It’s the end of my first 14 hour shift, I’ve got 24 hours to go. These are the times where it’s easy to judge, and be less than the person you are, and let your own demons come to the fore, and your humanity slip away into the self-imposed exhaustion that a thirty-eight hour shift brings with it.
I thought the internal struggle I felt while doing marathon shifts on an ALS unit in Providence would be a good basis for a book. That and the people I encountered along the way made for a pretty good story.
Rescuing Providence was first. Responding came later.
From the book, Responding, available for free today only at Amazon.com.
I have had only an hour’s sleep since yesterday, yet find it impossible to relax. Tonight’s events, while disturbing, shouldn’t be enough to deny me some needed rest, but that rest remains elusive. It’s five a.m. and I have twenty-six hours to go, just being in the station causes insomnia. In two hours I’ll make the journey to Branch Avenue to take over the reins of Rescue 3. Overtime is great, but it takes its toll on the mind and body. At this stage of a long shift, I have a tendency to fall into depression. The end is nowhere in sight and the calls are relentless. In the quiet confines of my office, I see the first traces of light filter through the blinds covering my window. I know I need the rest but my mind refuses to relent, instead choosing to replay the events of the week. The drunks, overdoses, medical emergencies and trauma, in addition to the loneliness and despair evident in so many that we come in contact with refuse to sit quietly in my mind. I know that my presence in their lives is miniscule and more than likely forgotten as soon as I leave the people I am called to help, but I hope that I have been able to alleviate their misery to some degree. The kids bother me the most. They have no idea of what life could be, only believe what they are shown by their elders. As their lives progress and experience grows, I can only hope that they can see some good in the world and aspire toward it. For now, I must witness their existence in the hellholes they call home and hope for a miracle.
My wife is home, sleeping by herself in our bed, the effects of her disease contributing to her loneliness as it continues on its destructive path. As her mobility decreases her world gets smaller and her dependency on me grows, only I’m not there, leaving her alone to deal with something nobody should have to face. Multiple Sclerosis is a bitch.
0623 hrs. (6:23 a.m.)
“Rescue1, Respond to the intersection of Broad and West Friendship for a woman with a head injury.”
The last thing I remember is feeling sorry for myself. I must have fallen asleep while wallowing in self-pity. I’m glad I got that out of the way. The blow lights have come on, filling the station with fluorescent light. They stay on for one minute, then automatically shut off as I make my way down the stairs and toward the rescue. The morning is upon us and gives enough light for me to find my way, although I could find it in my sleep – and often do. Mike is already in the truck and has the motor running. He looks refreshed, as though he has had a full nights sleep. I look at him and shake my head.
“Sleep well?” he asks.
“Like a baby,” I lie.
The door opens and we are again on our way toward Broad Street. This time we are headed to an area where prostitution and drug dealing are done openly on the street. I try to remain objective as we make our way to the patient. She may be an innocent victim of crime, or have just had an accident. The streets are mostly deserted; everybody must have found their way home, everyone except for the person who called for help. She waits on the corner of Broad and West Friendship, her clothes torn and hanging from her body and blood rushing down her face. She stands in the street calmly as we stop the rescue near her, get out and walk toward her.
“What happened?” I ask.
Her reply is so softly spoken that I cannot understand her. Mike has brought a sheet with him and wraps it around her like a cape. The woman clutches it around her neck. Only then do I notice the tears streaming down her face. We help her into the truck and close the door. Mike examines her head wound, controls the bleeding and reports his findings.
“She has a two inch laceration to the top of her head, on top of a large bump. It looks like somebody clubbed her over the head.”
“Do you remember what happened?” I ask her.
“I was raped,” comes her reply.
“Rescue 1 to fire alarm, have the police respond to this location.”
“Received, Rescue 1. Nature for the police?”
“Possible sexual assault.”
“Do you know who did it?” I ask.
“We have to take you to the hospital. Did you lose consciousness when you got hit in the head?” I ask
“I think so.”
