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by Michael Morse, author, City Life – contributing writer, RINewsToday
A lot happens in the course of a day. It started at 0700, a little kid, two years old, was left in his father’s car while his dad went in search of some crack cocaine. Two hours the little guy sat alone in the car until somebody called to report the situation. In a house not far away a party was going on, smoke from the marijuana covering the toddlers who lived in the house where the party went nonstop. The police were called by a concerned neighbor; they called us to have the kids taken away.
We brought them to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, where they will wait for temporary foster parents to pick them up.
In a field not far away a woman, maybe a prostitute, maybe not, was being gang-raped. We were called to help an unconscious woman lying in a field. She was in her thirties, tight jeans, no shoes, ripped colorful gauze shirt. Her hair was full of dirt and leaves. She screamed “Get them off me!” all the way to the hospital. Twice she loosened the seat belts and tried to flee from the rescue as we sped through Providence. Twice I caught her just in time. The last half mile of the transport she spent on the floor at my feet, sobbing uncontrollably.
At the Providence Place Mall, a guy in his forties was getting drunk with his friends for the day until somebody snapped. Mall security called us for a man outside one of the restaurants, covered in blood. Thirty stitches should put him back together. In the West End a man was stabbed in the side. He’ll probably live; we have no idea what happened. A motorcyclist lost his life on I-95 when he slammed his bike into the back of stopped traffic. Homeless people gathered at 1035 Broad Street needed to be taken to the ER three different times to sleep it off. An old lady fell, broke her hip, and was taken from her home in a stretcher, maybe the last time she will ever go through her doors.
He said she didn’t give him his medications, she said she did. After twenty-seven years of marriage, it had come to this. For the last seven years she was his caretaker. He was confined to his bed for the most part, three heart attacks and a stroke rendering him disabled. It looked like she was running out of steam, the burden thrust upon her taking its toll. Their house was a mess—laundry, dirty dishes, paperwork, and pill bottles were strewn about haphazardly, and clutter filled the room where he spent the majority of his life. A small TV sat at the end of his bed, his portal to the world. I wonder what he watched as the days dragged on, his room more of a cell than a place to get ready for and rest from a fulfilling life.
He was hysterical, sitting up in his bed, struggling to breathe through the hole in his throat. The stoma remained clear but I was concerned that his movements would somehow clog his airway. She had a glazed look about her. At first I thought she had been drinking, because her speech was clear but slow, her pupils dilated.
“He needs to go to the hospital,” she explained in a dreamy voice. “He says I didn’t give him his nighttime medication, but I gave them an hour ago.”
I looked on one of the dressers and saw a dozen pill bottles, some empty, others tipped on their side, duplicate prescriptions, half-eaten candy bars and trash filling every inch of the space.
“Do you have a list of his medications?” I asked. She handed me a crumbled piece of paper she picked up from the floor. Lasix, Cardizem, Zestril, Lipitor, the list was lengthy. Two names jumped off the page: Oxycontin and Vicodin. There were no bottles on the dresser that matched.
“What about these?” I asked her.
“I had to hide them. He takes thirty if I let him.”
“Where are they?”
“I have them.” She opened a bedroom door. A giant Rottweiler lay on the bed looking at me. She entered the room, I stayed outside as she read the names from the bottles from behind the door. She pronounced the names like she had never heard of them.
I had seen enough. We got the man ready, put him in the stair chair, and brought him out of his prison. He was crying quietly, saying he loved her and didn’t want to leave his home.
I left his wife alone with her husband’s prescriptions.
My patient was twenty-one years old, five months pregnant, and on her way to her doctor’s office. She made it to the doctor’s office, just not the one she had planned on. No waiting either—her condition landed her in Trauma Room 2 at Rhode Island Hospital. The air bags may have saved more than one life this day.
“What’s your name,” I asked him as we helped him down the stairs. He lost his concentration and nearly fell over as the next performer sauntered past us. Thankfully, one of us was fully focused on the job at hand and caught him before he went down. We slowly made our way down from the upper level of the club, taking in the sights when we made it to the first level. Our patient seemed unconcerned with the vomit that covered the front of his velour warm-up suit and sneakers. He had a glazed, dreamy look on his face. I asked the bouncer what happened.
“He was getting a lap dance, everything was fine, and then he stopped moving and threw up on the dancer.”
“At least she won’t have to wash her clothes,” I mentioned as we walked under the “All Nude Room” sign at the bottom of the stairs.
“He’s been drinking Heinekens and Lemon Drops,” the bouncer stated as we walked into the brisk afternoon air. The fresh air did all of us some good; the perfumed atmosphere of the club had been ruined by the lemon-scented vomit on my patient. One of the dancers who had finished her shift walked past us. She did her best to attract some attention, but without the soft lighting and music the magic was gone. She became just another average-looking woman trying to make a living.
“Buddy, what’s your name?” I asked again once we had him in the truck and on the stretcher. He stared at the fluorescent lights on the roof of the rig, closed his eyes, smiled and said, “Jasmine.”
