Over the past few days, I have been conspicuously preoccupied by memory. A nausea inducing one. A painfully unforgiving one. All of the confliction that I felt back then, I still feel today. Memories that hold hands with PTSD and skip through my brain are not your garden variety memories. They do not feel like memory at all – in fact, it’s as though I am reliving it all over again. Every painstaking detail becomes real once more. Every smell. Every sight, and every sound, returns to me in haunting perfection. It is like this in my dreams, and it is like this when I ruminate on the past. The past trauma’s. It is like that when I remember her – the dead lady in the basement…
This call took place in the middle of a hot and muggy summer’s days in August. I was working a day shift and it was my attend day so, that meant I was initiating patient contact with whomever calls for paramedics, and we had just been dispatched. The call notes read ‘no priority symptoms’ so, that meant that this was a low-acuity call – or so we thought. We began driving nice and easy. We navigated the winding city streets, and quiet residential roads until we pulled up to the target address. It was in a less than stellar area of town. Not the worst but, not the greatest either. I grabbed the Toughbook (laptop) and exited the passenger side of the ambulance, and began walking towards the house. It was an unassuming home. Moderate and not at all boastful. Small blades of grass, poked out through the cracks in the concrete steps. I now stood on the top step, and began knocking on the door. “Paramedic’s!” I bellowed. The door swung open, and stood before me, was a rather intoxicated first nations gentleman. He was wobbling as though the air and gravity were bullying him. Shoving him from side to side. Through broken speech, and unwittingly flying spit, he informed me that the patient was down stairs in the basement. Great – I hated basements. Ever since I had found the fourteen-year-old boy hanging in one, they were not my favorite place to conduct a call.
My partner (who we will call Samantha for this story) was still at the ambulance, grabbing equipment. As she was doing that, the intoxicated male in front of me began to reach out as if to grab me by my shirt, presumably to lead me inside. I pulled away and gained some distance on him. He grew agitated and began saying things like “hurry” and “I don’t even think she’s breathing”. Upon hearing statements like that, I called out to Samantha, told her to grab everything – said that this may be a ‘code’ – that’s what we call cardiac arrest’s. She began to near my location at the house. She looked like a Sherpa, carrying all of the gear on her small frame. I extended my hands, so as to relieve some of her burden, and we began to descend the stairs into the darkened basement. It was stuffy and stale. There was an unpleasant smell, albeit not too overpowering (yet) it was still less than pleasant.
One thing I should mention; this house, the one we were now currently in, did not belong solely to this drunken man whom had answered the door. No, it was a ‘flop’ house so to speak. There were mattresses on the living room floor, and in the hallway to the kitchen. As it would turn out, there was roughly eleven people living in a two-bedroom home. Each one of these eleven cohabitants, were as intoxicated, or more so, than this man whom we had made contact with.
As we reached the bottom of the rickety, old wooden steps to the basement, off to my left was what appeared to have been a storage closet that was now a single person’s bedroom. Inside, our patient. She was laying on her left side, facing the wall away from us. She was a portly woman who did not answer or even twitch, when I called out her name that had been given to me by the wobbling man behind us. I entered the cramped room and as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the dreary basement, I could see that she too was first nation’s but, her skin was not a golden tan – it was gray and sickly looking. Not good. My nose informed me, that this room, where she was, was the source of the rather unpleasant odor that was emanating upwards to us as we had made our way down the stairs. Also not good… Suspecting that she was dead, I extended my hand out, and placed it on her chin, to assess for rigor. Her jaw did not move. It was tight and her skin was cool. She was dead. The lady in the basement, was dead. Of this, there was no mistake.
I leaned back so as to return my posture to standing upright and straight. I looked at Samantha and informed her of my discovery. I then looked over to the drunken man, and while looking into his glossy eyes, informed him of the same sad fact, that the woman was dead, and there was nothing we could do. It seemed to take a few exaggerated seconds to process for him but, when he did, or when I think he did, he simply turned around, and struggled halfway up the narrow stairs, and began calling out names. The names of all the other residents I assumed.
