We arrived at the quiet family home, surrounded by a guardian of trees. They lined the winding and dust-covered driveway. Plumes of pale earth kicked out from beneath our rolling tires, and billowed high into the air from behind our moving ambulance. We were let inside and lead by a despondent young man who would take us to an awaiting bedroom. With a medical bag slung over my right shoulder, I inched passed him with an encumbered finesse, and pushed into the room itself. On the bed lay a woman, a woman who appeared older than her years, generations so. Although it would come to light that she was only in her late fifties, her body appeared weathered and fatigued by almost a thousand or so more. The disease that had taken her hostage had tortured her into becoming a senior much sooner than I am sure she would have liked.
I placed the stout bag down on the floor, and through a series of four, or five steps, inched closer to this frail figure that lay motionless on the bed. The footfalls emanating from my work boots sounded like thunder in those steps leading to her. Standing overtop of her now, I outstretched my right arm with two fingers extended, and placed them on this woman’s neck – I was checking for a pulse. The absence of feeling from my fingers told me that she was dead. There was nothing I nor my partner or anyone could do. She was gone.
I turned my body slightly and peered over my left shoulder, and was confronted by the crestfallen face of the young man who had led us here. He was disappointed because despite knowing better, he had likely held some glimmer of hope that myself or my partner, or a combination of the two, could do something to reverse this utterly doleful situation, but we couldn’t, and he knew that now. I shook my head as I empathetically said that she was had passed away and that there was nothing I could do. Continuing to look at me, he tilted his head sideways and cocked it over his right shoulder just slightly and vociferously let loose the words, “Dad, come here…” Moments after that call was cried, an older version of the young man who was standing in front of us appeared. He too was dejected and looked at us with a worrisome gaze. My partner took the lead with him and placed his hand on the older man’s shoulder and informed him of what the young man had just learned. That his wife, and the boy’s mother, was dead.
Trying to fight back tears, he choked on a couple of words before turned and retreating back into the family room. Shortly after he disappeared, I could hear moans of grief escalate throughout the halls. There were multiple voices crying out while saying “no, no, not now!?”
I bent my knees slightly and retrieved the bag of now useless medical supplies from the floor, and once again slung it over my shoulder. As I did that, the young man removed himself from the doorway, and proceeded into the grieving masses in the living room. I skulked passed the frame photographs that hung in the hallway, and made my way to the front door where we came in. My partner would remain inside and await my return so that we could finalize the call with the family as well as make a graceful exit from grief. After placing the bag back into the ambulance, I made my way back into the house, using the persistent sounds of sorrow to guide me into the living room.
In that living room, was a mixture of young and old, male and female, all collectively embraced by sadness. They were all consoling one another while politely assisting us with our paper work. Paper work, it all seemed to intrusive and meaningless in moments like these, but it was protocol and something we could not avoid. The family was kind and patient with us.
I took the lap top from my partner, and began cataloging the mass amounts of medication that belonged to the newly deceased. As I was doing that, another woman in her fifties, the deceased woman’s sister, approached me and while handing me a health card that my partner must have requested, said “these kinds of things must be hard to do?” … she was referencing our presence and the job we were tasked with in moments like this one. I simply nodded in agreement and explained that I was sorry for her loss. I never knew how to react when people suffering tragedy took time from their pain to check on ours.
Soon after that encounter, she began telling me a story about her sister, the dead woman in the bedroom, she began by “Oh, you should have met her when she was healthy, she would have had you blushing, she loved a man in uniform”. Once again, not knowing how to react, I smiled and that it would have been nice to of met her, as she seemed like a nice person. What else could I say!?
As she managed to sneak in a chuckle, other members of the family joined in with stories and statements of their own regarding the absent woman. At first, it all related to myself and my partner and how she would be flattered to have two “handsome” men make such a fuss of her, and then, stories of how the husband, the other man we had met earlier, first met his now deceased wife. Smiles and the occasional guffaw, lathered in somber tone were released by the family members. As my partner and I remained in the home, we learned of the type of lady she was, and how she had lived her all to brief life. In those moments, I remember thinking that it really would have been nice to meet her when she was alive, she seemed like a kind person. She was certainly loved, and seemed to love as justly in return. A rarity in this life.
When all was said and done, we made our departure from this kind family home, now burdened by sadness, and began our trip back to station. On arrival, I remember standing by the metal garage door, with my finger hovering over the ‘close’ button, and decided that instead of closing the door, I wanted to sit outside for a while. It was a crisp autumn day but, the chill of the outside air was of little concern to me. I made my way to the staff bench when I sat alone on the table-top, and as I looked out at the orange and red foliage of changing October leaves, I attempted to decompress from the emotional weight of that call we had just been to. I say tried because, as I was doing that, an incessant ‘buzzing’ began chirping from my hip – it was the pager, we had another trip. We always had another trip.
I am not really sure what made me think of this lady today? I did not have a dream about her, and I do not think that this was what I would consider a traumatic call, but for whatever reason, as I was walking the city streets with coffee in hand, I just came across her in my mind…
I suppose it’s likely because with all the calls that I have been on over my career, I have never really taken time to digest them. Never really had time to think of them or what they meant to me. I never really had time to. I was either off on another trip, or I was at home in a broken relationship, or masking my other trauma by smothering it in a deep sea of booze. I am no longer on ambulance so, there is no ‘next call’ there is only call after call, of where I have already been. Ironically, now it seems I am the patient in need of assessment and treatment.
I will say this though, thinking about her, the lady in the bed, is a much easier and somewhat gentler thought that a lot of the things that I am forced to remember.
Like I said, I am not sure why I thought about her today, but, maybe in doing so, I will learn to heal. And if I can heal from the most benign of call, perhaps I can in turn heal from the most nefarious of ones as well…