“What’s going on here?” I asked anyone who would listen. A girl of about twenty-five answered.
“My brother just found out he has AIDS. He’s been crazy, he won’t talk to us or let us help him.”
I looked into the bedroom. Two police officers had a little man between them. They escorted him out of the destroyed room toward us. I didn’t see any blood on him but you never know.
“He doesn’t speak English,” his sister told us as we walked him down the stairs toward the rescue. At the bottom of the stairs my patient ripped something up and threw it to the ground before getting into the truck. John, my partner for the day, went in behind him. I stopped to pick up the torn pages of his passport.
He was from Guatemala, a legal immigrant according to the document I scanned as I stepped into the truck. Thirty years old, in the country since 2005. His work boots were spattered with different color paint, his work pants worn at the knees. He sat on the bench seat and stared straight ahead. I showed him the passport I had picked up off the street. He said “Thank you,” shook his head from side to side, then looked at the floor.
“It may not be as bad as you think,” I offered. “They have medications now that help.” He didn’t understand me. I will never understand what he was feeling as I walked him into the ER, surrounded by security.
The call was for a possible stroke at a methadone clinic. There was almost a stroke all right, but the person having it was me. We pulled the rescue to the side door of the place; we’ve been there numerous times and know the drill. Our patient was reported to have vomited and was feeling nausea after eating a powdered donut.
“What about the possible stroke?” I asked. The staff, nurses, psychologists, and a bunch of other educated people looked at me like I was from another planet.
“He’s feeling weak,” said one of them, “and not acting normally. It could be a stroke.”
“It could be whooping cough,” I said. We walked to the rescue. The guy was lethargic and had slurred speech. He was at least six two and weighed two twenty.
“Are you going to vomit again,” I asked.
“Again?” he replied.
“Didn’t you just vomit?”
“That was two days ago.”
“Why are you going to the hospital?” I asked as Joe, my partner for the day, started to pull out of the parking lot.
“I’m not going anywhere!” my patient shouted. He jumped from his seat and opened the side door of the rescue. I grabbed his belt, yanked him back in, and planked him back on the seat.
“Stop the truck! Let me out! You assholes!” he shouted and tried to get up again.
“Step on it, Joe,” I said. Joe stepped on the gas, the patient lost his balance and fell back onto the seat. He continued shouting. I looked at him and told him it would be in his best interests to stop acting like a baby. He stood up again and went for the door. We wrestled a little, but a heroin addict on methadone and powdered donuts is no match for a disgruntled rescue officer.
Security met us at Rhode Island Hospital and escorted our patient in. I got a coffee and waited for the next one.
These people are my friends I thought to myself as the man lying on the stretcher spit, struggled, and shouted, “Get the niggers off of me!” I stood to the side and watched as a couple of security guards applied the four-point straps that would immobilize him. “Niggers,” over and over he said it. I’m sure that in the course of his normal day he would never consider saying it out loud. In his drug-crazed, drunken state, however, the word flowed freely from his mouth.
The fact that he was an idiot did nothing to lessen my unease. I considered making light of the situation later when I talked to the guards, doctors, and nurses who bore the brunt of his racist remarks but decided not to. There was nothing light about what happened.
We work together in one of the most stressful atmospheres there is. Mutual respect has been earned by the teamwork evident on a daily basis at the ER. The people here are not white, black, Hispanic, gay, or anything other than the folks I work with and trust with my life. Unfortunately, a moron comes here and reminds us we live in a world where racial divisions still exist.
It’s a Boy
Well, it finally happened. A mother delivered a baby boy in the back of my rescue. I, of course, took full credit for the delivery, which was probably the single most gratifying moment of my career.
At around 7:30 last night we got a call for “a birth in progress.” Engine 11 was first on scene and reported no birth; the patient was having contractions but was able to ambulate outside to the rescue. We pulled in front of the house at 7:35. The patient could make it no further than her front porch.
It is kind of strange how you just know when things have ratcheted up a notch. Al, who was working overtime, pulled the stretcher to the bottom of the six porch stairs. Miles, Drew, and Seth each grabbed an arm or a leg and helped me carry the patient Vietnam-style and drop her onto the stretcher. We had her in the truck in about a minute. Seth got the emergency OB kit ready as I did an initial assessment. I took a look and saw the baby’s head.
“You’re crowning,” I told the mom, as if she didn’t already know. She was fantastic, no screaming, all business. This was her first child. I placed my hand on the baby’s head, expecting to actually do something, when out came the baby. Beautiful, pink color, I swear he opened his eyes and looked right at me.
“It’s a boy,” I said, my moment of glory finally upon me.
“We know,” the parents said in unison, bringing me back down to earth. Al clamped the umbilical cord in the proper places and got the scalpel ready. Drew, who is expecting his first child on April 30, stopped everything.
“Let the father do it!” The father was running into the house to get his wife’s glasses so she could see her son. We waited for him, only a few seconds but it seemed a lifetime, looking at a newborn still connected to his mother. The dad did his job perfectly, and Miles wrapped the newborn in a blanket and handed him up to his mom, who was absolutely radiant.
