I do not like large crowds. It’s been that way for a while. There are likely a myriad of different reasons and justifications for this. But instead of boring you with copious anecdotal monologues, I will share with you one reason that motivates my disdain for the hoards. But please know this: there are many. And they are set deep into the marrow of my bones.
It was late into the night, yet only mid-way through our shift when the call came in. Both Jason and I remarked in unison a shared sigh of begrudging exhalation upon seeing the call notes from dispatch…
“Alpha 5, Alpha 5, you are responding to a rave for an eighteen-year-old male: Breathing difficulties. ETOH+++ (lots of alcohol) and has ingested Molly (short for: Ecstasy)” Raves were always notoriously busy and sure to spit out high numbers of striplings that had overdosed on one thing or another. Tonight was no different—we had heard a steady stream of calls blurt through our radios all evening regards this psychotomimetic affair. I guess now it was our turn.
Jason was driving, so he flipped the switch on the centre console and ignited our ambulance into a glorious nictation of vibrant reds and whites. I felt myself sink deeper into the seat as the ambulance began to accelerate. The angry growl of a racing engine attempted to compete with the wail of our sirens—it’s a toss up as to which was winning.
The call was located at one of the busiest nightclubs in the city, so it was sure to be a fucking frenzy in there. Previous experience informed me that I was about to walk into a sea of sweaty, half-naked costumed dancers, bouncing around with no care for their surroundings and no regard of my purpose for being there. I felt a swell of agitation expand within my stomach. I unwittingly began to grip the laptop in my hand a little tighter as a result. Jason subsequently tossed forth his verbal confirmation of unease as well;
“Fuckin hate raves! Bunch-a fuckin animals… ‘Tell ya, one of em grabs me tonight, they’re getting a size thirteen up their fuckin asses!”
“Lube or no lube?”
“Tears are a natural lubricant; they can deal with that!”
The feeling in the car was a mutual antipathy for these things. Apart from the statements already aforementioned, events like these would often see medics assaulted or placed into situations that boasted needless risk or injury. Drugs and alcohol are never a good combination, despite the promulgated fallacy of peace and love that is so often touted by rave goers.
When we pulled up to the venue, and before ever stepping out of the truck, I could feel the punitive percussion of the bass escaping the walls of the nightclub. It slithered passed my skin, tissue and bones. I took one deep, concentrated breath, and opened the door. Instantly my ears were bullied by the muffled staccato of one song bleeding into the next. We’d arrived alright…
“Hey!” A voice cried out, “This way, I’ll lead you in, it’s crazy in there.” A hired security guard for the event bellowed over to us.
“Tellin’ ya—size thirteen, up the ass!” Jason reiterated his plan for those inside should they choose to interfere with our business. Which I feared they would, wittingly or otherwise.
We lumbered nearer to the front door of this massive square structure; our gear strewn atop of our shoulders. As the security guard pulled back on the doors, there was an instant waft of vodka, sweat and a conglomerate of cheap perfumes and colognes that poured out with the vibrations from inside. It was now too loud to hear any spoken word between Jason and I, so sightline was paramount. We had to move as one. Having military training helped with moving through crowded places as a unit. However, raves are a different beast. Once inside, you are often confronted by disassociated youth, pawing at one another or being hypnotically drawn to the beam of your flashlight. This rave was no exception—smiley teens began fawning towards us. One girl grabbed onto my utility belt and began pulling me towards her. I removed her hand as passively as I could, but when she grabbed onto me from behind, I jerked sharply and used an open hand to push her back into the entranced expanse. This caused a few protestations from onlookers, but nothing of significance.
We painstakingly sidled our way through bare chested men and women that jostled against us without care nor acknowledgment, making our way towards the back of house.
This event was so large, that the organizer had actually hired on site medics for the festivities. We were led up a spiraling staircase and then confronted by two men donned in medic wear. They began to speak but I could not hear a word they were saying. No matter how close I leaned in, their words became lost in the dull bounce of an angry subwoofer. We then relied on hand gestures and visual cues at what had been done for the patient. The patient in this case, was a young man of thin frame. He was lain supine on the floor; no shirt, white pants and a pair of angel wings that he had been wearing rested beside him. Although the lighting was poor and ever changing, it was easy to see that he was not well. I could see literal beads of sweat shimmer on his skin as the spastic lights overhead trundled atop of his exposed flesh. He looked as though he had just taken a shower and forgotten to use a towel.
The elevator in the building was not working and thus the only egress from where we stood, was down the stairs and straight back through the mosh of ravers. Upon this realization, Jason beckoned me with a stare, upon noticing his call he mouthed the words:
I looked over my shoulder and took inventory of what lay ahead—an aggressive ocean of apathetic people… Fuck. Me.
The young man was able to walk, but only when heavily supported by people on either side. And even with that, his gait was akin to that of a newborn baby calf. When I shined the light into his eyes, I swear I could see into the back of his skull, his pupils were so dilated.
