Please, Won’t You? …

The room was heavy in anticipation. All eyes were on us. Thing is, we were not the main attraction at all… In fact, we were desultory witnesses too, in a way… the only difference being that we had an onus of responsibility to interact with the show unfolding before us all. Willful participants to a pageantry that we never asked for. As such, the gapes and expectations of onlookers rested atop of our skin. Like it or not, we were now inexplicably linked to the horror show being masterfully conducted by the callous manipulations of, The Reaper.

 

Frantic and fleeting pants of breath escaped an old woman’s chest. She watched through a gaze of consternation as our hands pawed and pried at her lifeless husbands blanched and timeworn body. He had collapsed to the floor. This was the causation of our invasion to this couple’s home. It was early in the morning, but late in our shift, we had been going all night. I had even remarked to my partner as to how dead I felt prior to this call. Needless to say, I didn’t feel that way anymore. I felt very much alive, alive and busy…

 

The story told was that the couple had woken at their usual time and the husband had dutifully gone outside to shovel off the steps leading into their home so that his wife may have easier access and egress of their humble abode. “A hard worker,” she said. Upon his return inside, he sat at the kitchen table with gleeful anticipation of his wife’s famous breakfast. She could tell something was wrong by how long it was taking him to finish the food on his plate. She assumed that he had just overworked himself with shoveling the steps, there had been a heavy snowfall recently. She told him to go lay down on the couch and that she would clean up and come check on him in a few minutes – he never made it to the couch…

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When we entered through the archway of their sanctuary, we did so via the assistance of freshly shoveled steps – a dead man’s last deed – he was lain on the floor. A sight easily discovered immediately upon entry of their home. We got to work right away. Clothing was ripped from limbs and body; stickers and leads were placed onto the ashen chest of the fallen ploughman and needles of life pierced his clammy skin. Two ambulance crews, a shift supervisor, a fire captain and his men, all indebted to the grey cadaverous man.

 

I assisted with packaging this man for transport. The shift supervisor said that he was going to hop in with my partner and take one of the other medic’s, and requested that I use the SUV ambulance to follow in behind with the wife in tow. I obliged.

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I slammed the back doors of the ambulance, closing them tightly together and watched as the ambulance screamed away from the scene with a prodigious wail of angry sirens cutting through the cold bite of a winter’s air. I observed for long enough to feel satisfied that they were underway safely, I then retreated up the shaven steps and into the well-kept home. Upon entry, I could see that the old woman was frazzled and befuddled as to what came next. She had just watched as a team of uniformed strangers, some well rested, and some well-worn from the night prior, whisk her lifeless husband away from their home. His breakfast was still warm…

 

I could see that she was unclear on what to do. She threw glances at the plates on the table and then over to the sink as if to be pondering as to weather she should clean up a bit. She would then sheepishly cast a gaze towards me, never quite looking at me in the eye, always at my chest. I figured she was doing this because eyes are personal, they tell no lies – and if she were to look into mine, she would then know, know that this is not just a bad dream – that we really did just take her husband away.

 

I softened my tone and empathy tamed my brow. I spoke to her. I told her that I would take her to the hospital to be with her husband. She greeted my oration with a nod of acknowledgement. She gathered a few essential things and then walked towards me as if to be ready to leave. I outstretched my arm, it acted like an undulating bar of a parking garage, she needed a jacket, all she was wearing was a nighty.

 

“Oh, yes – yes, I suppose I do need a coat, don’t I…”

 

“Yes, ma’am. It’s pretty cold out”.

 

I could hear the shifting of fabric rubbing against itself as she burrowed into the closet and began searching for an appropriate wear. Her hands were failing her, they were shaking as if to be leaves in autumn – barely holding on…

 

“Ma’am, may I? Can I help you?”

