I’m sitting in my ambulance posted in the North end of Hartford. Thankfully it has been a quiet morning so far and that has enabled me to finish Responding, Michael Morse’s great sequel to his first book Rescuing Providence. Michael is an excellent writer and one of the best EMS bloggers around.
Responding chronicles a 38 hour shift, but it also has flashbacks to earlier calls, and at the end has many of the short stand alone stories that for me are the reason for reading Morse’s blog.
What I like about this book, as well, as his first one, is that I found at several points, I was reminded of what I like most about EMS – the view of others’ lives and the quiet moments where you just stop and feel the whole universe around you, and sad or joyful, tragic or miraculous in that moment you feel that you are a witness to life and the human condition that is laid bare before you, and even if that moment hurts, you feel honored to be allowed to see and feel it and to be present. Three moments in particular in this book stand out for me, Morse on scene over time with a Cambodian woman, whose history he has learned, the brutal childhood and the spiral into alcohol, ending with him present to call the time on her now cold and stiff body; a scene where Morse visits his own mother in a nursing home and brushes her hair while she sleeps; and then on a transport to pick up a child with severe disabilities, and witness the love of his caregivers, as they brush the boy’s hair who they have cared for his whole life and say good bye. We as EMS are there in moments where we see life in its barest truth, and we also have the gift of touch that the single most powerful gesture we possess to affirm that we, as an individual and as a collective, are human.
And by recording these moments, Morse brings our world to life and does the job of the writer that of bearing witness to our humanity.
I think this is what William Faulkner was getting at in hisNobel Prize address, where he described the job of a writer. Man, he wrote, “is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
Before I became an EMT I read EMS books for accounts of the calls. Now the calls themselves are less interesting to me that the writer’s ability to chronicle what our lives in EMS are really like. While this book has war stories, more important for me is the view of what Morse’s life and world is like as an emergency responder and how he has come to his place in it.
Responding is welcome addition to our growing body of EMS literature.