Ma’am, I’m Sorry…

I woke up speaking this morning. I must have been dreaming, but the imagery and sounds and not remembered. I suppose thusly, not important. What is clear and without contestation, is that when I woke, I did so while letting slip spoken orations of a hauntingly poignant apology. This unwitting impulse of speech was spoken to no one and yet, intended for someone very specific. The first thing to greet the new morning were the words, “ma’am, I’m sorry” …

As a paramedic, one of the more intractable things that we have to do, is admit defeat. For in our world, defeat comes in the form of death. Having to then turn and look a stranger in the eyes and mouth the words, “I’m sorry…” is a truly loathsome and piteous thing to do. It becomes even more burdensome when you realize that we leave the dead behind. Paramedic’s do not transport the recently departed. We leave them where they lay.

I was apologizing to an old woman this morning. A woman I had apologized to once before. After all these years I remain unsure as to why the interactions that I had with her now late husband have stayed with me, but it has… I recall it just fine…

It was a call that had come deep into the evening. My partner and I sped through the arteries and veins of the city on our way to this aged couples dwelling. Not knowing what we would face once inside, we readied for anything.

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The story would unfold as such; the couple were in bed together. The grey woman’s husband, rested comfortably within the embrace of their bed pillows, reading passages from one of his books. She sat lovingly next to him, doing the same. She heard her husband take a large inhalation of air before seemingly drifting off to sleep. She recalled smiling at the thought of her dear, Robert having fallen asleep while reading. In her contentment, she continued on, allowing for her eyes to trundle overtop of the lettering that was etched within the pages of her novel. When the satisfying weight of fatigue settled in, she placed her book down on her nightstand, and rolled over to a position of comfort in preparation to allow herself to fall asleep. Feeling slight vexation at the dominant glow of Robert’s bedside lamp, she requested politely that he dim the relucent ambiance. Her pleas went unanswered…

“Robert! The light? Please.” She said. Robert said nothing. After many years of wedded bliss, they each knew how to annoy the other with effortless implementation. Thinking that Robert was having a bit of fun at her expense, or fearing that he had let the batteries on his hearing aids die (again), she rolled into a seated position next to him, and dug a sharp and loving elbow into his ribs so as to ignite him into action of request – Robert did no such thing – Robert didn’t move. What she had heard was not a sleeping Robert’s breath – it was his last.

My partner and I, along with many other uniformed saviors of the night, would show up and stampede through their beautifully laid out apartment. The hollow clunking of footsteps could be heard singing through out the home as we stepped over one another and our medical supplies. She stood in the corner of their home and watched as countless sets of hands pawed all over her breathless Robert.

One med, two meds, three… compression after compression and the pushing of one drug after the other until eventually – stillness. Absolute cessation of movement and breath. Robert was dead, and we had to concede to that defeat. And we did. One by one, together.

There is a strong juxtaposition after running a code; at the start, an army of uniforms come rushing in – at the end, a sullen skulking of retreat occurs. It’s a hell-of-a-thing to see – one hell-of-a-thing to be a part of…

First, the firemen leave. Then, the supervisor. All that remains is the medical shrapnel of a war lost, the bereft, the deceased and… me… the sorrowful medic and his watchful mind.

“Ma’am… I’m sorry…”

Have you ever watched someone’s face fall apart from itself from indescribable suffering? I have. More than once. More than twice… More times than I care to recall right now…

The grey woman started crumbling from within and the descent of her soul dragged her to her knees. She was now introspectively begging into the ether of deaf ears and apathetic listeners. I have heard many people cry in my life. I have heard few that lamented in anguish quite like this old woman. Like an injured wolf, separated from the pack in a desolate landscape. We were the moon, standing and watching.

My partner and I took a knee on either side of this woman. I placed my hand atop of one of her shoulders, feeling the craggy landmarks of bone. Her body bounced spastically beneath my rested hand. I apologized once more for her situation.

“Ma’am, I – I’m deeply sorry for your loss.” Her response was the elongation oration of her husband’s name, “Robert,” spoken just above the level of a whisper.

I stood to my feet as the deep ache in my knees refused me any more empathetic time beside the woman. When I did, I took quick inventory of the pictures that hung on the walls of their quiet little home. Younger versions of a couple in love boasted from rich, decorative frames throughout their place. It appeared as though Robert had been some form of a pilot in his youth, and from what I could tell, the grey old woman had spent most of her life on a farm. A sad irony came to me; a woman of the earth had fallen in love with a man from the sky. The sad part? Her gaze was now firmly cemented downwards… She knew where the flying man would now forever be – embraced by the earth she so loved at one time, no longer soaring beside her…

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I always hated death notifications. In my opinion, they are one of the worst aspects of the job. I remember almost all of them, I think… I certainly remember the grey woman. She knew we were there, you could just tell, but she never spoke another word to us. She had gotten up at one point, and walked over to his side, before collapsing once more. When the police and victim services came, we relinquished control of the scene and snuck back into the bleak cover of the night. Our shift was not over…

I would find myself saying, “I’m sorry,” again that same evening…

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When my shift finally ended, I found myself standing waterside by one of the lakes close to my place. I was still in uniform, the motivation to change at the station had left me by the time we had parked the rig. I stood as the sun began to inch its way into the sky, a tea in hand, and an angry sadness within. The water was calm but my thoughts were anything but…

I looked into the sky, it flaunted a pink and orange magnificence of early morning glow. When I exhaled, I could see the vapor of my breath. I did not feel the chill though. Regretful, yes. Cold? No. I casted a meaningful glare towards the beatific unknown of the sky and said, “Sorry, Robert. I tried, sir… I tried.”

By the time I had finished my tea, it had gone cold. I went home, went to bed, slept for a few restless hours, got up, got dressed and did it all again. That was my job. It was my calling. And although it at times left me feeling sorrowful and sorry, it was my duty to try! And try I did…

This morning when I woke, I said sorry… now you know why. And you know who it was to…

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To the man in the sky, and the woman of the earth…

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