Having the opportunity to treat and transport the sick and injured is a gift, not a burden. Some days the runs seem endless, the people obnoxious and ungrateful and the system completely absurd. Other days, a seemingly benign call has the power to remind you just how fortunate you are.
It is an awful place, the end of the road. At 0130 we entered through the front door, past the regulars, empty vodka bottles and spent cigarette butts leading the way. Some slept on benches, covered with little more than rags. Others stayed awake, staring into space. We wheeled the stretcher past them on the way to the sixth floor. We had been called to remove an intoxicated man passed out in the corridor.
The elevator seemed smaller than it actually was, stained stainless steel walls, sticky floor, filthy buttons. I tried to hold my breath till floor six but had to exhale around the fourth and breath in the fetid air before the doors opened into the stench of the sixth floor.
A man lie unconscious on the floor further down the door lined corridor. Inside the tiny one room apartments sounds emanated, AC/DC from a portable radio, a man on the phone telling somebody about the unfit living conditions, somebody snoring, somebody vomiting.
I approached the patient, leaned over and shook him. Cockroaches scurried when he moved, there must have been fifty of them under his body doing god knows what.
“Hey, buddy, wake up,” I said, shaking him again. The security guard who escorted us up shook his head and walked away.
“Come on,” I said, “we’ll help you up.”
He opened his eyes and looked at me, did a quick assessment, then tried to stand. he was unsuccessful. We helped him kneel, then rolled him onto the stretcher, covered him with a sheet and wheeled him down the corridor, into the elevator, to the lobby and into the night.
On the way to the hospital, as I gathered the necessary information something hit me in the back of the head like a 2×4 swung by a giant.
He was battling cancer, taking chemo and sick as a dog.
He was my age, had a family once.
He was my friend, a long time ago. We went to school together in the seventies. He didn’t recognize me. I didn’t say anything as I wrote his name on the report. Once, we had similar dreams, similar hopes and similar ambitions.
His fell apart. Mine came true.
I’ve done seventeen runs in seventeen hours. An hour ago I thought I had it tough.