Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chapter One

This is something I started awhile back. If you like it and want more, link it, tell your friends, and I'll try to write more soon. I'm not sure if it translates clearly, but the italics are small flashbacks, and the regular text are the current situation.

“Please save my daddy!”

A five year old girl’s tear filled voice implored me from a shadowy corner in the tiny, filthy living room.Her face seemed to disappear behind the thin pole of a floor lamp that wasn’t plugged in. The silence in the room was deafening as I donned a pair of nitrile gloves,the snapping sound as they slapped against my wrist almost startled me. I approached a limp form lying in the center of the floor. A puddle of blood had already formed beneath him, spreading and mixing with shadows to create the illusion that the entire room was now steeped in red liquid. I swept the beam of my flashlight across the stained and cracking hardwood floor, double checking that the 12 gauge shotgun that had just moments ago been pointed at me was now out of reach, should his collapse have been a clever ruse to lure me in closer. There would have been no need for that-he could have killed me any how-but crazy people weren’t rational and that was a pretty fast rule.

The old Ithaca had indeed fallen far out of reach and for the moment I ignored it, slowly approaching the body of a man who had very nearly just killed me and my partner; the man who had been-and, at least at the moment-still was, the father of the scared little girl in the corner. My partner keyed his radio, his calm voice belying the urgency of our situation. “We need a squad car down here, and have ALS step it up.” He knelt beside me as I opened up our patient’s airway. Shuddering breaths rattled his entire body once every thirty seconds, but it wasn’t enough to sustain life for much longer. Agonal respirations, they were called. They are body’s futile effort to keep the soul on the planet for just a few seconds longer. I already had the BVM in my hands and sealed the mask against his face, breathing for him, keeping him alive.

“I don’t want to die alone!” his voice came back at me. Those were the first words he had said when we stupidly walked into the house alone. The sound of police sirens approaching brought me back to a moment where I had almost died. Oscillating red lights suddenly lit up the house, like a Fourth of July show, and the terror of what had just come to pass rocked me back.

A cardiac arrest, the dispatch had said. The Paramedic crews were all tied up for three towns over. Police, likewise, were busy. They were on the way when we got there, but a long way out, and we were in the middle of nowhere. The house was dark, and it looked foreboding. In EMS, superstitions tend to reign wild-and I could see the grip of death on that house. Partner and I knew the protocols that said to wait for backup. But there was a man dying in that house. And the Barbie Jeep flipped over in the front lawn meant that the man was probably a father. So we went in to do what they paid us to do.

However nobly intentioned that choice had been, I cursed the stupidity of it now, as I rode the foot of the moving stretcher. We were running several races at once now. We raced to the ambulance, to the hospital,to the Paramedic Intercept. And we raced to save this mans life-for though he saw no other alternative than death, there was always life, and it was our job to keep him around long enough to see that choice. My muscles were already sore, pushing down on his chest. His ribs made a creepy crunching noise. Crepetation from cracked cartilage. It always seemed to creep me out no matter how many times I heard it.

There wasn’t a light on in the house, which my partner commented on as we entered. But fuck if it wasn’t 3 in the morning and who has lights on then? Most phones these days had glow in the dark buttons. So I twisted the cap of my Maglite and swung the beam in a slow, uneasy arc down the hallway. “Hello, EMS! Did somebody call for an ambulance? As the hallway opened up, the sound of a shotgun action caused me to freeze up. I raised my hands slowly.
“That’s alright, we’ll be leaving now,” I was speaking down the bore of the gun. A choked sob rang out from behind the wall of darkness. The gun stayed put though, and it was clear that neither of us would be leaving this house anytime soon. Thoughts about that haze of death sank morbidly deep into my brain. At least to my wife I would die a hero. Nobody would have the heart to tell her that I died because I was an idiot who ignored my training.

