Our day would end with 2.5 hours of overtime, followed by a long night at the bar with a whiskey glass that never ran empty. Before that though, it would see us standing within a basement office, sandwiched between a dead man in a chair, and a bereaved inconsolable woman. Trapped by both grief, and death, it would be two and a half hours spent inside of a home that the Reaper had just mercilessly torn apart…
There was a deep chill in the air on that autumn afternoon. The kind of cold that would lick its way up your spine should you find yourself outside for any length of time. This made for a rather unpleasant walk from the ambulance, to the front door of this modest home that we had been called to. I found myself performing a side-to-side shuffle while bobbing in place in a futile attempt at keeping warm as we awaited an answer to our knocks at the old Victorian styled door.
Our call to answer would come. The door flung open and as it did, a frantic woman standing inside would reveal herself to us. Her cheeks were inflamed and stained from a recent glazing of tears. She welcomed us in with a series of circular hand motions that beckoned for us to enter, and to do so quickly. After we did, she took the lead and said, “he’s in the basement, I don’t know – he’s not moving, I – I couldn’t get him to the floor like the lady on the phone asked me too – he’s too heavy for me. Help me please”. Her words conveyed the seriousness of what she had witnessed prior to our arrival, so I readied myself for a scrap against the Reaper. A foe I had tangled with many times before. He is cold, unforgiving and not always a fair adversary to face off against. But for certain, a hawkish one.
The clunking of our weighted footfalls echoed off of the narrow walls leading down to the basement as we descended the stairs. The despondent woman was leading until we three reached the bottom of the basement steps. She then stood aside and motioned for us to proceed to the right, and towards the doorway that billowed light into the darkened hallway. It was subsequently the only room with a light on so, the already ominous feeling of navigating through a dreary and unfamiliar basement was intensified slightly within my stomach. As I neared that glowing room, the hairs on the back of my neck pulled away to the opposite direction, as if to say ‘no’.
I was the first to enter, and when I did, I was confronted by the sight of a man who was lazily propped up within an expensive office chair. His arms dangled to his sides, and his head canted to one side. It took one look to understand that this was no longer a man, but rather a male body of the recently departed. This man was dead. His deep, black eyes made this irrefutably clear.
My partner and I followed through with our due-diligence however, and confirmed with assessment and equipment that indeed, the Reaper had come before we had, and left with this man. As I turned to leave the room and inform the woman in the hall of our sad findings, I was stopped in my tracks as she was now standing somberly in place at the door way, peering in towards my partner, myself, and the body of the man in the chair. When she became aware that neither I, nor my partner appeared to be doing much of anything other than packing away our electrodes, she became visibly perplexed. It was at that moment that I knew what I had to do – I had to inform this sad, confused and anxious woman that her husband was dead. That there was nothing I or anyone could do to fix that. And that’s exactly what I did. I opened my mouth and let loose the words that she had been fearing the most. I watched as her mouth grew wider into the shape of an “O” in disbelief. I swear, I could hear all of her breath escape her, and fall to the floor along with her hopes for a different outcome.
As I stated before, we were now trapped between a dead man in a chair, and a heartbroken woman in a doorway. Sometimes the absence of sound can be among the loudest things you will ever hear, and sometimes, not. In this case, the wailing screams of pain and despair that roared from this woman’s “o” shaped mouth, were to this day, some of the loudest things I have ever heard. Her screams were akin to gunshots and explosions. A true cacophony of pain, and we could do nothing other than stand there, trapped between death, and grief.
After several minutes of standing in place, I shot my partner a glance, and he held it for a few moments as we conversed silently with one another. We knew that we had to regain control of the scene, and with that, I walked over to the woman, and placed my hand on her shoulder. I began speaking softly and empathically, as I told her how sorry we were for her loss. I made the suggestion to relocate to the upstairs living room, she complied without breaking in her wails and screams. She walked with us and then collapsed onto the couch. Now, all that could be heard, was the muffled sounds of anguish escaping through the cushions and the humming of heated air, chanting its way through the vents of the floor. Ironically, I no longer cared if I was warm or not.
I spoke into my radio, and informed dispatch that we would need 10-3’s, which is code for police, to our location. This was now their call, and they would have to take over. And that’s where the wait began. The city was on fire, meaning that it was immensely busy, and thus, no available units to send to something deemed somewhat “low priority”.
