By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Or detach yourself like you know you need to.
There’s so much light
Because in this job to help someone you kind of need to ignore them, don’t you.
I can see so much
The fire truck and the paramedic squad are pulling up lights and sirens and you open your mouth to tell him that he can’t have water because it’s an airway compromise, that he has to go to the hospital because he may have sustained serious internal injuries, that the paramedics are here to help him. But what comes out instead is,
“I can see your guardian angel. You’re going to be fine.”
“Baby girl,” he says.He is unable to keep his eyes open, but he’s trying; his eyebrows are pulled up like ship sails trying to catch a breeze. “Baby girl, I’m not okay.” I nod sympathetically, fighting the twitch his words induce in my stomach, and the flush in my cheeks. It’s not that he’s so good-looking, necessarily, but his low tone is personal and intimate, and there’s something about those two words and the way he says them that is getting to me. If he had called me baby, babe, sweetheart, chick, darling, lady, queen, hot stuff, foxy — I’ve heard them all — I would’ve rolled my eyes, stiffened and put on my tough-girl act, but his soft, sad crooning is making me wish I had someone to go home to at the end of this shift.
I awkwardly pat his shoulder. “What happened, sir?”
When we pulled him out of the bushes 20 minutes earlier he was alone, had no wallet or ID, and was utterly incapable of answering any questions, this comical, towering 6 feet 3 inches, which spilled over both ends of the gurney. Now in the hospital, the largest rag doll I’ve ever seen is coming to life.
He shudders slightly and his eyebrows relax, eyelids drifting shut.
“I lost all my money,” he says sadly. “I gambled it away.”
I nod even though he can’t see. “What did you take?”
He tries to remember. He’d been drinking for 12 hours straight, and took seven pills given to him by friends throughout the night. One or two of the pills were Ecstasy, but other than that, he can’t remember a thing. Which, it sounds like, was the point.
“Baby girl,” he says again. He is fumbling for my hand now, and as he grasps it I really am blushing, amused and caught off-guard by my vulnerability. He rolls his head to look at me; it’s a fluid, slippery motion only drunks are capable of, and for a minute it looks like his head will keep rolling right off the gurney. With supreme effort he keeps his eyes open, and then peers at me solemnly.
“Baby girl, I’m sorry.”
The only time I’ve ever dreamed about a patient, I held the potent images in for as long as I could and was scared to share them. Some things are precious. The patient was a GSW, which stands for gunshot wound. The patient was found lying face-down in the street, with a river of blood coming out of his head. The patient was about 25 years old; the patient was a heavily tattooed John Doe; the patient was presumably a gang member.
Police were on scene long before we were, and they didn’t bother to call it in because they assumed he was dead. They staged out the area, put up the caution tape, and started hunting for clues, witnesses, the killer and the weapon. At some point someone noticed that blood bubbles were popping out of his mouth, that he was still breathing.
For those of you who want to know, it looks exactly like the movies. I had trouble watching graphic movies before I drove an ambulance, and I can’t watch them now. I guess that’s what they call irony, since most people can’t do this kind of work but can watch those movies without a problem.
We descended on him eagerly — a true case of trauma is a rare and coveted event — and the police officers watched with bemused interest. One even got a notebook ready in case the guy regained enough consciousness to reveal his or his assailant’s name. It was my first GSW and I was very much a rookie at the time, but even I could’ve told the cop to put his notebook away.
The bullet had gone through the patient’s occipital lobe, and the larger exit wound showed that it had shot out of his left temporal lobe. The part of his brain that controlled his breathing remained, amazingly, intact. Once we had treated, packaged and begun our transport to a trauma center, there was nothing to do but sit and watch him breathe. I matched his respirations with the bag-valve mask to help push extra O2 in. His vitals were fine, but we all knew we were looking at a dying man, or a comatose one. His body had yet to admit the obvious.
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