Hero -/ˈhirō/- a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities
She walked up to me and gave me one of the hardest hugs I have ever gotten from someone. Her husband patted me on the back with tears welling in his eyes. “You saved her life; I don’t know what I would have done without her.” Their daughter was in that awkward pre-teen phase with multi-colored hair trying to emulate the hipster movement with her thick-rimmed glasses and ironic mismatched clothing. Her son brought his toy ambulance with him and continued to blare the siren while crashing it into my foot. I didn’t know what to say. When you become a paramedic, there is this twisted fantasy you have about doing something daring and risky and receiving praise when it’s over. Today was different, though. My partner and I had quite literally saved this woman’s life, but I felt numb to the adoration. This woman continued to hug me while crying, expressing her heartfelt gratitude over and over again, but the only thing I could muster was, “glad everything worked out, okay.”
Who the fuck says that?
My chief came into the room, camera in hand, and asked if he could get a group picture. After several minutes of arranging and rearranging, he seemed content with the set up, and snapped a few photos. My mind continued to wander off to that fateful day. I tried not to come off as a deer in the headlights, but I am confident my acting skills were not up to snuff that day, as the woman continued to try to engage me in conversation. In the background, I listened to my partner over-dramatize his involvement in the run and make it sound like he was a stunt car driver in a chase scene instead of just transporting a patient in the back of the bus. Inwardly I rolled my eyes; four months of exaggerated war stories were taking its toll on my stomach, adding to the ulcer that was already there.
As the room was buzzing with the chatter of awkward strangers, my chief meandered around the room snapping pictures. There was a natural decline in conversation, and as the topics grew stale, the woman handed my partner and I two boxes and a couple of thank you cards. Inside, were baked treats; everything from chocolate-covered strawberries to cookies to cannolis. The selection was overwhelming, and you could tell that the family spent a pretty penny on all of the bakery options that were presented to us. The supervisors were in the middle of shift change, and kept filing in and out of the room. There were big smiles and attaboys flying around the room at unprecedented rates. It was nauseating. After three years of hard work, bad hours, and poor sleep, I was being recognized by a patient for a job well done. This was the first time I had heard a word from my management team, though. The woman gave me one last hug and a quick kiss on the cheek thanking me for my 45 minute contribution to her life.
“I owe my life to you.”
Those words reverberated off of the walls in my head, and I knew that I couldn’t live with them. My mind continued to drift elsewhere; mainly the day that I met this woman.
It was late March. There was dew on the grass and still had that spring nip in the air. I knew it was going to be a bad day at work. For the last two weeks, my partner and I had been attempting to bridge up an EMT trying to become a paramedic. It had been very painful, and I could feel my patience becoming increasingly thinner. As we were finishing our truck check that morning, I heard dispatch come over the air.
“Go ahead for Medic 23.”
“For your information, the paging and mapping system are down today. You’ll have to use your mapbooks and call into dispatch for your call times.”
Could we have one fucking day where something actually works?
“Medic 23 is clear, thank you.”
I was driving while my partner was taking his morning nap on the bench seat and the EMT we were cross-training rode shotgun. This was the fourth time this EMT was attempting to become a paramedic; she had failed every other time, and this time wasn’t going much better than the previous ones. Her phone rang once, and she proceeded to let it ring.
That has got to be the most annoying ringtone I have ever heard.
“You going to answer that?”
“It’s my daughter.”
“You going to answer that?”
I think she finally got the hint that she either needed to answer the phone call or shut her ringer off. I am not a morning person, but still, there wasn’t enough coffee in this world to make that bearable. After five minutes of bickering and occasional yelling, she hung up and there was a long pause.
“Trouble in paradise?”
“I need to go home.”
“What’s going on?”
“My daughter just got into a wreck and my son’s about to get arrested.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present another episode of Young and the Restless.
“Mmmmkay. I’ll let the supervisor know.”
I called my supervisor and informed dispatch over the radio that we needed to turn back around to the base. After dropping her off, I yelled back to the patient compartment to see if my partner was still alive. I saw the lights flicker on while my partner stumbled around as if he were reenacting Frankenstein. He sulked in the front seat.
“I’m tired, and I don’t feel like doing anything.”
“Join the club.”
“No… I’m really, tired.”
“I have two kids, a full-time job, and I’m going to school. Sympathy is in short supply today.”
I felt like an asshole responding like that, but I had already filled my complaint quota for the day and we hadn’t even made it to our first post. My stomach was growling, and all I could hear was coffee and a breakfast burrito calling my name. Wrong again.
“23, go ahead.”
“We’ve got an emergency call on a pregnancy just around the corner from you.”
Dispatch gave us the address as well as some additional directions into the subdivision.