In the time we spent waiting, my partner was initiating the documentation of this call, and the woman had gained enough composure to stumble over to the phone on the wall, and begin dialing. I stood there helplessly grazing throughout the living room. That was until I heard another gunshot of grief billow from the base of this woman’s lungs. I snapped my head towards where the sound was coming from, and she was now on her way to one knee while holding the phone up in the air towards me. She was begging me to take the phone and speak to whomever was on the other line. It would turn out to be her son, her now fatherless son…
I clasped the phone within my hand and looked down towards the unhinged woman who now sat on the floor at my feet. As I took the phone, she melted into my leg, enveloping her arms around my ankle, and resting her head by my boot. I was now in a stranger’s home, with a dead man downstairs, a bereft woman trapping me with vine-like manacles to her floor, and a confused, metallic voice breaking through the tiny holes on the receiver of a phone, seeking answers. This was about as unpropitious a situation as there was to be in.
As the voice on the other end of the phone continued to bark, I slowly raised the receiver to my ear, and heard the shaky-male-voice, rapidly requesting clarity as to what was going on. I won’t lie, in that moment, dead didn’t seem like a bad way to be. I was now tasked with the deed of having to either lie, or perpetuate confusion by telling the man on the other end of the phone limited details, or become a voice that broke through his end of the line, telling him that he was now a man without a father… After several deflection techniques and exchanges of looks with my partner, I had to concede to the fact that I was once again within the span of several minutes, going to deliver a death notification.
“Sir, as I said, I am with the paramedic service, and I am really sorry but, your father has passed away…”
Now it was as though my words had shot him. He was silent. I knew he was still there as I could still hear the panting respirations coming from the speaker by my ear. My partner placed a hand on my shoulder and said, “Good job Matty, not easy”. He knelt beside the woman at my feet and provided whatever comfort he could. It was enough so that her grip loosened, and I was able to break free. I continued the unpleasant conversation with the fatherless man on the phone, and we agreed that when he was able to, he should drive to the residence, and be with his mother.
It seemed as though all was proceeding as well as it could but, time continued to pass, and still, no police. This was bad because, it allowed for enough time for more phone calls to be made, and more people to begin pouring into the residence. With each one that came, the same story told with different tone was to be recited. A story that culminated in, “he’s dead”, followed by waves of tears and cries of denial. Among those who would show up before the police, the man who I had only known as a voice, the son. A tall, and handsome man, whose looks had been washed away by tears of his own. He entered into the living room, almost as if to ignore the presence of both my partner and I. We had now been pushed back to where the kitchen met the small corridor to the living room. In those moments where you are stuck on scene while others grieve, it is almost impossible not to feel like an intruder. A helpless intruder.
The son made his way over to my partner and I and requested to see his father. This was not something that we should allow as police still had not arrived and since this was an unexpected home death, it was to be treated the same as if to be a homicide. It wasn’t, we knew that, but it’s just how things are done. We informed him of this, but his fleeting patience gave way to agitation and subtle aggression. He informed us that he was going to see his father, and in doing so, he brushed passed both my partner and I. Knowing that I had to keep continuity of scene, I once again found myself descending the stairs to the mortuary of a basement, only now it was I who was stood helpless in a door way.
I stood just to the side of the doorway to be more accurate. I felt as though I needed to allow for this man to grieve in peace for a few moments. I heard as he struggled to keep his pain silent and hidden away from prying ears and eyes, me. Once he had finished doing what he had to do, he flew out from the room, and ascended the stairs in about the same amount of time as it takes to blink. I followed suit, and returned to my perch by the kitchen and living room.
The police did eventually come, and we were allowed to leave, but, not before two and a half hours, a phone call, multiple consolations of distraught people, and death notifications had been staggered through.
When I got home, it was to an empty house. My wife of the time was no where to be seen or heard, and her phone was just as elusive, I was alone. Soon, the silence within the walls of my home became so deafening that I could no longer stand it. So, I grabbed my keys, got into my car, and drove almost instinctively to the pub. I needed noise, and distraction because without it, all I heard was the ghastly wailing of grief stricken voices.
I sat at the bar and shamelessly flirted with Amber, the bar tender, while coasting through glass after glass of bourbon. Eventually the ghostly cries of the day faded into the warm static of intoxication.
My wife would eventually find the time to retrieve her phone and see fit to call me. After several ignored calls and unanswered text messages, she scoured the bars that she knew of, and found me sitting atop of a metal framed barstool, spilling thoughts into my drink, but not missing a drop from the glass itself. Despite the fact that my wife, who was out with another man (as I would come to learn some years later) she still retained the temerity to scold me for my current state. I didn’t mind though, even her shrill voice was better than what I had been subjected to earlier in the day.
I went home and became one with the couch. There wasn’t a sound to be heard post being yelled at so, I drifted away.
I started thinking about this today because when I left my house to go grab a coffee and exchange flirtatious glances with the barista’s, I stepped onto the sidewalk and as the wind blew, I became aware that today was a chilly autumn day. The kind of day that if found outside for any length of time, a chill, will find you, and lick its way up your spine…