, whether it be a patient on a stretcher or a healthcare worker on their own two feet. They are large, loud and bland. Tile and linoleum frame the rectangular room that is divided into two by a drape that falls from the ceiling to the floor. Sinks on either side rest beneath the x-ray viewing light and in-between the massive double doors that divide the room into two. One patient on the left, one on the right.

Placed center stage on each side of the room are the beds. Beds that are cold and uncomfortable. Beds that serve more the purpose of lifting the patient waist-high so the MDs can better examine the specimen in front of them. Beds that allow them to not have to bend over when they cut open your chest and massage your heart. These beds aren't for resting.

Monitors beep. Blood pressure cuffs dangle from the half wall that holds the oxygen outlets. A desk is tucked into the wall next to the patient where the nurses slouch as they write as furiously as they can while we spout out geysers of relevant information. A large cabinet sits ominously behind the head of the bed. In it, are plastic contraptions that bring out thoughts of uncomfortable ease to the non-medically inclined. Tubes, syringes, laces, metal laryngoscope blades all sit on white, sterile beds of cotton waiting to be used.

Above is a round, white, metal case with handles that hold inside it the power of the sun. A light on an extended arm that, like a robot, can articulate into any position around the patient, shining it's beam of white light directly into the area of MD concentration. And like another drone in this world of fear and unknowing, is a little yellow machine with a computer-imaging screen placed precariously on top. It floats from room to room and is used by the MDs to look through you. Its attached arm, wrapped in clear wrap, is normally coated in cold, blue gel. Then, it is pushed uncomfortably into your belly or chest as it searches for causes of what might be wrong so it can then illuminate it's vision on the green and black screen of the monitor. Like an evil leer from an angry family member, it sits in the corner always awaiting its turn.

The patient is rushed from the ambulance bay directly into one of these rooms. The ceiling tiles with fluorescent lights transition into a bland white ceiling 15 feet high. From our bed to this one, the patient is then invited into a world of chaos.

Immediately, people begin grabbing your arms, poking your hands, feeling your neck, squeezing your chest, jabbing your stomach, removing your clothes, talking to you, asking your name, asking what happened, asking where you hurt, asking your social security, shining lights into your eyes, and violating the most private of all areas. There's one at your head, sometimes two. Four or five on your left, five or six at your feet, and five or six on your right. As well as EMT students, paramedic students, MD interns, surgery interns, registration, nursing students, security, supervisors, social services, priests, and police.

Although the shades are drawn, all privacy is gone. And even though all those people are cramped in that once large room, someone always quietly kneels next to the patient and whispers in their ear. "Everything is going to be alright".

It's this room that intimidates me. And I'm sure it intimidates the person on that thinly mattressed examination bed. In the end, regardless of the reasons why we are intimidated, it’s the same feeling of fear and unknown. It’s the cold nudge of mortality that scents the room with it's presence. In this room, you either live or die. It’s in this room everyones will is tested.

People that enter these rooms are life-threatening sick. They know they are sick, as well as does everyone else working furiously and simultaneously to help them. This, more often than not, is that last bed the patient will ever sleep in; the last room the patient will enter, and is the final battleground for sustaining life. From here you walk away after a hard battle won, or you never leave.

As much as I enjoy these rooms, as much as I hope that I get that call that will cause me to walk through those double doors, I hate them equally as much. When someone that I brought lies unconscious, or altered, or bleeding, on that uncomfortable bed they are fighting the fight of all fights.

What will they choose? Life? Or death?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Buffalo Soldier

I can walk down the street, smile at an elderly lady, and then have a complaint filed against me for being patronizing and condescending. I change lanes without a signal and I’m writing an incident report for being reckless and haphazard. And I can arrive on the scene of a dead, retired pulmonologist, intubate him, medicate him, and get his heart pumping so efficiently that he has a pulse and blood pressure and tries to talk to me around the tube; then have to return to the office and justify why I didn’t run when the wife told me to hurry.

