I have written many times before about how some days are better than others. Well, today is not one of those days. In fact, this past week has been more or less a steady decline into the pits of rumination and self-loathing. The culmination of that however, is that I am now on a 30 day no drinking (booze) challenge. Nothing disastrous happened with regards to booze. It’s just that the other evening, while at one of my lowest points in the week, I picked up the bottle, and didn’t put it down until I had consumed a total of 15 beers in one evening… I know…
What made that an issue for me (outside of the number of beers consumed) was the fact that I felt fine. I mean, I knew I was drunk but, I felt fine. I walked fine. Talked fine. I even drew comments from the lovely bartender with regards to how I seem totally “normal” with relation to sobriety. So, I took all of that to mean that I have built up quite the tolerance to booze and thus, it’s time to hit the snooze button on that coping mechanism for a while.
There have been a few irritating factors that have contributed to this latest round of hating oneself. The list is rather extensive actually, but I will give you the top ‘draft picks’ of said lineup:
One: Divorce. Still dealing with a vengeful ex and her iron will to hurt both me, and my bank account. Turns out, since she is in Alberta, and I am in Ontario, I need two lawyers; one for each province where she has initiated civil claims against me – fun! …
Two: More bad dreams. I have once again been dreaming of the fourteen-year-old boy that I had responded to after he hung himself in his basement by a crude combination of rope and a dog leash.
Three: Remembering certain calls that I responded to as a medic. Calls where I feel I failed. Both as a paramedic, and as a human being.
Four: Flashbacks. I have been subject to a torturous display of things once seen and done by me and my eyes, as played back to me by my injured PTSD brain. Smelling and tasting the scent of blood while eating a random meal (Only to stop eating random meal).
And Five: See all the above…
Over the past week or so, item number ‘three’ on my list of troubles, has been bothering me the most. Or, at the very least, been closest to the forefront of my wounded mind.
There are a number of times where I feel I could have done better as a medic and as a human. But, one in particular involves the suicide of a young woman who we would discover had cut her wrists and drained out while in her bathtub.
The day we got the call, my partner and I had been running nonstop. Mere moments prior to receiving that fateful call, we had finally gotten a chance to get a couple of coffees but, barely cracked the tops of them when the ‘ping’ chime, came in, telling us we had another run to do. So, with that, we each conceded to the fact that our newly procured beverages (much-needed I may add) were doomed to grow cold and become less than satisfying. Regardless, off we went. It’s what we do/did, after all – respond, even when we really don’t want to.
We pulled up to a newly built high-rise, nestled within the decaying structures of the downtown core. As we rolled to a stop, I observed a portly gentleman standing at the main door. It appeared to me as though he was awaiting our arrival. My partner and I wandered over to this gentleman with our gear in tow.
It was another blisteringly hot day in the summer so, we were uncomfortable. Sweaty and overdressed with our polyester cotton blend uniforms, and ballistic vests. Sweltering would be an accurate depiction of what we looked and felt like.
The older gentleman (who I assumed to be the super) began leading us through the foyer, towards the elevator after allowing us entry into the building.
Once inside the elevator, I began asking questions. Poking to see how he had come to know about the young woman and her condition. He explained while staring an imaginary hole through the elevator floor, that the family had not heard from the young woman in a while (which was unusual) and they were growing increasingly concerned. So, he had gone to her apartment door, and knocked. Upon receiving no answer, he used his keys, and invited himself in. It was after doing that, that he made the horrifying discovery. He explained that the door had been closed over but not quite all the way. When he pushed it open, he was subject to the sight of a young, lifeless woman, propped up, and lazily sitting in a bathtub. The ordinarily eggshell colored walls and tiled floor were speckled with lines and droplets of blood. We would soon see all of this for ourselves as well.
When we entered the bathroom, the first thing I noted, other than the sad display of this grey and naked woman, was the Jackson Pollock-like patterns of blood that ascended from the midpoint of the wall, all the way to the ceiling. Blood was everywhere. It looked like a murder scene – I suppose in a way, it was.
After noting that, I began to notice that deep angry gash that had been torn through the flesh of her wrist. Surrounding this horrendous wound, was a tapestry of blackened blood and clotted reds. As I said, she was sitting in the bathtub so, there was a ring of dried and matted blood encircling the entirety of this porcelain grave. The water had been drained. After realizing that, I grew curious as to why someone who had wanted to, kill themselves, would drain the water of the bath, and then sit in it… I posed this query out-loud, and it was met with a subdued response from the portly super who was still with us. He explained that it was he who had let the water out after discovering her in the bath. Perplexed as to why a building super would plunge his hands into bloodied water, I snarled at him through furrowed brow and a cocked facial expression of disgust. I asked him why he would do such a thing? I cannot recall his exact response but, it was spoken softly with something along the lines of “I wanted to help…” I withdrew my mocking glares at him, and returned them to this ghostly woman in the tub.
