This post took me a while. What I mean is, it has taken me a while to calm down. To come down, to relax, to settle. Even now that I’m “better”, I am taunted by the flashing of emergency lights that have parked themselves immediately outside my window. Let me explain.
It was late into the night, or, early into the morning, depending on how you choose to tell time. I was playing an online shooter with a good friend of mine. We were just discussing how late it was, and how we were both contemplating going to bed. I was wearing my headset so that we could chat and play, my ears were completely covered by the padding and soundproof ear pieces. Despite that though, and despite being mid-sentence, from outside, there was a tremendous clatter. It sounded like thunder had risen from the ground. This told me that it was not the usual passing of heavy transport truck, or street cleaner, no, this was something else entirely.
It was so intrusive that it caused me to remove my headset, and wander over to the window. I glanced inquisitively to the right, and then to the left, and back to the right again. Nothing was there though, at least, not from the limited view I had from my small apartment window. My ears however alerted me to a sound that was also out of the ordinary for my neighbourhood, a slight hissing sound, from somewhere on the street. Feeling intrigued and somewhat assured that something had happened, I tossed a shirt over my head, and placed some shoes on my feet, and exited my apartment.
As I entered into the humid night air, I was instantly met with an odor not easily mistaken – gas, natural gas… With my brows bent in confusion and intrigue, I descended my rickety stairs towards street level. No sooner after having taken one or two steps upon reaching ground level, I observed as a male subject across the street appeared hyper and passionate about whatever he was discussing with whomever was on the other end of his cell phone. As I pulled my gaze away from him, or rather, as my gaze was pulled away from him, I noticed something else that was not at all synonymous to my street – an overturned vehicle. A four-door sedan, overturned and resting on its hood and windshield. That smell, the one I mentioned earlier, the natural gas, it was evident now too, the car must have smashed into one of the meters that hugged the buildings along the other side of the street. The hissing intensified now.
Placed next to the one side of the car, along the road and lining the sidewalk, was a catastrophic display of metal and plastic carnage. It led right to the vehicle of which the tires pointed skyward into the muggy night air.
I was not sure at this moment how many people were inside, or if the man on the phone was involved, though, a quick survey of his crisp white shirt, and stylish designer jeans led me to believe that he was merely a passerby, a concerned citizen. I made eye contact with him and spoke loudly while motioning with my one hand, thumb extended, as was the pinky, as if to be a facsimile of a phone, “911, you on the line with 911? You good?” He affirmed my beliefs and I then instructed him to step back away from the area as the natural gas was still violently hissing into the air. The smell engulfed the entirety of this chaotic scene.
At first, after rapidly taking all of this in, my mind and body recalled the skills of a paramedic, the skills I once used flawlessly at times like these. I began robotically and methodically assessing the scene and its surroundings. Looking for all the hazards and scanning the people to see who was a rubber-necker, and who may be in need of help. The scene was not at all safe, and knew that, but, I needed to know who, or how many people were inside the overturned sedan…
I began placing myself at such an angle so as to see into the vehicle, I couldn’t get too close due to the gas and the mangled unit that used to house it. I needed to know though, if there was anyone still trapped inside, were they alert? How bad were the injuries? Could I even help them? I didn’t have an ambulance nor the tools within. All I possessed was a working knowledge of what needed to be done.
As I allowed for the orange, fluorescent lighting of a nearby street lamp be my guide, I rounded the back of the vehicle and was now privy to see what was inside. It was a single, male occupant in the driver’s side of the overturned wreck. He was upside down and his arms were dangling to the roof that had now the become floor. I continued to round the back of the vehicle, scanning to look for things such as: airbag deployment, intrusion of bent mental into the vehicle, smoke or subtle flames, these were all things that I needed to know.
It was around this time that the driver of this toppled sedan, began speaking. He was looking right at me. I was able to see that he was motioning for me to come nearer to him, and speaking aloud, but that damn hissing, I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. I knew that logically I could not and should not get any closer to him, that gas was as much a danger for him, as it was me. But, my brain said I was so close anyway, just go tell him that help is on the way. So, I neglected safety and broke the cardinal rule of scene survey as first responder, and threw myself into the fringe (DO NOT EVER DO THIS!).
I was now close enough to almost reach inside the driver’s side door. The glass had been smashed out in the commotion. I would know, I was unwittingly surrounded by it. It was like being surrounded by a vioent glitter. That ominous hissing sound, seemed to be growing louder with each passing second. Despite the heavily saturated air around us that was steeped in gas, a new scent began to emerge. It was billowing from inside of the car. Alcohol. It was so potent that for a brief moment, it actually overtook the power of the gas. Through a veil of blood that had drawn itself onto the male occupant’s forehead, he continued barking out at me. I could not understand what he was saying. At first, I assumed it was due to the language barrier, but, it was more so due to the over usage or the letter “s”, and how he placed them onto words that did not need them. His slurred speech, along with his accent, was enough to inform me that I was not going to be able to carry on a conversation with this man. I told him help was on the way, and that I wasn’t going to leave but, just get some distance between me, the gas, and the consequences of his poor decision, his overturned car.