I asked permission, then took a picture with my phone. I e-mailed it to them when I got back to the station. It occurred to me later as I reflected on the whole thing that we will be a part of this family’s story for a long, long time. I’m sure the story of how the baby was brought into the world in the back of a rescue will be told over and over, hopefully spanning generations. The thought of it made me realize how fortunate I am to have the greatest job in the world.
Five Years Old
A beautiful five-year-old shouldn’t be unconscious at nine in the morning. She managed to get up and dressed for school but not much more. She said she was tired and went back to bed. Her mom checked on her some time later and couldn’t get her up. When we got there the child was limp. We did everything we could think of, checked her glucose level, blood pressure, CO level, EKG, put her on oxygen and tried to start an IV. She didn’t flinch when we put the needle in her arm.
I called Hasbro to tell them what to expect. They hear my voice so often telling them I’ve got a child with a fever, cough, bellyache, etc., that my report took them by surprise. “Five-year-old female, unconscious, minimal response to painful stimuli, vitals stable but otherwise unresponsive.” We put the mom in back with her daughter. She was strong but shaken. I asked about seizures, medications, chemicals, anything I could think of as we transported. Nothing unusual about her history, she was fine last night.
The child went directly to the trauma room at Hasbro. There a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory people, students, and EMTs started another IV, kept the O2 flowing, and pretty much brainstormed, trying to figure out what was going on. They took another glucose test—this time the result was 24, hypoglycemic. They administered dextrose through the IV and presto, a glorious five-year-old appeared, replacing the lifeless figure on the stretcher. She has a lot of tests to endure, but hopefully we had a happy ending.
Hmm . . .
0330. A man called from a pay phone stating he had trouble breathing. Arrived on scene at 0336. Patient stated he “smoked too many cigarettes and now couldn’t breathe.” What to do?
Close to Home
We do what we do so often it is easy to fall into a routine. People call 911, we respond, triage, treat, transport. The calls differ but, after years, begin to resemble one another until your shift becomes just another day at work. It is imperative we remember that there are human beings on the other end of the 911 call. What to us is another job, to the folks making the call a potentially life-changing event is unfolding.
An elderly lady in an assisted-living facility is found unresponsive on her kitchen floor. 911 is called, we respond. One look is all I need, I know this is serious. The guys from Engine 11, who just last week helped deliver a beautiful baby boy, are ready to do their thing. No words are necessary, we’ve been through this before. Cervical collar, backboard, oxygen, EKG, IV, contact Rhode Island Hospital en route with the information.
“Eighty-four-year-old female, unconscious, BP 184/148, normal sinus rhythm, glucose 220, pulse 84, respirations 28, ETA four minutes.”
I pushed the off button on the mic and put it back in its cradle. Only then did I see the name on the report. My sister Melanie’s mother-in-law. I think my heart hit the floor of the rescue. I looked at my patient’s face. Peaceful and serene, though her body was experiencing life-threatening damage. The guys from Engine 11 and Mark from Rescue 1, B group, did their thing (Renato had a crisis of his own, our prayers are with his family), switching oxygen bottles, monitoring the vitals, and getting ready to transfer our patient from the rescue to the hospital. I watched from the captain’s chair and thought of the times I was in Hannah’s company. I smiled when I remembered her unfaltering faith in God. Whatever the outcome, she is in good hands.
I called Mel from the trauma room and told her the bad news. Good luck, Bob, Mel, and the Frasier family. Our thoughts are with you during this difficult time.
For two days he endured the pain. Every time he tried to pee he was reminded that everything wasn’t “okay.” Finally, he called his son and daughter to his apartment on the second floor and told them the truth. They tried to help him down the stairs into their car but he couldn’t make it. Time had ravaged his once powerful body, that and a debilitating stroke he had while at the hardware store on Valentine’s Day. Now he sat in bed, unable to pee or do much of anything for that matter.
He lost his wife two years ago, then his daughter last year. Old age took the love of his life, and breast cancer took one of the ten products of that love. The others, seven girls and two boys, were also born during their marriage, one that spanned six decades. The pictures that covered the apartment showed a beautiful life together.
His youngest daughter who rode in the back of the rescue and told me their story thought her dad was dying of a broken heart. Since he lost his wife and daughter, all he did was cry. Now, he thought he had prostate cancer. In a way, he was relieved; some men prefer to bear the pain for their family rather than see them suffer. Maybe he felt vindicated now that he felt his loved ones’ pain, in his mind forgiven for failing them.
Read past Chapters, 1-7, here:
Michael Morse, firstname.lastname@example.org, a monthly contributor is a retired Captain with the Providence Fire Department
Michael Morse spent 23 years as a firefighter/EMT with the Providence Fire Department before retiring in 2013 as Captain, Rescue Co. 5. He is an author of several books, most offering fellow firefighter/EMTs and the general population alike a poignant glimpse into one person’s journey through life, work and hope for the future. He is a Warwick resident.