So, This Is Christmas

The warm torrent of falling water gently manipulated itself around my hands before encircling the drain and gurgling into the unknown. I had been standing at the sink washing my hands and wrists for entirely too long, I knew that. But part of me was imprisoned by thought. There was an aspect of me that was still standing on a snow-covered highway beneath the blanket of night, my gloved hands stained in blood. The blood of the innocent. The crimson of a child…

I didn’t shut the water off once my mind returned to me and said that I was home. It kept running. Instead, I simply withdrew my hands, stepped away from the sink and lowered myself to the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. There I sat with my back against the door, thoughts racing the falling water to see which was faster. Thoughts for sure…

In that moment, beneath the grey hue of an early winter’s morning, I was half man, half medic. My paramedic shirt was crumpled to the floor in front of me. My uniform pants still worn; half man, half medic. I hadn’t even taken my boots off at the door – something that I always ensured to do – I refused to bring the dead inside… not the case on this day.

I was alone. Well, kind of… I could still see the face of that woman…

My girlfriend was not home, she said that she was working, but that was not the case – she was where she often was – with another man… So, there I sat, me and the dead girl, together in my bathroom. Looking up at the window, watching as the snow began to fall heavy once more. Heavy like it had earlier in the night. As I stared out my window, I began to wonder if she too had been looking out hers when that awful thing happened…

I looked down at my wrists, they were naked and damp. We were days away from Christmas, and this felt more like Hell and not at all like Yuletide town.

What happened in the night was a horrible car accident. Or as we [paramedic’s] call it, MVC – motor vehicle collision. It happened on a long stretch of highway just outside city limits. The sky had let loose a blanket of winter in the form of heavy snow. It fell relentlessly and seemingly with no end. Even while driving carefully and skillfully in the ambulance, our weighted vehicle drifted from side to side atop the accumulating flakes sent from on high.

We, my partner and I were at station when the call came in. The call notes were unremarkable and not unlike anything that we had already responded to that shift. I hopped in the driver’s side and pressed the overhead button to raise the undulating bay door. As the metal door defied gravity and ascended to allow us freedom, both Ryan and I remarked at the ferocity at which the snow was coming down. Not quite a blizzard, but not far off.

Ryan told me that we had a little-ways to go but never once told me to ‘drive safe,’ he knew I’d get us there, and he knew I’d get him home to his family at the end of the night. And I would.

I heard the chime of our centre console sing to life, meaning that we had dispatch updates. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Ryan was reading the evolving information, but he remained reticent. I refused to take my eyes off of the road and simply continued pushing onward towards the scene.

After driving for a lengthy period of time, Ryan broke his silence, “okay, so, we have a two-vehicle collision, car versus front-end loader – not good…” He was right, it wasn’t. The car had slammed into the loader from behind after losing control on a patch of black ice. After crashing into the behemoth, the car was sent off the road and into the air before coming to rest in a plume of thick, damp, powdery snow at the bottom of an embankment.

When we arrived, the driver of the loader was stood beside his vehicle looking as white as the falling snow. He remarked on how he had tried to get down and check on whomever was inside the now mangled car, but stated that his “damn” legs weren’t good enough to get him down and up. Ryan requested that I grab the trauma gear and the spinal kit, I obliged.

By the time that I had retrieved the necessary gear, Ryan was already half-way down the sloping hill. The snow was up to his waist in some places – and Ryan was 6’2” …

As I bound down the hill, I began to feel even if just ephemerally, a tremendous amount of likeness to that of a soldier in Vietnam, trudging through hip-high bogs of swamp bed while holding the gear above so as to keep it safe. The juxtaposition between my thoughts and the reality were that I was not at all anywhere warm, nor was I surrounded by dense jungle or awaiting enemies – I was ploughing through unkempt soaring blades of grass that had been buried by an uncompromising snowfall, and the temperature was falling almost as fast as the sky itself.

I managed to get to where Ryan was and when I noticed that he was at the driver’s side I parlayed around to the passenger compartment to see if anyone else was in the vehicle. I also cast a meaningful gaze outward and away from the vehicle to see if there had been anyone ejected from the car itself. The snow made this a difficult task to complete. I placed the gear down beside me and withdrew my flashlight before shining it into the twisted frame of the passenger side window. There she was… the girl who didn’t know that she was about to die…

Her face was badly beaten by the experience. Her hairline had been pushed back by an insidious laceration that flaunted exposed flaps of fat and skin. Tiny bubbles grew and dispersed in the sea of blood that rested at the corners of this girl’s lips. It’s as though her blood was on boil, but it wasn’t; she was however desperately trying to find air. I looked up and over the roof of the car and locked eyes with Ryan. I orated what I had observed and no sooner after hearing it, Ryan pressed the key on his mic and requested that we have air ambulance sent to our location. After his request, he looked at me and I to him, without saying a word we both feared that there was no way they would be able to fly in this weather. In that realization, Ryan requested two more units and a supervisor ‘hot,’ meaning lights and sirens response.

I worked to stabilize the female passenger. It was just Ryan and I on scene at this point, so really there was very little that we could do.

Fire would show up first, then the other ambulances and the supervisor. And as if by some divine Christmas miracle, the snow would ease and the pilots had a window of opportunity to fly towards us.

The woman in the passenger seat was air-lifted to the closest trauma centre. Our patient was now the driver. She was also the mother of the passenger. She didn’t know it yet, but her daughter was dead. We hadn’t pronounced her, but we just knew – I knew…

The ascent up the hill with this woman was a struggle. It was physically exhaustive and to this day one of the more difficult extrications that I have ever been a part of. Her heft did not make the situation any easier and nor did the snow. Our delay in extrication and departure meant that the media had time to arrive and then shove their cameras in our faces as we worked to get this woman from the snowy grave and into our ambulance.

The driver, the mother, she would live. She had sustained relatively and miraculously minor injuries, considering…

At the hospital while Ryan did his paper work, I cleaned, restocked and mopped the ambulance. It was during the final removal of a pair of gloves that my eyes caught sight of something peculiar about the pigmentation of my hands. I threw an elongated stare at the palms and backs of my hands only to come to the horrid realization that what I was looking at was dried elements of blood – their blood. The blood of a mother and her dead kid… Their sanguineous essence reached as far as my wrists. I felt sick to my stomach. I made a direct line towards the hospital bathroom and flung myself into it before closing the door behind me. I rubbed and I pulled at my skin begging for the removal of this heinous ink blot. As the water drenched my hands, the alabaster porcelain became anathematized by pink water. But worse still, strands of this woman’s hair that had become stuck to my skin and held by the hands of her dried blood, fell and mocked me from the bottom of the sink. I caught the sick in my mouth, and held on for a second before swallowing. I clenched by eyes tight so as to block out the world. I finished washing my hands and returned to the truck… I never said a word to Ryan… to anyone… until now…

At home, I am not sure how long I stayed seated for on the bathroom floor, but it was long enough to eventually fall asleep in that position. I had woken to a swarm of angrily unanswered text messages from my habitually unfaithful girlfriend. I ignored them.

I changed into my pajamas and washed my hands once more before crawling into bed. There I sat, propped up by a few pillows, beer in hand and thoughts still racing into the ether. Wanting them to cease, I turned the TV on and found the Holiday music channel. In a painful snatch of my ears, the words of the song that was playing began to ring within them;

So, this is Christmas…

Indeed, it is, I thought. Indeed, it is. I then rolled over, went to sleep, woke up, got dressed and went back to work – my tour was not over – and neither was Christmas.

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