Too fucking early for babies…
I flipped on the lights and sped up to the house. It was a well-kept subdivision; a pleasant break from the dilapidation we normally worked in. My partner and I unloaded our gear and strolled up to the house. We knocked on the door with no answer.
I knocked one more time, and then turned the door handle. The door wasn’t locked and opened into a full living room. There was hardwood everywhere as well as modern art and sculptures. The house was clean and free of the normal debris that we normally had to navigate through. As I cleared the door and turned to my right, my stomach sank.
There she was. Lying on the floor with her pants around her ankles in a puddle of blood. Sweeney Todd kept a cleaner barber shop. Blood covered the floor and had saturated her pants. Her skin was a translucent gray and her voice quivered.
“I think I waited too long to call.”
I grabbed for a radial pulse and felt nothing. My partner and I quickly exchanged looks and came to the same conclusion. We were behind the eight ball. The woman whispered to me that she had had a miscarriage days ago and hadn’t gone to the doctor for follow up care. I had to take my ear piece out to hear her as her faint voice said that she had soaked five pads and passed five large clots. I fumbled with the automatic blood pressure cuff.
My partner grabbed the EKG cables and place them on the patient’s arms and legs. She was bradycardic and profoundly hypotensive. We both reached for the tourniquets trying to find a place with a palpable vein. I knew I was only prolonging the inevitable. I scanned her neck for an EJ and saw nothing. I didn’t have a choice. I rummaged through the first-in bag and took out the IO kit. I depressed the trigger for a second and heard the whirl of the drill. As I prepped my needle and saline lock set, I reached for the lidocaine.
Why the fuck isn’t there any Lidocaine in my IO kit? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me… Could resupply for one fucking day do their jobs!?
I thought I was going to have an aneurysm, but I couldn’t convey that. My partner at the time, God love him, fed off of every bit of chaos and uncertainty that he saw and heard. I so much as said the word “problem” and there was instant panic. As calmly as I could, I asked him to check the drug bag for Lidocaine. Goose egg. Despite my deeply pessimistic tone, I do believe in divine intervention. Our supervisor was making his round that morning and just so happened to be heading to that very same run. With Lidocaine. Simultaneously, our supervisor and the woman’s husband walked in the door.
I explained to the patient and her husband what I had to do. I was going to have to place an IO in her tibia because she had no veins that I could start an IV on. I prepped the site and said the infamous line.
“You’re going to feel a little pressure.”
I could feel the grinding of the needle into her bone. Her screams reached near animalistic tones as I had to repetitively coach her to lie flat on the ground until I was done. I pulled back on the syringe and saw bone marrow. I was in. With every milliliter of Lidocaine and saline that I pushed in came more screaming until she was hoarse. I couldn’t sedate her because of how unstable her vital signs were. My partner got up front and drove. Correction. He flew. Like a bat out of hell. It was as if I was auditioning for a program at NASA trying to construct something in an anti-gravity simulator. The OB/GYN specialty center was at least twenty minutes away and I was alone for all of them. For 19 minutes I worked my ass off. I was a sweaty mess at the end of them. From hanging saline and TXA to running 12-leads to calling the hospital…I felt drained. There was one minute though, where I stopped and recollected my thoughts. She reached out her hand and asked if she could hold mine.
So am I. “I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you back here.”
It was a promise said with utmost confidence. One I knew that I couldn’t keep. Despite hawk-like vigilance, there was no guarantee I could make to her or her family that everything was going to be okay, and I knew it. All of us want to be in control, and loathe the times that we feel we can’t be. I felt out of control, though. We rolled into the emergency department and while passing off report to the nurses there, they treated my report with zero sobriety.
“Thank God for ambulance drivers,” one of the nurses echoed.
Thank God for doctor helpers.
She took one more photo with me before the clan climbed into their SUV and drove off. She rolled down her window and signaled for me to come closer.
“You were my hero that day.”
She teared up, put on her seatbelt and their vehicle backed out of the lot and faded away down the street. I felt the pain in my stomach sharpen…
Hero. Not by a damn shot…
Growing up, I idolized Atticus Finch, Bruce Wayne, and Matt Murdock. They were my heroes. While all fictional, they never compromised their values and continued to fight social injustice and human suffering. I can honestly tell you I don’t feel like I fit the bill and will continue to feel that way. For all of the successes in my career, I feel like there are just as many, no, more failures. If we are honest with ourselves, none of us are heroes. Heroes don’t have to go home and drink just to feel normal. My heroes never screamed at drunks or practiced punitive medicine… Compassion fatigue and cynicism were never traits of my heroes, but if I am truly introspective, they are qualities that I possess. Maybe one day, my sons will hear the stories I have lived through and think I am a hero. I hope they don’t. I hope they never have to witness or imagine the things I see daily. Maybe one day there won’t be a need for heroes…