 

“Oh… I, uh, I need a jacket, don’t I?” …

 

“Yes… Ma’am, you do” …

 

And with that, I reached in to the chasm of coats and retrieved one that appeared her size. She donned the winter-wear and followed me into the cold chill of a vengeful frost. The unmistakable crunching of snow lamented beneath our careful footfalls. I led her to the passenger side of the SUV and once secured, I traipsed with purpose around to the driver side. I toggled the switch to ignite the emergency lights, we were not supposed to drive lights and sirens with a passenger, but I felt that traffic lights would be more akin to further torture to this shaking old woman. I broke protocol. Fuck protocol…

 

I began driving with haste away from the family home and onward to the hospital where her husband awaited – in one condition or another…

 

As I said before, it was early, so traffic was sparse and thus made for a speedy trip. Hollow cries bellowed from the wailing sirens as I pushed closer and closer to the hospital. The call had taken place in a far northerly sect of the city, this meant for a longer run than typical when working in the heart of the city.

 

As I drove, I could hear sullen sobs of bargaining with reality come from the old woman seated next to me. I could also feel her stare slap against me from time to time. On one such-a-time, she spoke;

 

“P-p-please? …”

 

“Ma’am?”

 

“P-p-please, won’t you?”

 

“Ma’am… I – I’m not sure what you mean?”

 

“Is he going to die? Harold – is he going to die?” She spoke again, “Please – won’t you tell me? Please”.

 

There was a brief unspoken pause between us. When looked at through the lens of retrospection, it seems to last forever…

 

“Ma’am, they’re working on your husband, doing everything they can, okay?”

 

“Yes, b-but, is he going to die? Please? Is he?”

 

I knew the answer… I did. But what the hell am I supposed to say when driving highspeed on a slippery roadway with a grief-stricken woman who was now newly anointed into widowhood? Unbeknownst to her… for now…

 

“Ma’am, you got the best in the city working on your husband right now. My partner is amazing. She – well, I’d let her work on my family – I would…”

 

“So, he’s going to be alright then?” …

 

This is what’s known as an impossible win – I cannot rightly devastate her while sat next to me, I am driving an emergency vehicle ravenously through what is normally a brash, bustling city – and I cannot lie to her. Paramedic’s cannot lie! I cannot lie. So, what the fuck do I say while concentrating on the road and the old woman? … Nothing. At least, nothing that she wants to hear. I simply deflect. And I continued to do so all the way to the hospital.

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When we arrive, I assist the old woman out of the SUV and walk her into the emergency bay. I speak with the triage nurse, informing her of who I am and more importantly, who she, the old woman is. The nurse kindly escorts the old grieving woman into the quiet room. As she does that, I catch sight of my partner down the hall, standing outside of the trauma room. I gallop down the hallway towards her and when close enough I ask, “So, what’s the word?” She continues coiling the cords of our monitor and wiping them clean with the sani-wipes; “They just called it.”

 

Calling it, is a term we use when the doctors have pronounced death to a person. In this case, death to the old man. The woman would get her answer soon enough. I know this, because I heard her muffled yell escape through the closed wooden door of the quiet room. A name that now seems ironic to me…

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I always hated having the answer when being probed by someone as to if their loved one was dead. It is am impossible scenario to win.

 

I helped Amber clean up the rest of our gear and the truck, handed the SUV keys back to the shift supervisor and drove back to the station.  By the time I had gotten home, I had worked almost three-hours of overtime atop of a twelve-hour shift.

 

I came home and cracked a beer and sat on the couch in absolute silence for a while. My spouse of the time must have heard me come home and then became perplexed as to why I had not yet met her in bed. I could hear her coming down the stairs. Once she caught sight of me and my opened beer, she looked at me and asked if I was coming to bed. I informed her that I was, and she asked when? I spoke as if to be defeated and indicated that I was not sure, soon, maybe. She said, “Please…” I raised my head, and was taken aback to see that the beautiful figure of my girlfriend had been replaced by an ephemeral transposition of an old woman saying, please… please… won’t you…

 

With a single blink, the sight of my girlfriend returned.

 

“I’ll be up in a bit.”

 

“Whatever, Heneghan… you know I have to work today, ‘be nice to cuddle with you, you know?!”

 

“Yeah… sorry…”

 

She was right, she did have to work that day, and it would be nice to cuddle… but she didn’t seem to care that I had JUST finished working, and was already being cuddled – cuddled by a grey ghost and a grieving widow…

Sometimes I can still hear someone asking ‘please,’ as I am trying to fall asleep. It is not just the old woman who has stabbed me with such a request. But she is someone I remember.

 

I am sure by now she has joined her husband… so I wish she’d stop asking. The answer is not mine to give…

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