We greet Friday having had enough sleep – which may sound mundane to some, but in the EMS life, this is a rare moment indeed. Rare, too, for the air to have such a clear, gorgeous quality to it; it smells of the softening apples spread beneath the tree across the road. You could almost drink it, and if you did, it would taste like the Boone’s Farm you swigged on your nineteenth birthday, wouldn’t it?
But we can’t drink – we’re at work, wearing our Superman blues – so we’ll just breathe and walk instead. And hope the freaking pager doesn’t go off.
When you work in EMS, a lot of people ask you how, why, you do what you do. But the truth is, there are a lot of days just like this. The second truth is this: we’re not quite sure, ourselves, what opened this gate in our lives and took us dancing down this particular garden path. “It’s just what we do,” is the standard reply.
But it takes a funny breed, doesn’t it?
There are components to our lives which the rest of the world would find . . . odd, but which to us are the every day. Well, here, consider this:
Sleep. It’s such a commodity that you can find us snoozing – huddled on broken couches beneath our sleeping bags - any time of the day or night. We crave sleep, we live for it. Because, of course, it’s hard come by. Our lives are subject to continuous interruption – we open ourselves up to that, anywhere from forty-eight to ninety-six hours a week.
Forty-eight-hour weeks are for wusses!
We live together. We arrive at one station fresh from another, having not gone home between. We’re packing clothing, food, bottled water, coffee, books, as though we’re preparing to hike The Great Divide.
Some mornings it feels that way.
It’s strange to spend so much time with nonfamily members. Not just days, but moments. The phone call from an ailing parent, the death of a beloved pet, a child’s first report card, party plans, divorces . . . all shared over coffee and, maybe, a Marlboro with the guy in blue standing next to you. This, too – those breathless, suspended seconds in the back of the rig. Full-blown CPR at seventy miles per hour, a seizure that won’t end, the accident victim going shocky.
We can discuss the contents of our patient’s stomach while eating lunch and not even realize we’re doing it until the other diners go quiet.
We live for you. A (admittedly twisted) part of us needs to be needed. We have to fix, to mend, to right the wrong that led you to call us today. Something else you might not know – we don’t really admire ourselves at all. We’re not like Chicago Fire – we’re not the brave and the wonderful. Actually, much of the time, we admire you, the patient. The most outstanding displays of courage and grace generally come from the hapless victim on the cot - and when you’ve taken a frail, sick, little old lady from the nursing home who remembers to ask you how your day is going, you learn that quickly.
Finally – we carry a lot of you with us, all the time. The parents of the girl who overdosed saw, at the hospital, our calm, blue professionalism. They missed the struggle, the rush, the overwhelming desire to put life back into that body. Their nightmares will probably never end, but, oh, we understand nightmares, too.
But not today.
Today the sun feels like a warm wash of absolute benevolence. The pagers rest benignly in our pockets as though they’ll never speak again. We’re not exhausted or burned-out or alcoholic. (Chicago Fire again.) In fact, we possess a unique perspective on the goodness of life revolving around the simple fact that we are alive.
Today, we are golden.
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