By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Ah. Sack-of-potatoes time, you were waiting for this. She is old and weak, with light bones; there is a fairly easy path from the bed to the gurney waiting in the hall. You nod to your partner: We’ll G.S. her, you say. You still don’t know what G.S. stands for, but you get behind her, put your arms through her armpits, and grab her wrists. Your partner scoops up her legs: one, two, three, lift. The whole time, she is complaining loudly in Russian, and then before you can get to the gurney the 95-year-old flesh-and-bones package wrapped in your arms starts writhing and her complaints grow louder. All of it too fierce for that frail frame.
Almost there, but the paramedic stops you. There has been a shift in the air, but you missed the turning point. You were busy negotiating with the carpeted stairs, the thick table legs, the vase your partner almost elbowed. The paramedic’s face and voice have softened. Put her back, he says. You blink at him, feel the thin layer of sweat under your uniform, and start the shuffle back. She has slipped down and it’s increasingly awkward. You hear the paramedic talking to the nurse while the firefighters pack up their gear and you strain to make out the words.
Okay. It’s her choice. If she wants to die in her home, that’s her choice.
Strangely elated, with respect, you place her on the bed. You know you can look at her now, so you do. She is propped up on frilly pillows, hands clasped, coal-black eyes burning fiercely into yours, white hair in a tight bun. Reserved, dignified, powerful. Go away, her eyes say. I am the boss of me.
Beautiful, you think. Thank you, you almost say, but stop yourself. You slip the image of her gorgeous face into your pocket along with the second copy of the EKG printout you’ll study later, and almost skip out the door.
Honey, I’m ...
I am standing in the doorway of my apartment and my brain is empty. My bags are still on my shoulders. I could go anywhere right now, because loaded on my person is the following: bedding, a Thomas Guide, a shopping bag full of nonrefrigerated foods, and a travel bag full of toiletries, clean underwear and socks. I could go anywhere, but I’m here. I’m home.
It’s still dark outside, but the sun is coming up and my apartment is a muted gray. I keep standing there. I don’t know if I should wake up or rest, if I want coffee or sleep, and I can’t even bring myself to put my bags down because I can’t remember what goes where. Nothing makes sense.
Maybe I should call 911. That’s the new joke, these days. So many people call 911 for things I’d never dreamed of: for a headache, a stubbed toe, a runny nose. Maybe they were feeling anxious. Or they needed a ride to the hospital. Or they just wanted attention. No one has ever actually admitted that they’d called 911 for attention, but I wish someone would. There is one woman who calls every week; she has freshly made pies waiting for the firefighters, her bags are packed and ready by the door, and her makeup is perfectly done.
My weight is slowly shifting back and forth as I rock on my feet, and it’s a while before I even realize I’m doing it. I still haven’t put my bags down. Were there any good calls this last shift? The past 24 hours are a blur, and the answer to that question has become the new way to define my time, my job and myself. Did I have any good calls?
No, I can’t recall a single one.
I feel like a snail with a house on its back: What I am clutching feels more familiar than the yawning opening in front of me. I’ve been so, well, tired lately. Tired through and through. My voice-mail box is full, there are unopened bills on the counter and I’m scared to open my e-mail. I wash the ambulance I drive every day, and I always tell myself I will wash my car while I am at the station, but then I never do, so two months of bird shit and dirt have built up. My car is also a muted gray.
The lady who calls every week, the one with the pies, is what we call a seeker. There are many types of frequent flyers, but a seeker is hooked on pain meds. Calling 911 to get ambulance transport to the hospital is just additional abuse of the system. The funny thing about seekers is they complain ferociously about going to the hospital and they are very particular about how you handle them, how you lift them, how they are treated at the hospital. It’s as if going to the hospital was your idea, not theirs.