ambulance-traffic(Derek Harp is a terrific writer. Here he is raw and uncensored!)

It’s 5:30, time to get up. This is the last day of work before my 3 days off. I got out of the bed rubbing my arms for heat. This was a good indication of the type of weather I would have today. My room is normally very toasty and although the sun hadn’t come up yet, I knew it was going to be very cold. I rushed into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, took my shower, got myself ready and left for work. I got my usual parking space at the station, right next to Lois. Inside I mingled with my co-workers before walking into the locker room to switch jackets and get my equipment. I could hear them discussing calls they had the day before while slurping down their coffee.

“Roll Call”, Lieutenant Frizell yelled out. I closed my locker and came out to get in line. Lt. Frizell took his job way to serious. His military background caused him to treat us all like military personnel. “I didn’t join the Fuckin Military”, I would always think to myself. I was sure his militant attitude was to conform me and some of the other young employees. He thought we were way too comfortable and stuck in our own ways, so he made it his business to buss chops about punctuality, dress code, language and shined shoes. I didn’t have a problem with most of his demands except for maybe an occasional F Bomb slip up. I cussed in the street and it was a little hard to remember not to say “Fuck That, or Kiss My Ass”, but he wasn’t having it. He and I didn’t communicate much, mainly because he blocked me from bettering myself.

I was trying to go to Paramedic school in the evening while working the day shift. He felt I needed more experience as an EMT first so he had my schedule switched so I had to work evenings, the same times that the Medic Course was being taught. I hated him for that. Many folks were saying that he never passed the entrance exam and perhaps he was just a little jealous and envious that I passed the entrance exam first try. Anyway, I pretty much leave him alone.  Every now and then he might talk about shiny boots and look at my feet. For the most part my boots were pretty good. There were the rare occasions when I had a serious call the day before that had me on the floor, the boots would get scuffed up……whatever! Usually on my days off while preparing my uniforms, I’d shine or at least clean off my boots. I shouldn’t use ‘Shine’. I never shine my Timbs, I clean them, then put lotion on them. Gives them a dull but rich look. I don’t wear shiny boots, but they always look like new.

Today’s roll call was no different than the normal. There weren’t any special announcement today. He did take down names for people interested in working overtime this evening. Big Titty Andrel said she wanted to work, so I quickly yelled, “Put me down with Drel”. She was my old partner. I worked with her at the time that my schedule had been changed to evenings. She was cool to work with, didn’t complain much, and was always trying to get me to fuck her in the back of the ambulance between calls in the late night. We used to work from 5pm to 1am, so there were many evenings that we had quiet time. I have never given in and had sex with her like she wanted. She thought it was because I was a really good guy, loyal to my girlfriend. My reasons were slightly different, as the physical attraction  past the 44D breast, were less desirable, and she was too tall for my taste standing 5’11” and wearing a woman’s size 12 shoe. “A Big Bitch”, but in a nice way. I never let on to her that I didn’t desire her……..”Wow Drel, if I wasn’t in a relationship, Blah, Blah, Blah.”  Her ego wouldn’t allow her to think anything different from what I told her. I winked at Drel after accepting the overtime with her and just said see you later………….”Can’t Wait”, she replied while stroking her wet lips with her tongue.

My partner for this shift was no surprise. White Boy, Funky-Ass-Joe who had already loaded his needed equipment onto the ambulance. I always wondered why Lt. Frizell, who was such a neat nut about appearance, never said anything about Joe. I mean he was a pretty good guy, he knew his stuff in the field, but Joe looked disgusting. Yesterday’s food on his shirt and in his teeth, his supposedly green uniform pants had cigarette burn holes in several spots and were more like a worn greenish brown. His allegedly black combat boots lost their color and shine years back. He didn’t smell too good either. My co-workers would always ask me to try to talk with him. “Yo Tom, he respects you. You can tell him anything.” I never figured out how to say all that I wanted to, to him, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He was my partner and always had my back. I cherished that more than the need to breathe fresh air, so I dealt with it.

Joe had a thing for Black Women, so that worked in my favor. He used to call me Dr. Love, saying I had a way with the ladies. He trusted my opinion and when he was actually seeing a Black Woman, that would be the only time I could get him to clean up his appearance a bit. We would usually drive around in between emergency calls, and park at locations that had an abundance of women. We’d flirt with them a bit, well more me than Joe. He’d mostly listen to me say a few lines to the ladies and get so excited when I got a positive reply or a phone number from them. “Doctor Love Strikes Again”, he’d say, causing me to just laugh. I would always encourage him to talk to the ladies but he wasn’t too quick on his toes when they replied, so they would usually walk away before he made any real progress. I’d sit and shake my head, sometimes sharing with him how he could’ve reworded things. “You are always so cool. I never see you upset or get discouraged if a conversation doesn’t go well. What’s your secret, he’d ask? We’d laugh and continue this all day anytime we weren’t on a call.

3-5 Charlie was the name of our ambulance. When we heard that over the walkie-talkies we were suppose to stop what we were doing, write down our assignment and then proceed to the location expeditiously. Joe was driving today which meant that I was the Tech today. I would interact with the patients while he drove us to the hospital. We had finished loading the ambulance with everything we could possibly need and then we left the station. Pluto’s Cafe was our immediate destination. I loved their grits, eggs and bacon. Joe was hooked on their pancakes. Other units from our station were sometimes there as well. Some just got coffee or breakfast to go. We always tried to eat as much as we could in the café so we wouldn’t have all that junk in the front of the ambulance with us.

We were just finishing up our breakfast when our first call of the morning came Blasting through the walkie-talkie. “3-5 Charlie?……………….3-5 Charlie?”

