Sunday, June 24, 2007

Watching the world go by.

I sit on the uncomfortable, white-sheeted, black mattress and remove my blue, bloodstained gloves. Sweat, pooled in the fingertips, pours out of the reversed, disposed gloves and drips off my fingers onto the floor. I run them across the side of my pants and waft them in the cool emergency room air. The pads of my fingers wrinkled like bloodshot eyes squinting at the sun.

My feet dangle off the side of the mechanical hospital bed. Evidence of dried blood is crusted on the hinges of the chrome rails; bleach radiates from the mattress pad and mixes itself with the other smells of urine, vomit, and sweat. My scuffed black boots float above the stale linoleum floor. It's hot outside, and I sit here at the proverbial fork in the road, typing my report and watching the world go by.

In front of me, a yellow plastic sign warning all passerbyers that the "piso es mojado". The streaks of the overused, infected mop radiate from under the fluorescent ceiling lights. Crocs, tennis shoes, boots, and dress shoes hurry pass the sign with indifference.

A look to my left reveals a row of beds like the one I'm sitting on. Like cars in a mid-day traffic jam, they sit their eagerly awaiting their purpose. Their patched, black mattresses lean against the wall showing the skeletons of the beds. Green oxygen bottles are tucked beneath the heads of the beds and wire baskets hang haphazardly under the sides. Large, white foot pedals with red and green ends protrude from the feet of the beds. Collapsible black handles are their imaginary headboards.

To my right, security and triage. A rectangular cubbyhole with scrubbed nurses, rolling blood pressure cuffs, a pediatric scale, a sink and some out-dated computers funnel the walk-in traffic of people's emergencies. Blue, plastic chairs with chrome, triangular legs attempt to contain the hysterical patients sitting in them. Swollen eyes, bloodied lips, and destroyed lives all pass through this gateway. Each, like the summer run-off of a mountain reservoir, are released in their own good time.

Another hole houses men in pale blue polyester shirts. Leather gun belts packed with tools of the trade rest on the hips of the uniformed security guards. A door to their left and a desk in front of them, they juggle the demands of the patients and family in the waiting room and the urgencies of the paramedics entering the sliding glass doors.

Those doors whoosh open and close with each motion detected by the electronic eye. In comes in a steady stream of paramedics from every agency in the city. Some, sick and in need of immediate attention, quickly bypass this area and scream down the hall, firefighters and paramedics in tow. Some, more often than not, await their inevitable passing of judgment by the ED charge nurse.

And with all this in front of me, I sit and type as the world creeps by. Restrained, crying teenagers spit at the authoritative police figures. Handcuffed inmates in bright orange jumpsuits shuffle their shackled feet towards their rooms. Wheelchair bound, homeless men with plastic walking casts berate all that pass. And, more often than need be, someone fighting for their very life, breathing either way too fast or way too slow, passes by my personal voyeur window of this world.

And there I remain, feet dangling and fingers typing, waiting to be called out on the next one. So I can bring them here and start the process all over.

Friday, June 15, 2007

That peach colored box.

There he rested. On his back, white belly sunny-side up. The zipper on his 501's halfway down, the metal button carrying the stressful burden of keeping his blue jeans on. White socks, stained by the dirty concrete parking lot, peeked out from under the frayed cuffs of his dirty jeans. One foot crowned yellow, the other stamped with the Hanes logo.

Thick, black hair crowned his head like a Halloween costume. Sideburns, thick and reminiscent of Elvis, crawled down his puffy cheeks, in front of his sun burnt ears, to his thick jaw line. Chapped lips and a pot-marked nose with large hairs crawling from each nare sat atop his puffy, round face. His eyes squinted at the sun as he lay resting, trying to stay awake, on the graveled lot of the bar-b-que joint.

I approached the vision and saw his fat belly slowly rise and fall. He was flat on his back in the parking lot, next to someone else's car, overdosed on heroin. Another two steps, and I saw his drunken eyes floating back and forth at all the towering uniformed people standing above him. His superferlous nipple greeted me as I bent closer to speak to him.

Beads of sweat framed his hairline like dimples on a baby. I bent down close to him and talked forcefully.

"If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you," I said as my shadow casted authoritatively over his poor soul.

"Where are your needles? I don't want to get poked. That makes paramedics very angry when they get poked."

As he slid his worn hands down his body towards his pocket, I reminded him once again.

"If I get poked, I'm gonna be mad," I said.

He rummaged around his tight blue jean pocket. Out came a red lighter, some gas receipts, and more folded papers.

"I don't have any," he slurred trying to keep his eyes open.

