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
When we went over a bump in the road, the trauma dressing slipped from his forehead, and a large geyser of blood and brain gushed from the exit wound. I yanked my left hand out of the way and slid my foot away from the new pool of blood. My right hand continued to bag him with oxygen as I reached for a new multitrauma dressing. I saw brain, I kept thinking.
I had the strangest feeling while watching him. His body was still warm and strong; his clothes had been cut off and he lay there oozing with life, impossibly alive. Somebody loved him, I thought. His mother, his girlfriend, his brother, his friend. Somebody thought he was invincible. He had thought he was invincible, clearly. The muscle memory in his body reeked of it.
Later, when it was over, when I had changed into a fresh uniform and finished my report, I took a nap in the ambulance, my arms crossed over my chest, my sunglasses on. I looked tougher than I felt: I was shaken to my boots. He died amidst the tools, machinery and impersonal language of the ER. All that yelling across his body, but nothing anybody did seemed related to him. And where was he in the midst of it all? Forgotten. A John Doe, dead. A policeman’s empty notebook page.
My partner didn’t think he was worth saving. His opinion was that all gang members were a cancer on society, and they should be rounded up and allowed to kill each other, so the rest of us could be free of them. He had two years’ experience on me and ordered me around constantly. That day I was too numb and exhausted to tell him what I was convinced of: that it wasn’t our job to decide who lived or died. That I didn’t ever want it to be my job to decide. If a person lay dying in front of me, I would try to help.
I didn’t think I’d be able to fall asleep sitting in the rig, but in the end I did. I slept and I dreamed. In my dream there was a clean white room: white walls, tile floor. John Doe was lying on the floor, still naked but cleaned up: no sign of blood or brain or even the wound for that matter, and his skin and tattoos were gleaming. His eyes were closed, he wasn’t yet dead but not alive either, and whatever life existed in him was in the form of a kind of coiled-up and angry tension: Some part of him refused to let go.
I got underneath him very carefully. Curled up in a ball, my head lowered, my breathing labored, I inched his torso into a sitting position by leaning my body weight into his back and pushing the ground away. It was slow, meticulous work and he was unnaturally heavy. His arms were relaxed at his side and his head was tilted back resting on my serpentine spine. His mouth was ajar and through the open channel of his throat came a kind of smoke or light. Every time I nudged him, his body relaxed a little more, and that strange substance slid out, curling up into the air around him.
That smoke, that light was grateful to be going. It was grateful to be going, and the more it left him, the lighter and more relaxed his body became. No tension, no ugliness, no holding on. Just a body on a tile floor, with smoke and light in the air around it, and me crouched underneath.
I want to be that grateful when I go.
Our Phantom Limbs
We drive her home in the middle of the night, but she can’t remember her ZIP Code or any cross streets. The hospital face sheet only has a numeric address, and there are so many streets with that name in the Thomas Guide, running east, west, north, south and diagonal — what side of the city did she live on? Then I have the bright idea to call someone who knows her. I pull over on the big vacuous street, a half-mile from the hospital, and set my hazards blinking. Once in a while a car zooms by and the rig slowly rocks from side to side. My partner in the back is digging through the patient’s purse and finds a tattered piece of paper with a phone number on it; I dial it on my phone, forgetting that it’s the middle of the night, not recognizing the New York area code, and wake the woman up. Her voice, brittle and paper-thin over the bad connection, grows with warmth and volume as the conversation progresses; she didn’t know her sister was in the hospital. She helps me out with the address, then, with a choke in her voice, says, “Tell her to call me when she gets home. Please?”
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