Ninety two years old, a simple ground level fall at the local assisted living facility. Possible broken hip. We’ve got her on a backboard with the injury site padded and suddenly she is vomiting. It happens – pain, fear, any number of reasons. My partner pulls over and dashes back to help me turn the board, and the patient just keeps bringing up lunch for what seems like a very long time.
But that’s not the story, either, not really. Here is what I want to say about her – tiny little thing all alone, her husband gone, children AWOL. In pain. Sick. When she’s not vomiting, she tries a smile out on me, and asks how I am today, do I like my job, am I from the area?
This just hurts my heart; really, it does.
Since Nine-Eleven, we in the emergency medical field have gotten a lot of hero dust sprinkled on us, but I think most of us would agree with this assessment – usually the hero is the one lying on the cot. And this lady, today, is one of them.
How am I today?
That’s where the twenty-year part figures in. Because I used to walk away from the lol (little old lady) falls and forget about them even before the run sheet had printed. Anymore, it feels like I leave a piece of myself on every call. The patient has taken on a level of . . . well, humanness, that leaves me smaller than I like to be and drenched in an empathy that frightens me. At some point it all became real, and the enthusiasm and, yes, even jubilation, with which I used to answer the tones has fallen by the wayside, along with the nine digit emergency number and the headlong ride on the back step of the pumper.
Laying the call aside when it is over has become a larger task than the call itself, and there are sleepless nights when I think about the twenty years gone with something less than satisfaction or even plain old contentment. The early mornings and late nights. The family events where I was empty place at the table. Again. The meetings. The trainings. The hours spent in ER after a body fluids exposure. The shuttling the kids to the babysitter and cancelling plans with the spouse. Twenty years chucked, for what?
Ah, but then it happens. I mold the SAM splint around a teensy broken arm, and the child quits crying. I give the glucagon shot and the patient wakes up. I respond to a house fire and join in the beauty of all of us working together like a well-oiled machine. We not only save the house, we rescue the family cat – and the smile of the little girl holding her singed-but-squalling kitty is, you see, the answer to the question.
Maybe twenty years isn’t quite enough yet.
*Art by Tsoi (Coxinha)
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