Most EMS personnel have been on that call. The call that becomes, over time, a sort of dark anniversary, a still moment in time when we are forced to acknowledge the certain inevitability of death and our own inability to stave it off. My main character, Nicola Thomas, stepped forward this week to blog about one such call. I almost put the kibosh to it, given that it is pretty . . . well, dark. But then she pulled off a beautiful save in the last couple of paragraphs and I decided that maybe the viewpoint of one who had stood so close to death might actually be valuable as far as helping the rest of us to better live. Let me know what you think. I can always fire her.
The last curve on Kittideere Road is a broad hook, shaded by the arthritic arms of oaks and elms and scented, in the summertime, with the heady stink of joe pye weed. By July, the undergrowth at the roadside will be impassable, tangled with morning glory and maypop, and latticing over the little white cross - finally covering it in vines and blossoms and making it far more palatable.
Are roadside memorials unnerving only to EMS and fire personnel, or do they inspire a universal sort of flinching?
The Kittideere cross commemorates a truck vs tree, victim twenty years old and breathing his last on my nephew’s birthday. I arrived on the scene with the dazzle of three candles still in my eyes and had to blink against the white-hot glare of August sun before pushing my sunglasses into place. Our patient was part way down a ravine, still in his truck and wearing a tree – the branches encroaching through the shattered windshield to pin him hopelessly, resolutely, against the seat, the cab squashed and flattened all around him.
He was alive, but he had plenty of fluid in his airway, and the irregular gurgling sounds were harsh against an innocuous backdrop of honey bee drone and bird chatter. Cantwell had already wormed his way into the cab and the final remnants of the birthday song faded from my mind as he began suction and Burwell started the Jaws.
Cutters and Spreaders and Rams – huge hydraulic tools that tear through metal like a toddler’s finger trenching frosting. Almost too heavy for me, but the adrenaline rush is an incredible thing - roars through the brain, steadies the hands – and we went to work.
Our patient’s legs were hopeless – splintered bone showing through torn jeans, blood already pouring from beneath the door and pooling on my boot. The dash was hard against his chest.
“Hurry as you can.” Cantwell’s voice was deceptively calm, encouraging in the way of a man pitching a ball to a child, and I was aware again, for only the fleetest of seconds, of the glorious summer all around us. The simple beauty of emerald leaves against boundless sky.
Then someone said “We’re losing him,” and we abandoned caution, finally snapping the door hinge and ripping our patient free from the glut and snarl of metal and elm tree.
He fell gracelessly to the woodland carpet – ugly tangle of gristle, tissue and bone – and we flopped him on a backboard and ran with him.
Of course he died. He had brown skin and a sunburst tattoo on his biceps. A picture of a little girl in his wallet.
And so, it seems to me that memorials can be a messy proposition, little white crosses maybe representing hopelessness and defeat, blood and loss.
Because if simple thoughts are prayers – and I believe they sometimes are – then I pray for him each time I see the little cross set catawampus against the roots of the broken elm. This soul - the soul of a man I never knew in life - whispers to me whenever I traverse that familiar road; and it no longer seems like bad thing, this holding hands with that other world. Maybe my prayers for him are answered with his prayers for me, and so it goes, life and death and afterlife all in a continuous whirl. All of us related, all of us hoping and praying for each other, sending encouragement, hope and love across the virtual miles.
That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? That would make it all worthwhile.
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