Numbers

Wind, gritty with sand lifted from the pavement pecked at the skin on our faces, bitter, painful and relentless.

"Come with me, it's freezing out here," I said to the woman. She stared into the wind, unblinking. Tears rolled down her face, she made no effort to wipe them away.

"Come on now, we can't leave you here," I said, taking hold of her coat. It was a nice one, hardly used.

"There's cats in the meadow," she said, and followed me.

"Are there, and what kind of cat's might they be?"

She made eye contact then, and continued.

"The bisque is frozen, better get on with it then."

"You can't eat frozen bisque."

"The pencils need sharpening."

"I hate writing with dull pencils. Do you write often?"

"If the laundry is done in time, we'll go to the park."

"Is the park near your home?"

Nothing then, but at least we were inside the rescue, heading toward Rhode Island Hospital and safety. She had been wandering around downtown for hours, and nobody paid her any attention. The city is full of strange characters, she mixed in with the rest, and appeared to belong.

"Where do you live?"

Nothing.

"I bought a lottery ticket yesterday, 423-5342."

She looked up, and again made eye contact.

"476-2343."

She stayed interested.

"942-8725."

She continued staring, but spoke.

"2372983. 2372983. 2372983."

I wrote the number down. When we pulled into the rescue bay at the hospital. I used the truck phone and dialed the number. It hadn't rung once when a frantic voice picked up.

"Hello."

"This is Lieutenant Morse with the Providence Fire Department."

"Oh my god, is she okay?"

"I have a woman here, mid-sixties, nicely dressed and appears lost."

"Where are you?"

"Rhode Island Hospital."

"Where?"

"Rhode Island Hospital."

"Is her name Ruth?"

I looked at the woman, who was gone again.

"Ruth!"

She didn't budge, or respond.

"I don't know, she has no ID, but is wearing a black velvet coat with fur trim on the collar."

"That's her, thank you so much, we'll be there as soon as we can, it's an hour drive from Massachusetts."

"Massachusetts?"

"She likes busses."

An hour later Ruth was reunited with her daughter, son-in-law, five of six kids and a few other people. She had been missing for sixteen hours. She had been diagnosed with Alzheimers just this year. I have no idea what posessed me to start running off numbers, just got lucky I think. I figured something in her mind might click.

I've done a lot of things over the last twenty years, but that call was one of the most gratifying moments of my career. The family treated me like a hero, and asked again and again how I got her to come up with the phone number. Truth is, I just got lucky.

A woman suffering from dementia was found dead in a ditch in Newport last week. She wandered off. Before she was found I heard a press release saying she liked to sit on public benches. I looked, but never saw her.

http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/02/autopsy-missing.html

5 Comments

  • Bob Lincoln says:

    Things like this are a gift.  I've never been able to come up with clues like this spontaneously.  I think it's an ability that you are born with.  Keep fighting the good fight, Mike.

  • RepealItAll'13 says:

    I found a paycheck from a temp agency once in Kennedy Plaza, and called 411 with the address and got connected to the owner- from the response when I told them I found that $110 check, you'd think they'd won Powerball. I dropped the check in the mail with no return address. The most gratifying deeds are the ones we perform because it's the right thing to do, and we gave a damn to go the extra step. Good job, Mike- I wish small kindnesses like yours were reported more often then the often unsubstantiated horror stories written about EMS personnel.

  • Pat Blackman/Grandma Muggle says:

    Good job buddy.  I am proud of you.  That, of course, is nothing new.  :-)

  • hilinda says:

    You, my friend, are brilliant.
    I've met one other person who could come up with something like that on the fly. A gift. Truly.

  • Jean says:

    You will always be an angel to them.

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Michael Morse

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Maybe, just maybe, Michael, the editors decided to give you the credit you deserve, and were unwilling to give yourself.
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Order of priority; Self Fellow firefighter(s) Other disciplines (Cops etc.) Joe public Our gear Public property. That’s how the list is going in. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, and depending on circumstances it may change, but not that often.
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[…] Finally, Michael Morse reminds us that success is relatively simple if you follow the Other 10 Commandments. […]
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heavy....... thanks for posting
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I think there is room for all of us in the future of EMS. Just like not all nurses like the ER, not all paramedics only want to run the sickest patients. Personally, my favorite calls are MCIs, a close second is probably the little old lady low fall. We can specialize. If you don't…
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