Something happens to me when sitting down to ingest the exaggeratory exploits of dramatized medical television. Aside from the compulsive need to correct the egregious inaccuracies of protocol and misuse of medically sesquipedalian language, something else pervades my viewing experience; something a little more sinister. Something inescapable. Something that lurks in the shadows of my lived moments.
As a paramedic with almost 14 years of experience, there are no shortage of stories resting within me. Some are esoteric. Others are not for the faint of heart. And some… well… some even I have tried to forget. But when confronted by the hyperbole of scripted (insert arbitrary medical show here), I am helpless to the pull of memory.
During my viewing pleasure of one such show, a scene flashed to the screen. It depicted a portly naked man, covered in dirt. He spoke with a lisp and was being chased by hospital security. Weaving in and around the main players of the show. This was all done with comedic effect. While watching this imagery unfold, I was rapidly taken hostage at the whim of remembrance.
I recalled a crisp autumn day. The leaves had donned a mesmeric cascade of melting red and orange. I was working a day shift and approaching the midway point of it. My partner and I had just procured a couple of hot coffees and were now navigating the city streets, back toward our downtown station. That’s when the call came in.
“Alpha one-four, Alpha one-four; you’re getting a call to 15691 Wesley avenue. Caller states that her brother is acting strange and believes he may be off his medication. Says he’s talking to invisible people and running around their living room while taking his clothes off.”
“Roger that, dispatch. Any mention of weapons…?”
“Negative, one-four. Would you like police notified?”
“Yeah—may as well make mention of it. We’ll go check it out though”.
“Copy that, one-four”.
I reached into the centre between Witter and I to grab some gloves for the both of us. I couldn’t help but notice that a sneaky smirk had cracked the features of his face. With it being my attend day, meaning that this was to be my patient, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Witter was laughing at me. Pre-emptively.
“Something funny, Wit?” I asked sternly. Fighting a smile of my own.
“Oh, no… Just have a feeling that something funny is going to happen on this one.”
“Oh really? Grown ass man running around his apartment talking to invisible people and you think something funny is gonna happen? Wow. You’re really good at this. It’s like you got ESPN or something!” Witter, smiling a little less subtle now, responded overtop a titter.
“Now now; there’s no need for sass! For there is a chance, that while intertwined in a dance of medic to man, you may just get a glimpse of some ass!”
“Well thank you, Dr. Seuss. I hope he shits on your shoe. With a whole lotta poo!”
Now, keep in mind, we had no idea if this guy was naked or not, but we had both been on enough psych runs to know that nudity usually rears its ugly… bottom… on calls such as this. So we both just assumed that he was.
We fought the coagulation of downtown traffic before finding our way north, toward the address assigned to our call. I took a couple of meaningful sips from my coffee cup, knowing that in all likelihood, the next time I would consume from it, it would have transformed into an unrequested chilled beverage.
We pulled up on scene and hopped out of the rig.
“So… how do you wanna play this one? Wait for the cops?” Witter queried.
“Nah. Let’s just head in and see what we’re dealing with”.
“Copy that. I’ll grab some gear”.
Witter and I began walking toward the front door of a quaint, suburban family home. Dried leaves lamented with charred moans beneath our footfalls. Witter knocked on the door and then both he and I leaned closer to listen for nearing feet. Frantic sounds of muffled sprint could be heard on the other side of the door. As well as a female’s beleaguered mezzo, demanding calm within the establishment. By way of earshot, these pleas appeared to go ignored. The door would eventually open and confronting us on the other side of it, was a tired woman whose hair hadn’t seen shampoo in a number of days.
“Hello, miss. We’re with the paramedic service—did you call for us today?” I asked ensuring my face conveyed sincere empathy.
“Y-Yes. Yes, I did. It’s my brother… He’s stopped taking his meds—for whatever reason—and now he’s… well… come in. Please.” Witter and I entered in through the door. The house was neatly kept, or, was typically well looked after. The current state of disrepair appeared of new onset. Now standing in the hallway just prior to the living room, both Witter and I could hear deadened thuds and sudden crashes coming from a room down at the other end of the hall to our left.
“I’m gonna take a stab in the dark here—but I’m guessing your brother is in a room down there?” While motioning with my hand I asked with a bit of levity shining through my cheeks.
“Yes. H-He was wearing a towel as a cape earlier and using his bed as a platform to fly from. Needless to say, a 256-pound middle-aged man does not travel through the air so well. I thought he was going to go right through the floor. That’s when I called you.” The poor woman exclaimed.
“Well… we’re here now. So, we’ll go have a—” Before I had the chance to finish my sentence, a sudden clatter of indiscernible noise came from beyond the darkened hallway. We each now stood frozen, waiting for whatever was about to transpire to come to fruition. Hurried footsteps drew closer to us. And before long, a man who was naked from head to toe, glistening in a stress induced sweat came hurtling across our view. Running past all of us. Other than the sounds of his feet, our ears were met with a fleshy pendulum clap that struck each thigh as this capacious man sprinted by with unbridled enthusiasm.