His arms tied to the stretcher with cravats, I struggled to keep this man alive. The blast had entered underneath his ribs, the way he had dug the barrel deep against his skin ensured damage to his liver, speen, and lungs. In fact, as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a liver left. The shell has been birdshot, from what the police officer had said. That meant something good, from an EMT perspective. With less power and smaller shot, there was likely to be less penetration and damage. But one of his lungs was collapsed. So the breaths I gave only went to one lung. I handed the police officer on the bench next to me tape and an occlusive dressing, running him through how to set it up on top of the exit wound a clump of pellets created through his left lung. It wsn't very efective, he needed decompression and a chest tube.

Behind me I could see the flashing lights of the paramedics and the lurching stop as we pulled to the shoulder nearly threw me across the stretcher and into the drivers compartment. The back door was thrown open and in hopped my medic, Julie. She looked at the body on the stretcher and then at me. "There's way too much damage. Were you able to shock at all?" I shook my head no as she placed the leads on his chest. "He's asystolic, I'm gonna call Med. Control and get permission to call it." The request was granted in just a few moments. I suppose the injuries could be reasonably considered an obvious source of death, but I'd been right there, and had to try.

Instantly, the urgency ofthe situation evaporated, but that couldn’t stop the adrenaline coursing through my veins. As I pushed my body back against the bench of the ambulance, breathing deep, my hands began to shake, then my arms.Within moments my entire body was shuddering, trying to rid itself of that flood of emotions, chemicals and stress that I had just placed on it. My job was over, as soon as the body bag arrived, and the hearse that would take the shell of a man before me over to the big city morgue. My Nextel phone beeped loudly, rescuing me from cascading thoughts of what had almost been. Dispatch. I pressed the button dutifully. “We’re clear from this job,” I noted, trying to keep as teady voice.
“You’re also done for the night Paul,” the dispatcher’stinny, perpetually annoyed voice rang out. There was a hint of sympathy in there as well, something I wasn’t at all used to hearing from that dreadful phone.“You’re a mess. Go home to your wife.”

I thanked her and moved from the patient compartment to the passengers seat up front. We sat in silence, pine trees blowing past us on the lonely road back to headquarters. Rain began to fall steadily, increasing the closer we got to the station, blurring the glow of the headlights on the road. That poor little girl…

My drive home should have been beautiful. The storm that had started above us ended as quickly as it came, leaving droplets to glow off wounded branches as the sun rose, a fireball igniting the sky through the clouds. I didn’t notice that so much, focused solely on the glass window between me and the lonely twin lines on a beaten road. I had done everything possible, and yet I still felt the sting of failure. My job was to help people, to get them through their crises and this man had not gotten through. Up ahead I could see the house and slowed. There was beauty there I could notice. The house sat at the top of a steep hill, the end of a cul-de-sac, but the only house there. Alternating stone and blue vinyl siding,with ivy growing up towards the chimney gave the impression of a cottage on some lonesome country lane. Some mornings, like this one, the sun would catch just right and bathe the house in a warm, cozy radiance that invited me to walk through the doors to the smell of a home cooked breakfast, and back to a zone of comfort. I didn’t have worries there.

As my muddy Chevrolet turned into the driveway I could see my wife, standing on the porch with a cup of coffee in her hands, and another cup beside her on the railing. She smiled as I put the truck into park and stepped out the door. That smile melted my heart since the day we met, and this morning was no different. It lifted the weight of the night’s troubles right off my shoulders. I stumbled my tired, achy body up the three steps to the porch. It was somewhere in the brisk, fifty degree range but she wasn’t shivering as she wrapped her arms gently around me. We stood there rocking for what felt like an eternity. It had been three days since I’d gotten to see her but it may as well have been three years. By the time our arms broke apart and she handed me a steaming cup of java, I was drowning in love. She led me inside after that, flicking on the dim lamps that had illuminated her morning. Dispatch had called her, and she’d gotten out of bed just to fix me breakfast, to make sure I was alright. There were eggs and bacon there, with salt, pepper, ketchup and rolls.I fixed myself a breakfast sandwich. I hadn’t been hungry a few moments ago, but now I was ravenous.


  1. Very nice, Jim. I have always enjoyed your writing style. Despite your tough exterior you are a true romantic!

  2. Hey Jimmy, I'm impressed! Keep up the writing, it's good.