"What's the worst thing you've ever seen?"
It's the perennial question of paramedicine. Funny thing is, it's not always the worst things
that get you. It's the stuff that's somewhere in the humdrum middle of the pack, that large crop of calls that aren't awful or funny or strange enough to even warrant discussion around the end-of-shift table. It's the everyday grind of what human beings do to themselves and each other--out of fear and ignorance and pettiness and loss of love--that stains the rest of your day.
It's filling out an injury report because a crazed, chemically altered grandmother
tore your flesh with her fingernails, after being roused from the stupor that prompted her single-digits-young grandchildren to call an ambulance for her. No child should ever have to be coached by a 911 dispatcher on how to perform CPR on her cracked-out grandmother. And no child should have to hear from that same grandmother that it's all her fault. Look what you're doing to me!
as those long nails wrench at IV tubing and her own face and a paramedic's skin. No matter how pessimistic I get about this big ole world, I'll never nudge that over into my eh, it happens
column. I can't accept it into our norm, as black as I can feel about what that's becoming.
In the end, on paper, it all looks unremarkable: what was dispatched as a Code Blue
turned into just another psychiatric/drug-related transport. Not exactly headline-making stuff these days. But paper doesn't capture the echo that's already shuddering down through those kids' years, nor the loathing that burns out of their supposed protector's empty eyes. On paper, you can't see the atrophy of spirit.
A lovely print of this image
was a birthday gift this year. I hung it just the other day, in a spot where it can remind me many times every day of its lesson. Difficult under the best of circumstances, it sometimes feels damn near impossible with the curious intimacy with strangers my job gives me.
On the subject of things that shouldn't happen... Read this piece.
Even if you're not a fan of the Alibi
, even if you're deep in media exhaustion and don't want to read one more word about the shit that's going down in our name, lest you fling yourself off the closest high place. No, it's probably not a worst thing
. It's in that nagging middle, lingering like a splinter the tweezers just can't grasp. It's little girls and addict grandmothers. And I'm afraid it, too, is becoming part of our norm.
What changed for my family (borne on the shoulders of one of our own) with this Iraq war remains to me, in many ways, a mystery. The hurt was immediately palpable and tainted with the taboo of silence; the sense of it all, perhaps, will be made later. Or never. It's not a worst thing.
Tomorrow, next week, over the years to come... we'll all read about worse things. And they'll fade before we've clicked the next blog link. The worst things don't get you, precisely because
. They're worst
. They're aberrations by definition. It's when the business-as-usual things kick us in the gut that we all need to remember the lesson
, because I don't see any other way back from the middle.