I get a cervical collar and gently put it around her neck. Mike has retrieved a long board from the side compartment and lays it on the stretcher while the patient stands up. She sits on the board in the middle then lies back, me cradling her head and back as she eases to a flat position. The tears continue to flow.
A series of loud knocks comes from the rear of the truck. Mike opens the door and a man tries to get in.
“Who are you?” Mike asks.
“What happened to you?” the man asks our patient in an impatient way, ignoring Mike.
“Are you family?” Mike asks.
“Yeah I’m her daddy, now shut up and let me talk to my girl,” he says. Mike closes the door. Hard. The man is done knocking and leaves the scene right before the police arrive. The side door opens and a rookie officer sticks his head into the rescue, takes a look at the patient and shakes his head.
“Do you know her?” I ask.
“Everybody knows her. What happened sweetheart, deal gone bad?” He carries himself as though he has forty years on the streets and has seen it all. His smug grin transforms his good looks into a sneer that gives him the appearance of a punk. If I were to guess, he comes from the suburbs, played quarterback on his high school football team and wouldn’t know a thing about hard knocks if they were trampling down his door.
“Where are you taking her?”
“Rhode Island ER.”
“I’ll meet you there.” The cop leaves but his attitude lingers.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“Mike is going to take your vital signs and we’ll get going. The people at the hospital will take care of you.”
“Nobody takes care of me,” she says. “Nobody gives a shit”
“You’re wrong. Right here, right now, you are the only person that matters to me. After I drop you off at the hospital that will change, but for now your best interests are all that I care about. I don’t give a shit about the cops or the pimps or the asshole that beat you. I don’t know who you are or what happened in your life for you to end up out here and it’s none of my business, but I do care about is what is happening now and how I can make it better. Now shut up and let Mike take your vitals.”
I don’t know whether or not she believes me, but she seems to have settled down. Mike finishes with her, gives me her signs and goes to the front to drive. Life is not easy. Without a few breaks, good parenting and education, it is easy to fall into the many traps life has waiting to snare people without the skills to avoid them. Destiny would rather be anywhere than here, addicted to heroin and selling herself on the streets. If more people begin to give a shit and stop being so judgmental, her future may brighten. The odds are against her. There are a lot of kids in this city teetering on the edge of respectability or despair. A push in either direction will land them on their feet – or on their ass.
Heroin is cheap and readily available in Providence. It can be snorted through the nose or injected into a vein. The euphoria only lasts for a little while and then it’s back to reality, a reality that most junkies prefer to forget. The drug takes a person’s dignity, confidence and productiveness and leaves a shell where a human being once was. The spirit can and sometimes does reappear, but it is rare and sometimes fleeting. Once a junkie, always a junkie is the common perception, harsh, but unfortunately true. Some addicts manage to leave it all behind and go on to lead normal lives, most crash.
It is a selfish, lonely world the addicts live in. I’ve seen people left for dead in cars, apartments, fields; anywhere people gather to do their drugs. Every man for himself when somebody overdoses.
Keeping a job while under the influence of heroin is next to impossible. The users are forced to go underground. Selling the drug to other addicts is one way to get by, selling your body another.
Our prisons are full. A large number of inmates are incarcerated because of drug related crimes. The numbers don’t tell the entire story. The robberies, B&E’s, muggings, prostitution and scams are in large part devices used to obtain drugs. Legalizing the drugs would lead to more problems. Imagine if every drug dealer on the streets suddenly lost his income. The only way they know how to get by is by doing something illegal. Flipping burgers is unacceptable for this segment of the population; they see themselves as a cut above the common man. Maybe if they traded their fancy Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln navigators for a Ford pick-up truck or Chevy Blazer, and decided to cut lawns, clean offices of find some other line of honest work, the experience and work ethic would grow and they would become respectable members of society. Problem is, nobody wants to start at the bottom and work their way up. The riches available by leading a life of crime are too tempting to those afraid of work. Take the easy route of dealing drugs away and watch our other crime rates soar.
I should be going home; instead I’m looking at twenty-four more hours in Providence.