"Silence is the universal refuge,…our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail."
Henry David Thoreau
There is a good chance (75/25) that if an ambulance crew arrives to pick you up; they will make fun of you once you’ve been deposited safely at the ER.
It is not because we are cold hearted or cruel, it’s because we need an outlet to diffuse the stress and emotion that could easily kill us if we took every thing so seriously.
What might we say?
“Was that mold growing on the dishes in the sink? What trailer park trash.”
“Could he have been any fatter? Maybe if he lost 200 pounds he might be able to breathe.”
“Was it just me or did it seem as if the whole family was a bunch of hysterical hyenas slightly on the retarded side?”
“Christ, what a WHINER. If I ever whine like that, throw me off the rig and run over me a million times.”
There are those calls, however, that still our voices, that leave us speechless.
We arrived in front of a sprawling house with an immaculate lawn. A State Police car was already parked at the curb.
She was pretty, a pink afghan wrapped around her shoulders even though it was the middle of summer. She was tall and blonde and walking up and down the driveway. “Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God.”
Ed, the senior medic, stopped to ask her if she was okay. Her teeth were chattering in between the OH MY GOD’s. Obviously, she was not okay.
The trooper met us at the door and led us upstairs to a bedroom.
As I always do, I pay close attention to the details of the house. This one was perfect, everything sparkling, clean, in its proper place. It was like walking into a show home.
He was lying on the floor in the bedroom: The gun not far from his right hand. His face looked like it was made of wax and someone had grabbed the left side of his head and stretched it out as far as it could go. He looked like a disfigured comic book character. A villain in search of Batman and Robin. There was brain and bone spattered on the ceiling. I was fearful it would fall on me so for the most part, I stood in the doorway.
There was a bullet hole in the window.
“Oh yeah,” said the veteran trooper, “a-lot of times they take a practice shot to make sure the gun is working.”
There were pictures of him and the hysterical woman all over the room. On their wedding day, on a boat, on a beach, under a Christmas tree. He was 29. He was Esquirish good looking.
He left a note that wasn’t very telling. He apologized to his family. To his wife. Sorry. I just couldn’t take it anymore. No matter what I do, I’ll never be good enough. I hope you forgive me for the embarrassment this will cause you.
We waited until the woman’s mother arrived to drive her away from this perfect house, with the nice cars, and the once handsome husband, and the crystal blue swimming pool in the perfectly green back yard.
Ed had kept trying to calm her down but she just kept pacing, kept whispering “Oh My God”…but at one point she crossed the lawn to where I was standing and grabbed my arm with her cold, tiny, hand.
“Why? Why would he do this?”
Her eyes were wild, like a trapped animal, and when she had touched my arm, it was as if she had instantly transferred her pain into my heart and for a moment, I felt the shock of it all. The violence, the loss, the end of life as she knew it. I opened my mouth to say something but there was not a word to be found.
We drove back to the station in total silence. No jokes, no music, no questions.
So, if you ever have the unfortunate occasion to find yourself in the care of EMS, remember this: if you catch an eye roll or smirk out of the corner of your eye, be thankful: It’s the silence that you should worry about.
Excerpt from Girl Medic: Confession of Chaos and Calamity Behind the Sirens.