Well, it’s time for some changes. It’s time that I live in that brick house as opposed to the straw or stick one. It’s like Bob said, “Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights!” It’s time to be like Patrick Swayze and his band of renegade high schoolers and fight, guerrilla style, against those Soviet invaders.

WOLVERINE!

I turned the tables the other day. It was me who filed the complaint.

We got sent to a local hospital on a possible stroke. These days, all hospitals have these elite units of special farces...err forces. People, yet unable to pass the civil service exam for the respected position of police officer, who wear ill-designed, over-sized polyester pants with light blue, uncomfortably pressed, button-up shirts and stroll around a hospital campus with utility belts sans firearm. And some of them, probably the captains, or lieutenants, or chief inspectors, or whatever they're refered to in the minor leagues of enforcement, are allowed to ride bikes and wear knit pullovers that have SECURITY spelled on the back.

It was this goliath that tested my will and made me pick up a pen instead of rocks.

We arrived at the hospital and were securely “escorted” to the patient by two guards. Their radios full blast and airtime full of useless chatter. “Medics on scene”, one said to the other, who was watching us through the clear, full-length lobby window.

We approached the patient and quickly determined that this was not a stroke. The soft-spoken patient with Parkinson’s Disease carried around a typed letter stating that this disease was debilitating and too many times she was transported to the ED against her will for something that was baseline for her. Security believed she was having a stroke because it took three attempts to withdraw money from the ATM. The patient, frustrated that these key chain-clanging guards didn’t attempt to talk to her about what was going on, told us this happens all the time and that she didn't want to go to the ED. All she wanted to do was withdraw some money so she could go to Safeway.

At this point, I turned to the one with the marine-bowl-cut hair and explained what was going on and why we couldn't take her. "It’s called kidnapping. " My words drifted out of my mouth and danced precariously around his ears. Few words penetrated the skull and even fewer were processed. The guard remained confused. And once confused, he had the inability to not transfer that feeling of embarrassment to anger. He became quite...bitchy, for lack of better descriptors.

“You have to take her!”
“No, I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with her and she doesn’t want to go. Did you not read the letter?”

We began to leave and I see the fog of light blue shirts huddle around the patient. They obviously, for some reason, didn't want her on their property and were rushing her to leave the premises. The Parkinsons restricts her mobility and, like a baby learning to walk, she is at times very uncoordinated in her mobility. I returned to help, help her from the hungry land sharks circling her, waiting for her to fall so they could quickly call 911 again. The important-feeling leader of the pack stood in the background; phone in hand, poised to call in another emergency.

I approached her. Broke through the smell of Axe and cheap aftershave and tried to console the patient.

“I tell you what”, I said. “I’ll break the rules and take you home. I promise I won’t take you to the hospital.”

The sharks eased off a little. One updated the mother ship with the status of this situation.

Adamantly and quietly the patient refused any help. She was flustered and frustrated. She wanted to leave but her legs wouldn't let her. If they didn't move in unison, in coordination, something was going to happen that she desperately feared. She tried her best to walk. Slowly, and unconfidently, she shuffled her way towards the sidewalk.

I, again, explained the situation. "There is nothing I can do. It’s called kidnapping."

It was at this point the knit-clad premise guard made his fatal mistake. He looked at me and said, “You need to learn how to do your job!” He then turned, keys slapping him on the hip, and stormed off like a third grader who dropped his ice cream cone.

“This is bullshit!” echoed off the minivans as the sick children were being secured into their carseats.

I looked at one of the plebes and demanded his name. I wanted his name and his supervisor’s name. I wrote it down and each letter seared itself into my memory. Security guard blank-blank. I called my supervisor to warn him of the interaction and that he may, for some unknown reason, receive a call from an angry, hostile security guard. He received that call.

My captain went to meet with him. And after the guard verbalizeed all the nice things I did for the patient he began to realize he was out of line. He admitted to being short and rude with the medics and said he shouldn’t have acted that way. Complaint resolved.

Nope. After having to write an Incident Report my captain said everything was resolved and asked if there is anything else I needed. Yes, as a matter of fact, there was.

“I would like to file a complaint about him!”