I patted him down like a cop in a dark, back alley. I pinched his pockets and rolled him from side to side, scanning his back pockets as well. I grabbed his ankles and pulled the frayed cuffs up, looking for needles tucked into his socks. I moved to his waistband and pulled the belt loop from his sweaty belly, keeping an eye out for needles tucked around his waistband and in his groin.

I grabbed his ankles, the firemen grabbed his arms, and like a burlap sack of potatoes, we lifted him onto the bed. He slept peacefully in the suns heat as we exerted ourselves to move to lethargic 250 pounds of overdosed flesh.

"Thanks guys," I said to the firemen as they closed the back doors.

"Don't give me any of that narcun," he slurred as I grabbed a sweaty arm for a blood pressure.

"My friends overdosed and you guys gave him some of that stuff, and he looked horrible because of that."

"I tell you what," I replied. My mood was surprisingly patient. "If you stay awake, I won't give you any."

The metal box bounced down the highway, the sun setting as its rays made last attempts to shine through the snow-covered mountains in the distance. I sat with my laptop and punched buttons as we bounced down the highway. Then, from the front of the ambulance, my partner turned the black dial on the am/fm radio. The volume increased and George Thoroughgood's voice rasped an old blues song about whiskey, scotch, and beer.

"I love this song," he said as he laid his head back, closed his eyes, and began to enjoy his high again.

His mouth moved sluggishly as he worded the lyrics of the song to himself. He had forgotten that he had overdosed, that he was under arrest, and that he was going to jail. He had forgotten that, under these circumstances, the ride in this ambulance was not supposed to be a high-enhancer. We weren't there to safely transport him from one place to another so he could remain high on heroin.

I grabbed the small black, metal box. Popped the silver hinge and thumbed my way through the colored boxes. Finally, in a row like soldiers, were the peach colored boxes I was looking for. I grabbed the small, rectangular box, popped the cardboard top, and slid the small, glass tube out. I popped off all the red safety features and screwed it into the plastic administrator.

He tapped his fingers on the railing and, like Jimmi Hendrix, visualized the music in his head.

I screwed the Narcan into the plastic IV port, straightened out the IV tubing, and shot 1 milligram of the life -saving liquid into his veins.

I sat next to him and waited.

Thirty seconds later he opened his eyes. He gasped a couple of times and turned pale in the face. He sat bolt upright and squeezed the handrail with his restrained hands. Then, he looked at me.

"What the f*ck did you give me!" he screamed.

"You broke our deal," I said.

"What the f*ck did you give me!" he screamed.

And with sobriety slapping him in the face, he gradually pieced everything together. Thoroughgood had stopped singing and the colors of the music had disappeared. He had stopped taping his fingers and had returned from wherever he was. He closed his eyes and began to cry.

He was not high anymore. And he was not enjoying the ride.

I discarded the peach-colored box and went back to typing my report.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The men in blue!

Rain drizzled from the sky and the sun's last rays reflected off the mirrored walls of the downtown high-rises. Approaching the intersection, sirens and horns echoing through the downtown streets, the two emergency vehicles met. I, sitting in a rather large box of an ambulance still realized I was the smaller of the two, flipped my right hand along the emergency switches and extinguished the rotating strobes of my light bar like a flame between two fingers. The fire engine roared through the intersection.

We tucked in behind the large white truck and drafted ourselves the remainder of the way to the call. We pulled around the truck and parked at an opposing angle, creating a safe little box for all the emergency personnel from the slightly intoxicated, road-raged, curious drivers of downtown.

A man with wafty hair ran towards us all, shouting nonsensical words. His advancements halted with the verbal leash of a friend inside the bar. He stopped, smiled, turned, and ran back into the bar.

On the ground, wrestling his ripped shirt, was a bloodied man. A diamond studded belt buckle held up tight blue jeans. His white oxford was half on, half off. Buttons popped off the stitching and rolled like marbles on the wet concrete sidewalk.

We approached, and I quickly turned back to the ambulance, knowing that this vision of inebriated chaos was coming with us.

"He's beyond detox," said a fireman.

The man shouted slurred obscenities and waved his tangled, bloodied hands.

I returned with the bed, a backboard (because they are more or less disposable and we can leave them at the ED for them to clean), a cervical collar, a blanket and a sheet.

"The sheet is because he is so bloody," I hinted to the fireman helping me unload all this gear.

"Optimistic, are you?"

We wheeled the bed past the diner's windows. Patrons inside strained their necks as they looked over their shoulders. The waitress, with mouth wide open, held a steaming pot of coffee. Their world was on pause.