Soon enough, and much to my displeasure, there was a hoard or gaggle of intoxicated individuals, standing at the doorway – our only way out. Some began to cry, others still seemed to be processing the newly found information. Either way, I did not want to be in that small room but, I was trapped – we, were trapped. Before long, a small and yes, drunk woman, barreled her way into the room, and ran over to the body. At first, she just stood there, looking down at the gray body on the bed, but then, she turned towards me, and my partner and said “fuckin – like – do something…” I began to try and explain things but, it was of no use. She did not want to hear what I had to say. She began grabbing the body, and pulling at one of the arms, as if to move the body off of the bed. I tried to verbally stop her from doing so, explaining that the police needed to come and that they would then have the body removed. Well, the mere mention of police erupted the drunk eleven into an uproar against us. They were insinuating that because they were first nation’s that we had assumed ‘they’ did this to the gray, lifeless woman. No amount of de-escalation tactic was working. We were now trapped in a tiny room with an angry mob.
The small drunk woman who had been grabbing at the body, was still doing so, but she was now attempting to force me to grab the arm of the dead woman while screaming through slurred speech “take her. Get her out. Get her out of here. This is my fuckin bed!” The smell was only intensifying with the manipulation of this body. There was also a visible outline from where the body had been resting before being moved. Deposits from the lifeless body had made their way into the fabric of the mattress. Each time this small, angry woman, pulled and tugged on the arm and body, a wafting stench of death made its way into my senses. Like I said before, I did not want to be there anymore – that was one of the reasons. On of many.
As this chaos was going on, I saw one of the males reach passed the doorway, and grab Samantha by the sleeve of her shirt. Instinctively, and angrily, I proceeded to use my Toughbook as a sort of prod, and jabbed it firmly into his chest, forcing him back, out of the room. In doing that, I must have set something off in the little woman in the room with us, as she now cared less about the body, and more about pushing me. The room was small and cramped, seemingly even more so, due to the ruckus that was unfolding. She began to push me, and with my heel placed against the side of this single bed, I fell backwards – on top of the dead woman. Jesus Christ! Have you ever seen an insect on your skin and felt as though there were a million more creepy-crawlies, slithering about on your skin? Well, that’s almost exactly how I felt, knowing that there was a dead a decaying body beneath me. I struggled to get up. My limbs spasmed in an uncoordinated attempt to get back to standing. Flailing may be a more accurate descriptor. All I knew is, I wanted to get back to standing, and defend both myself, and my partner if need be. I hit the panic alarm on my radio, signaling to dispatch that we were in trouble, in hopes that they would send the cavalry – the police.
I continued struggling for what seemed like forever, but having no other choice, I had to place one hand down as leverage, and push off to get back to my feet. Thing is, I was pushing on the dead girl to do so… My hand can still remember exactly what the felt like. I can feel it now as I type this. Unsettling is a poor word to use but, right now, it’s the only one that I have.
This post has taken me a few days to write. Not because of its length but, more so because of its details. As I write them, I remember them. I relive them. For example; when I was on the bed, being pushed down onto a dead body, one thing that sticks with me, and haunts me to this day, both in dream and flashback is: The woman’s face. The dead gray woman’s face. I was so close to it, and although there was chaos, and panic, it is as though my mind used my eyes to take perfectly timed snap shots of this gruesome image. That gray lifeless face visits me in my dreams, and it’s terrifying. Along with it, is the sound of multiple voices, yelling and screaming at different pitch and intensity. Maybe this is why I don’t like crowds and loud noises. Definitely one of the reasons. I have no doubt.
The call would end with my partner and I leaving the house safely, and police taking control of the scene. We would go back to work and finish the day but, not before a uniform change… (those whom have worked first response know exactly what I am talking about).
I was distracted for a few days after that call. I think even now, years later, I am still distracted by it. Believe it or not, writing this actually felt really good. As my therapist puts it: Writing it out gives it a beginning, a middle, and an end. I think perhaps the ending is the most important part; you see, when something has ended, it means that it is over. That it is finished and done. So, perhaps the more things that I can ‘end’ the more I will get better. The more I will heal. So, I will keep trying. Keep writing, and maybe one day, one day I can put this nightmare to rest. Just, end it. Let it be finished so that I may live, and make new stories – happy ones.