I'll Be at Your Side

What I like best about this job are the moments you observe between people, moments that show the bonds that life creates, that show the love in people’s hearts, particuarly the love of a parent for a child.

***

We are sent for a two year old who has fallen through a glass table and is bleeding severely. We get there and the fire department has already wrapped it. They say it is a good sized gash. The boy is in his mother’s arms and is wailing away. The bleeding appears to have stopped. We transport the mother, boy and his three year old brother. The mother is Indian. She holds the crying boy, and she says, “Numba two baby, you give me so much trouble, but don’t worry, mother loves numba two baby, no matter what trouble you give me. ” And she kisses him. I watch as she smiles, admiring her screaming child.

***

We are sent for a violent psych, who turns out to be a ten-year old boy who has taken a golf club to a stop sign, then chased several of his neighbors with the now broken shaft. When we arrive he is in the back of a police car. His mother stands by the open backseat door, talking to the police officer about how they can’t get the boy’s medications right, while looking with concern at her son. I introduce myself to her, then she in turn, introduces me to her son. The boy is crying, sniffling. I ask him how he’s doing. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he says. “He’s had a hard day,” his mother says. I can see the sadness and tiredness in her eyes, but there is no anger there, no hint of a breaking point.

***

We are sent for an overdose. It’s not an overdose, but a mother who wants her son to get clean. He’s been smoking angel dust and acting like a fool,” she says. The man has a big smile as he watches his hands move slowly in front of his eyes. Stoned. As we lead him out of the house, his mother kisses him and said, “I love you, you stupid cabron, you come back here like this again, I’ll kill you.” She squeezes his hand as he goes by.

***

These moments all happened in the last week — small moments — that if you didn’t look for them you might not see them at all.

***

When I get home one night this week I find in the mail a bootleg CD I bought at EBay of the Springsteen Hartford Concert. I set it on the CD player and listen to it as I lay in bed after I turn out the light. The sound quality is excellent. I am struck by the lyrics to “Jesus Was an Only Son.”

Jesus was an only son
As he walked up Calvary Hill
His mother Mary walking beside him
In the path where his blood spilled
Jesus was an only son
In the hills of Nazareth
As he lay reading the Psalms of David
At his mother’s feet

A mother prays, “Sleep tight, my child, sleep well
For I’ll be at your side
That no shadow, no darkness, no tolling bell,
Shall pierce your dreams this night”

In the garden at Gethsemane
He prayed for the life he’d never live,
He beseeched his Heavenly Father to remove
The cup of death from his lips

Now there’s a loss that can never be replaced,
A destination that can never be reached
A light you’ll never find in another’s face,
A sea whose distance cannot be breached

Well Jesus kissed his mother’s hands
Whispered, “Mother, still your tears,
For remember the soul of the universe
Willed a world and it appeared.”

-Jesus Was an Only Son

Bruce Springsteen

***

I am not a religious man. I believe that when you are dead you are dead. I want to be as good a person as I can be while I am here. Not that I am, but I want to always try.

Sometimes our patients can help show us the way.

***

Years ago I read a great short story by Andre Dubus called “A Father’s Story.” It is about a priest who finds out his daughter has killed a man in a hit and run accident, and when the police come late in the story and ask him if he knows anything, in anguish, he lies to them. The story ends where he talks to God, and he tells God if it had been one of his sons, he could have turned him in because his sons are strong and he could bear watching them suffer, but his daughter… He asks God if Jesus was God’s daughter rather than his son, would he have been able to send her to her death. Very powerful story. A story about a parent’s limitless love.

Andre Dubus: Selected Stories

10 Comments

  • Mama Mia says:

    Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Thank you for taking the time to notice and share.

  • PC says:

    http://www.medic471.blogspot.com is my daily journal. I take highlights from that journal to post on this site.

  • Aaron Patton says:

    was the 10 year old in handcuffs?

  • Anonymous says:

    I struggle with the issues of spirituality. I went on a messy car accident call the other day where some people had been tossed from car that rolled off the road. They were teenagers. One of them was dead right there. Four of the others were transported, and one died a few days later in the hospital.All five of the occupants, I found out in the newspaper, were close friends. Two were twin brothers. One twin died, the other was the one who died in the hospital. In the space of a week, a mother lost two of her sons. I live two blocks from where one of the dead twins lived. The church down the street held a prayer vigil for the twin that’d been in the hospital.Normally, it’s pretty anonymous. But this wasn’t anonymous enough. I didn’t know these people personally, and when I saw the obits, I didn’t recognize their picture. In the obit pic, they didn’t have blood on their face and vomit in their hair. They didn’t have a ET tube in them, or a BVM by their face. They didn’t have blood coming out of their ears, or a bone sticking out of their leg. Everyone else remembers them as they lived. I remember them as they died.I heard people talk about how it was part of God’s plan, and how there will be something good that comes out of it.But to me, it’s just shitty luck. They might have been drinking, but no matter what the state police say, it’s possible the alcohol wasn’t THE factor. Maybe it was changing the radio station at the wrong time, or a tire blowout, or a cell phone call at exactly the wrong time.I don’t know what kind of Plan requires one brother to die in a ditch, and the other to aspirate his stomach contents and die on the vent in the ICU. I don’t see the Good that comes out of something like that. It’s shitty luck, that’s all. No plan, nothing fantastic. Just another grieving family. All the prayer in the world from all the caring people and pastors didn’t help those boys live. They died, but their memories live on in those who didn’t. That’s the afterlife as I see it.That call really bothered me for a while. It was one of the first really bad trauma calls I’ve seen. I’m new, that’s why. And that’s why it really bothered me.For two or three days, I kept seeing the mangled bodies around the car. I kept seeing the bloody ambulance floor.I never once had that whole ‘If only I’d…” thing. I know that what we did was flawless. Nothing could save that person. The best I could do was to do my job well enought to, maybe, make it possible for them to die with their family nearby in the hospital.I’ll never forget that call, ever. That moment changed the lives of a lot of people forever. It changed mine too. I learned more about myself and this work and this world in that instant than I ever remember learning before. In a way, that boy that died lives on in me. He’s in my memories. I wish I could say it didn’t bother me, but hey, I’m human.I mention this because your post made me think about the amazing privledge people in EMS have in seeing such unadulerated emotions — love and hate and terror and joy and fear and relief in such pure forms. There’s precious few times when one can see this in the world, these pure expressions of the human experience.It is, I think, the best part of EMS — the honor of being present at so many life changing events. It’s not often spoken of in EMS: the honor of bearing witness and filling in the collective memory.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think that sometimes its an honor to be with someone when they die. That mabye you can offer them some sort of peace as they pass, and sometimes save a few to give them another chance. As much as EMS makes you want to not believe in a higher power, I still do. I still believe that for all the dark it shows all the light there still is in the world. Nothing in life is ever fair, easy or always happy but it all can’t be so random not to have someone in control.

  • Anonymous says:

    I’m a born again Christian and an EMT, I struggle sometimes with all the things that happen.What humble’s me sometimes is when I find that my arrival is the answer to a prayer…

  • 30 yr ff/pm says:

    anonymous at 10:41 PM said,I’m new, that’s why. And that’s why it really bothered me.No. It bothered you because you are a thinking , caring human. You did all you could for someone and they still died. I’ve been doing this for 30 yrs and while every bad call doesn’t haunt me anymore, they aren’t totally forgotten either…

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  • Coco Gabriella Justice Bech says:

    ohmygosh, I loved this post. Thanks for sharing! <3//Coco

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