Once more we entered the fray and pushed our way through. And once again, unwelcomed hands began pawing and pulling at the bags on our shoulders, our radios and our shirt collars. When I felt the tickle of fingers against my neck, I snarled angrily and turned my head to see who was clawing at me. Once again, a teen with goofy expression stood with outstretched hands, zombie-like. Toughbook (laptop) in hand, I pressed it into the centre of her chest and pushed back angrily so as to gain space. Her intoxicated state caused her to mishandle the applied force and thus, she stumbled and fell to the floor beneath her. This sparked a flash-mob of virtuous white-knights to challenge me, Jason and the accompanying security.
There was now a flurry of expletives and spit lobbied in our direction. The grabbing hands now felt more forceful and nefarious. This quickened our pace, much to the dismay of our fallen angel of a patient.
Eventually, we would break through the seal of the doors and push into the outside. Confronted by a crisp night’s air, I took a welcomed breath of fresh autumn breeze. We got the patient into the back of the ambulance and began hooking him up to our monitors while giving him oxygen and I.V. fluids. While in the back, one of the security guards opened the side door and poked his head in. He said that the patient’s girlfriend was outside and wanted to go with him to the hospital. I said “sure” and told him to sit her up front in the passenger seat.
Jason remained in the back with the sweat stricken young man and I hopped up front and began to drive to the trauma hospital. Our job was now to get him to the doctor as soon as possible. And that’s exactly what I did.
Speeding along the main arteries of the city, I navigated with equal parts skill and haste in and out of stalled lanes of traffic. Along the way, the young man’s girlfriend poked me with query as to weather or not her love would be alright. He was sick and in a bad way, but I could not tell her one way or the other how things were going to turn out. So, I offered a generic and sneakily dismissive retort:
“Jason is one of the best, he’s back there working on him and we will get him to the hospital.”
This was typically enough to satiate the concerned curious. And luckily for me, it was good enough this time also.
When we arrived at the hospital I pulled up and into the emergency bay. There was a virtual graveyard of ambulances frozen in place because there was not enough room in the inn for the number of sick and wounded. As such, there was another crowd to compete with—the self delivered walking wounded that stood in wait at triage, and the medics along with their patients who remained in the purgatory of the hallways.
We had called ahead, so the hospital was expecting us. They had a trauma room set aside, so we wheeled on by bewildered and the stoic. Once inside, the flurry of nurses and doctors took over care. Jason and I orated loudly as to the events that brought us here and as they listened, they removed the young man from our stretcher and placed him onto a hospital bed. Machine and tubes were disconnected and reconnected along with spoken orders given.
Everything was going fine as far as I could tell. Right up until the pernicious alarm bell of a monitor began to squeal with repetition. The sweat soaked angel had stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating. His skin stopped glistening. I reached over and began to administer chest compressions.
One, two, three, four, five…
All the way to thirty, then thirty more. And just as it was about time to start again, the orders came to stop everything. All hands stopped moving. All feet stopped shuffling. A physician with fatigued gaze looked upon the face of a clock and recited its numbers—this was the time of death.
I stepped back from the side of the bed and took sight of what lay feet in front of me. A lifeless, shirtless boy with white jeans rested atop of a bed now burdened by medical discards. And on the floor, between our stretcher and theirs, a pair of lost angel wings.
I stood in that room and watched an eighteen-year-old boy die before ever having lived. And in that moment, I couldn’t stand the thought of going outside and into an awaiting crowd. But I had no choice—my shift wasn’t over, even if his life was…
So, I turned and pulled the empty stretcher with me. I walked passed a sea of faceless onlookers and pushed onward towards the doors of the bay. I felt a hand grab onto my arm suddenly. Out of exhaustion of how often I had felt this tonight, I turned scornfully and confronted the grabber with a boisterous roar;
“WHAT?! DON’T FUCKIN GRAB ME!”
At the receiving end of my vituperation—an angel’s girlfriend. Her face shocked and remorseful.
“Sorry, um, sorry, sir. Is Aaron okay? Can I see him?”
This is what’s known as an impossible situation to win. There is no right answer. I knew exactly what had happened to Angel Aaron. But what the fuck am I going to say to this poor girl? As medic’s we cannot lie. Even though as a people, we seem to be prolific at it. My demeanour softened and my tone lowered. I glanced nervously back at the room where Aaron lay, then returned a sorrowful glare towards her. I didn’t lie, but I didn’t tell her, either;
“The uh, the doc should be out in a minute, he’ll let you know what’s going on. Okay?”
I slinked passed but before being given furlough, she spoke once more;
“Thank you—thanks for taking care of him. Making sure he’s alright.”
… I said nothing.
That was not my last rave. Nor my first. It does however count towards the number of reasons why I hate crowded places. Nothing good comes out of them. And all too often, an angel will lose their wings.
I’m not saying you should avoid raves or crowded places—I’m merely saying that you will never find me there. Neither me, nor Aaron…