She had bled out to the point where her skin dawned a grey hue of a sickly and neglected body. Her lips wore a subtle shade of blue that only the dead wear. Her head was dropped to the side, resting on her shoulder, allowing for her dampened strands of raven colored hair to free fall in front of her face. Through the wiry strands of her black, unkempt hair, I could see that her eyes had not closed all the way. She looked like a figment of imagination, born on a Halloween night. I quickly turned my attention to my partner, who was ingesting with his eyes, the very same sights that I was, only, in his own way I’m sure. He noticed my silent call to him, and glanced over towards me. As he did, I said aloud and with a callous tone, “Jesus, she looks like the chick from the Grudge”.
For those of you who do not understand this reference, The Grudge is a horror movie in which the main antagonist, is a young woman with grey, ghost like skin, and deep, black hair that falls in front of her face. She is the stuff of nightmares – and sadly, so was the girl in the tub.
After allowing such filth to fall from my mouth, I was once again met with a response from the building super: “No. She – she looks more like her mom…” Completely taken aback by what I had just heard, I once again dawned the expression of disgust, and I along with my partner in unison, turned and peered towards this portly man. He stood at the foot end of the bathtub, ignoring our glares. His sight was transfixed on the sad sight in the tub. Before I could say anything else out of ignorance, something inside me stopped it from happening, and I began to re-examine the entire sequence of events thus far…
I remembered that when explaining how he had come to her door, it was because “THE” family was concerned. Not “her” family. “THE” family… That lead me to recalling his demeanor throughout our time together – somber and defeated. Shoulders slumped forwards and gaze lowered. Telltale signs of grief. It was in that moment that I snapped back into focus, and began looking at his face. His weary face. Lines of worry and the evidence of recent tears were attached to his eyes. He had been crying at some point. This man, the man in front of me, the one who had bore witness to my callousness and aloof behavior was not a building superintendent at all – He was the young woman’s father. And he was not seeing the dead body in the tub the way we were – he was seeing his little girl. The one who grew up to look like her mom… He had found her dead in this tub. He drained the water because he-wanted-to-help…
I cannot think of a time where bravado had vanished so quickly, and replace itself with sheer embarrassment. The precipitous nature of my so-called: “professionalism” was now in my boots, along the floor.
I sheepishly turned my attention away from this man, and once again found myself looking towards this young woman in the tub. That’s how I was feeling; I would rather stare at dead, than acknowledge my horrible interactions with this quietly grieving man. I felt horrible. My whole job as a paramedic, is to provide help and assistance to those in need. The sick. The wounded. The dying. Young and or old. There was nothing I could do for the woman in the tub, she was gone. She was dead. And now, there was nothing I could do for this man who was dying on the inside.
I was likely the last person who could ever provide him with a comforting ear or proverbial: shoulder, to lean on.
In that moment, on that day, that hot summers day, much like today’s, I failed both as a medic, and as a man. As a fellow human being.
That call stuck to me for the rest of my shift that day, and for the years that have since followed. It clings to me today. Right here within the walls of this coffee shop. I gaze out the window and I see the sunlit sky, having felt its bitter heat prior to entering the shop and all I can really see and feel, is a sad man, and a dead girl, while feeling the mortification of remembrance in the form of heat from the sun. I look at the floor and I can see the horrid lines of blood. With each woman who enters through the coffee shop doors, if she is a raven-haired figure, I stare for longer than I should – dead woman walking…
That same sense of embarrassment and guilt fills my veins as it did that day and now, it is released upon this page through written confession – I am a bad medic. A bad Man. Or, at the very least, I have been…
I think if you read this, you can at least concede to the fact that there is enough ammunition to belt-feed my self-loathing for a while. It is undeniable, I failed that man. And that woman.
My embarrassment is joined by a lingering sense of anger. All around me are smiling faces, and I am angry. I am angry because today, and more often than not over this past week, I cannot even mimic a smile, let alone allow for one.
In this life, there are no do-over’s. And I am not even sure if I would want one. Not even in that situation. See, everything we do, good and bad, helps to shape who we are, and how we do things. For me, that lesson learned means I will never, ever, again be so cruel in such a moment of need for anyone else. Had I never gone through this, I would not be able to assure myself of such a thing. Trust me when I tell you, this will never happen again.
Today I hate myself. Tomorrow maybe I won’t. And maybe one day, I can give myself a level of compassion and forgiveness that, that man, that grieving father, showed me on that day? Maybe? …
Until then, cheers! (Holds up a coffee – I’m not drinking remember).
Thank you for sharing that difficult call. I must remind you though you are human. The job can leave us detached from the reality of emotions. It’s no ones fault it’s how we keep going. Sadly it’s these mistakes that bring us back to reality and we learn from them . It sucks it takes such events to learn , but sometimes it’s just how it is. You are not a bad man . You are human.
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