I jogged back to the other side of the street that my apartment was on, and dialed 911 myself. I explained using the correct verbiage that someone with this type of experience and knowledge would, and the operator seemed relieved to be having a conversation about something so sinister, with someone who wasn’t “freaking out”. I felt calm and collected for the moment, and somewhat angry. Angry at the driver who smelled like 100 proof…
While I was on the phone, more passersby, came to realize that something was happening, and a group of males that deemed themselves invincible, and impervious to logic, ran over to the car, and began attempting to pry the door open. Refusing to head my warnings and the warnings of those around them, they flung the door open, and released the drunk man from his crashed reality.
I watched as he staggered along with them to a near by lawn. Feeling as though I should attempt some form of assessment, as well as to inform all parties that they should move further from the area, I walked over, once again neglecting common sense and safety, and placed myself in front of the male who was sitting upright. I called out to him and he struggled to look at me. Not so much due to injury, but because the alcohol that had drowned his coordination was still the most prevalent thing about this situation – other than the possibility of an explosion. That was evident too…
As he began to speak through a jumbled mess of rushed words, I was once again hit by a plume of alcohol, that pushed froth from his mouth. In that moment, as I looked at this bloodied and glossy eyed man, a sudden rush of remembrance came flooding back to me. As if to recall each and every intoxicated call that I had ever been to, I began to freeze. Suddenly I no longer felt in control. The scene was no longer mine (not that I ever was), and the man, this man, the slurring man, was no longer my patient, but, rather a trigger of past experiences.
One by one, the calls came hurdling back to me. He began to cry, and that too brought with it the incessant screams and pleads of those trapped behind mangled metal and noxious fumes. I was quickly becoming a person in need of help myself. I took that as a sign that my “work” was done here, and tucked tail before returning to the other side of the road.
I stood by my apartment, cloaked in the shadows of night. Thinking I was out of sight, and removed from danger, all danger – I wasn’t…
As I began to hear the nearing wails of emergency crews, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I regrettably let my situational awareness go to shit, and thus, allowed for someone unknown, get close enough to touch me. Another cardinal rule broken. My head snapped to the direction from where this intrusion of my personal space had come from, and I was now looking at a blonde-haired girl. She appeared to have been out this night as well, her unsteady wobbling while standing informed me of at least that much, as did the 7-11 hotdog, firmly clasped within her left hand. She was asking me about what had happened, but shortly after she started speaking with her mouth full, I began to paint images of the dead upon her face. Not by choice, but compelled by injury. My injury, my injured brain simply chose to do it. I felt sick to my stomach. I think I just walked away without saying anything. Actually, I know I did. I retreated deeper into the shadows of my ally. I took a squatted position along the brick wall, and allowed my back to rest against the jagged surface. I bowed my head and caught it with my hands. Soon after doing that, the tears came. Only a couple managed to sneak past the defenses of stubborn refusal to allow it, but that was enough.
I briskly stood to my feet, and angrily swiped the tears away with my thumb. As I was doing that, a female firefighter began approaching the sidewalk. She must have seen me as she was now entering into the ally as well. She asked if I lived near by, I motioned with my right hand that I lived upstairs. She said that I should go inside and that if they needed to evacuate the area, she would come and let me know. She turned to return to her duties but just before doing so, she asked “Are you ok?”, it felt as though I hesitated, it felt that way because I wanted to say, no, no I’m not ok… But I didn’t. I nodded my head yes, and then returned to my shanty upstairs.
After I closed the door, I wandered into the living room, I thought to myself that I would watch some TV to distract my mind a bit, but, when I looked at the TV, all I could see coming from behind it, was a spastic array of flickering red and white lights. I burst into tears, and knelt on the floor. I wept and I wept. I got angry, and I shouted. I abused my pillow with a flurry of screams and obscenities. I felt defeated, weak and lost. Like I had lost “it”, the ability to care for others as I had done before, when I was a soldier, and, as a paramedic.
The sun is now beginning to rise, and after hiding in my room to write this, the flickering lights are still there, and so are the ghosts that brought tears to my eyes tonight. Faces of the dead. The smell of poor decisions, and the flickering consequences of them, each reminded me of the world I once lived in, as well as the hell I am currently trapper in.
I won’t be sleeping today. But, I’ll tell you this; I am fucking exhausted. I am tired. I am tired of being tired. I am tired of being so broken and of feeling weak. I am ashamed at who I have become after having been who I once was. I Have worn the uniforms of a hero. I have had the honor of knowing many. Tonight however, and for the past year or more, I am nothing more than a man who hides in the shadows and wipes tears away from his cheeks.
Last I saw by the way, the man was fine. Funny how that works, the drunks always make out alive… it’s everyone around them that’s at risk. Even if it’s just a hydro meter, and a shattered psyche…
I know I am supposed to say that I am sick, not weak, but, right now I feel pretty fucking weak, and a lot God damn broken… I think it’s me who could use a drink…