Stereotype -/ˈsterēəˌtīp/- a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing
My eyelids felt like sandbags as I embraced the vibration of the high idle on the truck murmuring like grasshoppers on a summer evening. We had parked in an abandoned lot away from the streetlights, hoping that the unforgiving night would grant us some reprieve. Three hours left of our twelve hour night, and this was the first time we had made it to a post. After a swig of lukewarm coffee, I folded my hands in my lap and attempted to drift away anywhere other than where I really was. The sibilating noises from the passenger seat unnerved me. Lucky bastard. I’ve done 90% of the work and he’s the one napping. After several minutes of squirming and attempting to adjust the position of my incommodious seat, I decided that it was a lost cause and retreated to the patient compartment to stretch out. Throwing a blanket down over the bench seat, I was overwhelmed by the stench of booze, vomit, and coagulated blood from the last road scholar we had just transported. Fumbling around in the dark through my cargo pocket, I produced a jar of Vick’s. Finally, I could breathe again. With the exhaust fan humming in the background, I was able to pass into a light sleep that lasted for roughly ten tantalizing minutes. Static came over the radio, followed immediately by an unwelcome transmission.
Ugh. Are we the only ones working tonight? “Go ahead,” I grumbled, making my annoyance apparent.
“Ambulance 41, assist police and fire on a shooting at a nightclub.”
To this day, I am still amazed at how fast utter exhaustion can lift after hearing those words. Swearing under my breath, I quickly tossed the blanket out of the back of the ambulance, launching myself into the driver’s seat. My somnolent counterpart didn’t stir. In a moment of testosterone overload, I punched him in the shoulder as hard as I could.
“Wake up, dude! We just got a shooting!”
“Are you serious?!” With the energy of a sloth on Ambien, he struggled to sit his seat upright, while wiping drool from the corner of his mouth. “Was I snoring?”
“Sounded like a freakin’ artillery barrage.”
As we neared the scene, the chaos was palpable. Teenagers running in every direction, and only three officers attempting to keep at least thirty unsettled bystanders back. Despite the excitement from the crowd there some optimistic statements from onlookers saying, “She’s gonna make it”.. There was a crater in the left side of her head with obvious brain matter and a pool of blood under her. Fighting the bounding of my own pulse, I reached under her jawline only to confirm that she did not have one. My partner went back to the ambulance to grab a sheet, when I began to hear murmurs from the crowd, inferring that our pronouncement was based on her ethnicity and that if she were Caucasian, then we would no doubt be working to try to save her. As the grumblings spread, drunken belligerence became the overall attitude. In the span of twenty seconds, we went from saviors to oppressors. My partner and I need not say anything to each other; our decision had been made for us. As he rapidly exchanged the sheet for the wheels, I ducked as a beer bottle grenade went soaring over my head and landed on the ground with a ferocious explosion. As did another. And another. A simple pronouncement had just became a public relations mission to avoid a riot. With stretcher now present, firefighters assisted my partner and I in hoisting the hefty young woman onto the pram as we darted for the ambulance. Gunfire erupted down the street as well more screaming and shouting. We locked ourselves inside and took off for the hospital, hearing projectiles ricocheting off of the bus.
“Ambulance 41 en route emergently to Memorial with one patient, condition Charlie minus.” My voice cracked and wavered. I tried to hide the excitement in my voice, but anybody that knows me knows that I speak a million miles a minute when I’m stressed. Immediately I called the receiving trauma center that we were about twenty minutes away from and explained the circumstances of why we were transporting a traumatic arrest to begin with. I knew that this was against our policy, but frankly I couldn’t care less at the time. As we progressed closer to the hospital, I could see the half-assed nature of work the other crew members were doing. Lazy, sporadic CPR with long intermissions between crew members as well lackluster ventilations.
“We all know what the outcome is going to be, guys, but could we at least make it look like we care and we tried?” I suggested. “There’s a reason everyone was upset back there, and it’s because they expected us to not care.”
“No. It’s because they’re all a bunch of animals. Those friggin’ monkeys belong in a zoo. Sick of dealing with their n****r bullshit.” The lieutenant fired back at me.
“Excuse me?” I retorted noticing the Confederate flag tattoo he sported proudly on his right arm.
“You heard me. I’m just saying what we’re all thinking.”
“Don’t give yourself that much credit.”
“If you ask me, we should throw ‘em all in a stadium, load ‘em up with a bunch of guns, and watch ‘em all take each other out. Might even pop some popcorn and make a night of it.” He sneered.
“Why don’t you shut up before you become the second unresponsive person back here.” I could feel my blood boiling. Our eyes locked, and in a moment of clarity I saw the real enemy in this situation. The bus slowed rolling unsteadily over a few speed bumps and came to a halt. We unloaded the pram continuing CPR on the way into the trauma bay. After a short handoff report and fifteen minutes of mopping the blood out of the back of the rig, I noticed my crimson footprints leading back out to the truck. I walked through the grass hoping that the early morning dew would clean them up. Trotting through the lawn, I recalled an excerpt from The Merchant of Venice.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
The engine crew had departed and only my partner and I were left. I could hear the squawking of my radio in the background. The impatient dispatch crew was harassing us to get back in service to take a non-emergent abdominal pain call around the corner. After a less than gracious reminder that we needed to return the scene to sign the crime log, we bought a few extra minutes before heading back.
0402. A gentle breeze started to blow and a soft rain began to fall. In a few minutes, it progressed into a full-fledged storm that sounded like pebbles bouncing off of a tin can. Our wipers couldn’t keep pace with the droplets that struck the glass. As we approached the area, fluorescent yellow tape and psychedelic flashes of blue and red filled the night sky. Sauntering over to the crime scene station, we ran into our esteemed colleagues from the fire station holding the metal clipboard, begrudgingly adding their names to the list. Slamming the notepad into my chest, the lieutenant grumbled, “Here you go Mr. Bleeding Heart.” I suggested he attempt an anatomically impossible procedure as we parted ways. Watching the ink run off of the paper, I handed the crime log back to the attending officer.
Maybe I’m different than most medics, or maybe I’m just more vocal about how I feel after difficult situations. I spent the entire drive home sitting in disbelief. I just couldn’t accept that in the 21st century someone could be so calloused about another human’s death. Not only that, but attributing ill motives and wishing harm to an entire group of people. Working in an urban setting, I will admit that I was surprised at first to hear someone attribute ulterior motives to me claiming that my performance could ever be based on racial stereotyping, but now I feel differently. Having not grown up as an African-American in Midwestern America, I admit that I was skeptical when I first heard cries of racism and bigotry in the workplace. It had never really affected me personally, and the obvious human response is to believe that movements that we aren’t invested in lack legitimacy. That night changed my mind forever. When I hear people in the field rush to denounce things like Black Lives Matter or immediately claim there is no such thing as systemic racism within our society, I shake my head and only think about how much further we have to progress. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have our stereotypes. Even if it’s not about race, it could just as easily be about socioeconomic classes, genders, or geographic regions. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up every day expecting to be treated in an inferior manner just because of the color of my skin. Empathy requires us to move past our own realities and embrace what someone else’s is. Just a thought…
“There is no reconciliation until you recognize the dignity of the other, until you see their view- you have to enter into the pain of the people. You’ve got to feel their need.”- John Perkins