I approached and all I saw was blood. Hands covered in dripping clots of red. Hi mouth bubbling bright red as his jaw bounced up and down with every slur. His white shirt stained bright red. And little pools of diluted blood ran through cracks in the sidewalk down into the street.

I "net" him with the white sheet and everyone grabbed a hand. Another gloved the mouth that spat blood with every obscenity. And like a frat boy holding a baby, we awkwardly, and uncomfortably, lifted him onto the backboard and placed him on the bed. Hands were Velcroed and his knees and chest were seat belted in. The streetlight framed his face and everyone was now able to see the reason for the bleeding.

We all stepped back and asked one another questions.

"Do I have blood on my face?"

"No, do I?"

After self-inspecting, we get back to work.

"What happened?" asked my partner.

No response.

"What's your name?"

No response.

We wrapped his head with gauze like a combat soldier and held pressure at the point of bleeding.

As we wheeedl him past the fishbowl of Diner patrons he finally decided to coherently talk.

And like a zombie in a B-flick movie, he thrusted his bloodied, bandaged head upward to the sky. Spitting foamy bubbles of blood, he turned his head towards the frightened crowd within and screamed. Everyone inside flinched, coffee was spilt and coins were dropped. The waitress turned and briskly walked away.




Monday, June 4, 2007

Dream Catcher.

He pulled the dented car over onto the side of the highway. Rush hour traffic screamed by him in the other three lanes. Horns whistled as the irate drivers raced dangerously close to his driver's side door, angrily flipping him off as he sat in his car weeping. The trashy small sedan reeked of cigarette smoke and the front windshield was stained with the yellow fog from every nicotine-laced exhalation. A dream catcher hung religiously from the bent rear view mirror. It hadn't worked in years.

The sun was at 2 o'clock. It's warm rays reflecting off the chrome gauges inside the piece of shit car. The car that he hated, but had to love, because it was all that was left. It was all he had in this world, and even though it stalled at every red light and sputtered along at 45 in the 55 mph zone, it allowed him what freedom he felt he had left.

Hands clutched to the steering wheel his mind raced. Bills, women, family, hopes and dreams all flashed before his eyes like a mirage. Good memories were shadowed by bad. The sun shining everywhere but on him. It was a warm spring day, yet he felt so cold.

He opened the driver's door recklessly, swinging it wide open into oncoming traffic. He didn't care. Maybe a car would hit him and save him from having to talk himself into doing what he was about to do. The cars veered, still honking and cursing him, as they maneuvered around the obstruction on the shoulder of the highway.

He placed his left foot out. Puffed fanatically on the burning cigarette in his hands and tossed the glowing-embered stump out the door and onto the warm, white pavement. He swung his other boot out from the rotting foot well and twisted its heel into the smoking cotton filter of his cigarette. The knobless radio still played his favorite cassette as he stood and exited his vehicle, leaving all his personal belongings inside. The engine misfired irregularly and the keychain with only one key rattled in the ignition.

The sand from the previous winter had all drifted to the side of the highway. It crunched with each step under his black boots. He made his way to the front of his car, stepping over blown-tire remnants and broken glass. He paused as the clouds framed the mountains in the west and the rays from the sun reflected off the broken glass near his feet. A gust of wind pushed through the open driver's door and rattled the dream catcher. He stood and watched it spin. Everything seemed as though it were underwater, his eyes floating in tears.

He grasped the concrete barrier and felt the coarseness irritate his hands. The black dirt under his fingernails contrasted the white, newly painted barrier. He knew what had to be done. He had every intention of following through.

He swung one leg over the barrier and straddled it like Clint Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western. His heart raced and his mind cleared.

He swung his other leg over. Now, he was sitting with his back to the highway. His butt securely planted on the concrete barrier with his heels wedged into a small lip of the outer-side of the bridge. His palms steadied him on this tight wire as his legs dangled over the side of the bridge. It was already as though he was floating, he could only see sky before him.

Behind him, the world raced by. No one cared about what was going on on this ledge. No one cared that a life was about to be destroyed. No one wanted to notice or even had the time. Alone, with his feet dangling 70 feet over a concrete sidewalk and paved rode, sat a crushed man about to end all the misery in his miserable life.

Then, sirens. From the distance and approaching fast. The wail seemed sharper and louder the closer it got.

He wedged his heels into the side of the bridge. He stood and his outstretched arms secured him as he neared death, his knees shaking.

The siren was here. He could see the light from the approaching ambulance. Flashing back and forth, the headlights of the boxy ambulance announced its presence.

And one last time, through weeping eyes, he looked back at his car. The dream catcher from the rearview mirror, spinning in the wind, had failed yet again. His dreams were lost and so too were his hopes.

He looked forward. Closed his eyes. And jumped.