American Summer

I originally posted this in August of 2006.

It’s been over ten years I’ve been working in the city. Driving around in the ambulance, you can see the changes. None of the book stores I used to stop at are still in business. The barbeque place in the north end where they sold cornbread muffins for twenty-five cents is gone. The Lion’s Den – the Jamaican vegetarian restaurant — where you could smell the marijuana smoke coming from the backroom when you went in to buy soy patties – burned to the ground and was demolished. One of the city hospitals closed. The nursing homes all have new names. People still shoot each other and do heroin and call the ambulance for dumb things. There are still a lot of drunks, but none of the old ones are left. We don’t respond in the south end anymore – another company does. The fire department is a first responder now instead of the police who rarely ever came in the first place. Instead of navy blue uniforms we wear light blue shirts. There are more medics on the road these days where before there were just a few of us. We never did transfers unless they were ALS; now transfers are a regular part of the day. I’m as apt to be doing a dialysis run as I am responding to a motor vehicle.

I‘m working with a guy who has been around as long as I have, and we are talking about how some girls who were pretty when we started are now on the heavy side, how some medics who were sparks are now burnt out, how some new stuff is good – like all the overtime — and some is bad – like how the out-of-town dispatchers don’t know the streets. We talk about how you can never rely on anything to stay the same. All you can do is try to do your job and treat your patients decently. The seasons come, the seasons go.

The afternoon is slow. We are posted in an area near the edge of town. Instead of posting on the specific street corner that represents the area we are covering, we are about a quarter of a mile away at the maintenance entrance of a park, right next to a small pond. It is a beautiful August day – blue sky, a slight cooling breeze. We shut the engine off. I open the door and stretch my legs out. My partner goes over and sits on a bench. We are the only ones there. Five minutes later we get a page. Effective immediately per the PD we are to move to the assigned area. We look around and don’t see anyone. I look at the maintenance building, at the windows to see if anyone on a phone is looking out at us. Someone obviously complained to the police about us being in the park.

We get in the ambulance and drive up the road to the posting location and park on the asphalt in the sun. The AC is running, but we are in an old car and the engine is really loud. I try to do the crossword puzzle in the morning paper, but it’s late in the week and as you get toward Friday, it gets much harder. I don’t make much progress.

We go on a couple calls. On a motor vehicle, as we arrive lights and sirens, the cops give us the cut sign. They say they canceled us – it just never made it through the dispatchers. Then we get the dispatch. We’re canceled.

Dispatch sends us over to Main Street for an ETOH. The man who called leans out from a third floor window under a flag of Puerto Rico and points across the street to the baseball field and says, “He’s over there under the tree. He drinks too much. You need to take him to detox.”

We get back in the ambulance and drive over to the field, get out walk along the tree-lined fence, until we come to the entrance, and then walk over to where we see a man in a Yankees tee-shirt sitting with three forty ounce beers. He’s a got a big grin on his face. He’s just cracked open the first one and has two full ones sticking out of a paper bag.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Drinking beer in the park,” he says.

“You know why we’re here?”

“Cause I’m not supposed to drink in the park?”

“No, that’s not our business. We’re here to see if you’re okay, if you’d like to go to the hospital. Do you need detox?”

“No, I just want to drink my beer. Did my uncle call you?”

“Is he the guy in the third floor window?”

“Yeah. He kicked me out of his apartment. He drinks more beer than I do.”

“Well, just because he wants you to go to detox, we can’t take you against you will, but you realize, if you pass out, we can come and take you.”

“I understand.” He smiles. He sees we are no danger to him.

I’m looking around at the lush green field, the beautiful August day, the beer which is cold right from the store. I look at my partner and I know he’s thinking the same thing I am. “If we weren’t on the clock,” I say, “We’d love to join you. You have a good afternoon. Don’t outdo yourself, and if you ever aren’t feeling well and need to go to the hospital or want detox, just give us a call. And if you do pass out and your uncle calls, we’ll have to take you in. Understand?”

He smiles again, and extends his hand. “You guys are alright,” he says. “It’s a deal.”

We walk back to the ambulance, get in, and then drive back to the apartment building where we call up to the guy in the window. “We can’t take him,” I say. “It’s America. He’s alert and oriented. He’s got rights.”

The man, who we can see has a long-necked bottle of beer of his own in his hand, shrugs and thanks us for trying.

“He passes out, you call us back, and then we’ll come and get him.”

He waves, and sticks his head back inside.

I don’t know about my partner, but when I get home I have a few cold ones myself and sit out in my back yard and enjoy the summer evening.

Time passes. Sometimes you need to stop and enjoy the seasons.