And along with that very noticeable sound of naked movement, another sound played cheerfully for each of us—a tremendous rattle of fatty skin clapping against itself broke into the air—it was a fart. The naked, sweaty, cock and ball clapping, sub-par superhero crop dusted each of us on his heroic sprint by.
“Jesus… was that a fart?” Witter asked, his words soaked by incredulity.
“Oh… yes. He tends to get a little gassy when he’s acting this way…” The woman confirmed.
Now staring at me through befuddled gape, Witter chuffed on further… “Christ. It sounded like a horse sneezing under water!”
I immediately felt my upper teeth clamp onto my lower lip, demanding that I not laugh out loud. My body held itself with a tense rigidity, hoping upon hope of not releasing even the tiniest snicker aloud. I was able to keep my composure and after some gentle coaxing along with a shot of medication, Witter and I were able to transport this man to the hospital for further observation and evaluation.
During the cleanup of the ambulance and readying to head back into service, I heard Witter mimicking with the best of his abilities fart noises clattering from his mouth.
“You alright there, Wit?” My words fell lazily through a crooked smile.
“Bro, tell me that was not one of the more triumphant ass-blasts you’ve heard on the job?! That ripper zipped!” Witter exclaimed with boyish delight. We shared in a chuckle, hit the clear from service button and waited on word from dispatch.
“Alpha one-four, Alpha one-four; I see you guys are free from the last one—we have another run for you. 36-year-old female, pregnant in the second trimester. States that she felt some pain and now see’s blood in the toilet… We’re sending you hot for this one.”
“Copy that, dispatch. You can mark one-four en route.” Suddenly the hilarity of our last encounter began to fall victim beneath the heft of our latest dispatch. Nothing about this call sounded good. And if this was truly an early delivery, the likelihood that Witter and/or I would be able to do anything was rubbing shoulders with the statistical probabilities of winning the lottery—At home. Second trimester. Blood in the toilet—not good. Not good at all.
The diesel engine of our timeworn ambulance wailed almost as loud as the sirens themselves. And despite our bluster, traffic still failed to yield to our right of way. This evoked angry vituperations from both Witter and I toward the languid travelers.
There are certain types of calls that stiffen the sinew within a paramedic’s body—unexpected childbirth with blood present—is definitely one of those calls. The only time Witter and I spoke while catapulting toward our destination, was when I was clearing intersections for him and informing him of when to make a turn.
The address was in a nice part of town. A resting place where all the houses competed for decadent superiority. Seemed each house got bigger and more elaborate the further in we drove. We would pull up to a stand-alone home. It was white on the outside. A prodigious door marking the entry. The lawn was flawless, albeit stained by fall foliage. Witter and I dismounted and maneuvered with haste toward the home. Before reaching the bottom step, the door swung open. Greeting us was a handsome gentleman whose features were marred by worry.
“This way. Please, she’s in there.” The man gesticulated with guiding arms and gaze toward a large open concept living space. This is where things slow down for me. I am able to recall each and every finite detail of their home. Every imperfection. Every glint and nictation. I can even tell you where the photographs hung on every wall. And what was encased within them. I can do so, because this is a call that would break my heart…
The woman had indeed miscarried. Remnants of what once lay within her now rested submerged in toilet water. The assemblage of blood and clot were of enough density that nothing other than the aforementioned was easily identifiable.
The woman had remarked to Witter out in the living room, that she had felt a sudden and horribly sharp pain, followed by “something” splashing beneath her. She became faint and was then helped off the toilet by her husband. This is when we were called. Now, Witter and I stood in the bathroom, staring at a swirl of thickened blood and unidentifiables that stained the porcelain. He looked at me, and I at him.
“I’ll let her know that we need to take her to the hospital to confirm one way or the other. C’mon. Let’s get her packaged up.” Witter said while withdrawing from the bathroom. I nodded, assuring him that I had taken note of what he had said. Just as I was about to follow, I ceased all movement. I had a sudden, albeit somewhat fictitious, flash-dream. I began to think of what it would be like for these two people; to come home from the hospital after presumably one of their worst days of life, walk into the bathroom and open the toilet lid only to see this ghastly amalgamation of blood and loss.
With gloved hand, I reached in with my eyes closed. I allowed the pads of my fingers to feel for anything solid. Anything tangible. My fingers bounced off and around bits and chunks of the unknown. Whatever I was able to grab, I did. And then threw it into a biohazard Ziploc before flushing the toilet. Refusing to look at the contents, I just held it firmly in one hand, and marched steadfast for the door. I steamed out toward the ambulance and discarded whatever it was that now reside within the bag. Slamming it into the receptacle. After doing so, I felt my hands shake. A tremor reverberated along my spine. Rippling outward through my body as if a stone were cast into water.
Something happens to me… when watching the exaggeratory exploits of dramatized medical shows… And it is both hilarious… and heartbreaking.
Huh… maybe they’re closer to real-life than I thought…?
I think about that woman sometimes… even now to this day. Ponder how she’s doing. Did they try again? Are they still together? How many children do they have now? All impossible things to know.
But one thing is for certain—this job, much like these shows, will leave you in stitches from laughter one moment, or surrounded by tissues stained in tears the next. And that’s just the first episode!
“Alpha one-four, Alpha one-four… we gotta another run for ya…”