“5 Charlie go ahead”, I replied.

“5 Charlie pick up a 29yr old female complaining of severe abdominal pains. 230 Jefferson Ave apt 3………….3-5 Charlie you copy?”

“5 Charlie copy dat. Show us 63” (in route). I finished my last bit of eggs and drank my last swallow of milk before getting up. Joe sucked his teeth and went into one of his usual rants about the misuse of taxpayer’s money by welfare recipients.

“‘I bet she’s some nasty crack-head bitch. Stomach wasn’t fuckin hurtin yesterday when you were running the street lookin for crack. Why can’t she take a fuckin cab? Woodhull Hospital is right down the street.”

That’s happy go lucky Joe. I just laughed and looked around some what embarrassed. He said it kinda loud and we were still in Pluto’s. It’s even funnier to me to think of his change of tone when the patient is cute. He gets so mesmerized sometimes by certain patients and their looks, that I sometimes ask him if he wants to switch for the day and let me drive while he examines them. He’d never do that though. As much as he adores black women he isn’t too aggressive with his communication with them.

Since we hadn’t left the café as quick as we probably should’ve, Joe felt the need to go to Jefferson Ave “Lights and Sirens”, which is usually for a serious emergency. Abdominal pains are not usually life threatening, but sometimes we’re wrong. Joe drove all the way to the location mumbling profanities under his breath. It’s really not that serious I thought. It’s definitely not the first time we were used as a cab to the hospital. I never let it bother me cause it helped our 8 hour shift move faster. Joe was more pissed off that he hadn’t gotten to read the newspaper or do his daily crossword puzzle, a puzzle that he usually fills in incorrectly.

We pull up to Jefferson Ave. Out of the corner of my eye, towards the middle of the block I see a woman sitting on her porch. Soon as she sees the ambulance she jumps up waving her arms yelling “Over Here”. I got out when we came to her house. I immediately grabbed my medical bag and Joe was supposed to follow with our Stair Chair, a chair used to transport patients that don’t quite require a stretcher, but that shouldn’t be walking either. I was gathering some information from the woman when Joe walked up, hands in pockets. I looked at him and without a word he gestured, “Fuck her, she can walk”. I shook my head and slowly escorted the woman to the ambulance. I continued to gather info and examined her as Joe cautiously drove to the nearby hospital.  The woman was extremely forward, wasting no time pulling her pants down when I asked her about a possible discharge or unusual odor.

“My coochie stays clean” she said. I pressed on her abdomen to check for rigidity, which would confirm abdominal bleeding. I was trying to keep her dressed as best I could, but she insisted on pulling her panties down a bit to show me the minor discharge that she was concerned about. I was looking away, jotting down a few things when I heard this strange sound. Sounded like someone separating a strip of Velcro. I looked up, “What the hell was that.” At the same time my faced frowned as this sour smell filled the back of the ambulance. Joe, not even aware of what was going on in the rear of the ambulance, yelled out, “What the hell is that smell?” I jumped up quickly to stick my head into the little window that separated the front from the rear of the ambulance. I whispered, “it’s this nasty chick back here that said she is always clean….Oh My God.” Be quiet though Joe, the quicker we get to the hospital the better. I sat back down to attend to my patient.

“How long have you had the discharge, the foul odor and the pain?”

“Oh the pain was since Saturday and the discharge is pretty normal. But no foul odor, as you can see.”

What? Are you serious? She gave me a headache while I had to sit back there and act like I didn’t smell anything. I didn’t want to, but had to write down the color of the discharge. Based on her condition and the suspected abdominal hemorrhaging, I expected to see a very dark red/brownish color on her underwear. I had to do a double-take when I looked and saw this greenish slimy smear with a bunch of dead dark brown skin surrounding it. I had just determined that the Velcro sound I heard was the separation process of her panties from a very nasty vagina when she so happily decided to show me. I did my best not to puke. I gave her one of our sanitary napkins to catch any further discharge while she would be waiting to see a doctor. My examination was enough for me to conclude that she was having a painful miscarriage. The foul odor coming from her vaginal area was also indicative of infection.

“You’re Cute” she said. “You married? Me and this baby’s father aint together no more so I was wondering if when I finish recovering from this miscarriage, maybe we can go out.”

Was she kidding? This nasty, stinky-butt chick had no shame. She wasn’t embarrassed at all that she smelled the way she did. Enough being nice, I had to kill that thought immediately.  “Miss I am Very Married and I don’t cheat on my wife.” Wow this lady is Coo Coo. Upon arrival to the hospital I told Joe I would handle it from here. He removed the Stair Chair and helped my patient onto it.

“Joe, Spray the disinfectant spray in the back of the ambulance PLEASE? Then you can read your paper. I’m gonna take her up to OB-GYN on the 6th floor. See you in a few.” Joe fanned the air in front of him as he climbed into the back of the ambulance to clean up and change the sheet on the stretcher. That patient continued to flirt with me all the way to the 6th floor. Her body covered up looked nice. But unwrapped revealed her true colors. I remained cordial but could not believe the nerve she had.

That was the first of 5 non-life-threatening calls for the day. They were all “Cab Rides” as Joe calls them, none requiring the service of an emergency response unit. We were finishing up our last call, also at Woodhull Hospital. We had 38 minutes until the end of our shift. Kinda hoping since it was so cold out, they wouldn’t call us for another assignment. I was in no rush to show an availability status on our computer. Since it was my last day on duty and all had gone well today I didn’t want to mess up that mood I was in. Joe obviously had a problem with the calls we had for the day, but those types of calls make up 70% of our call volume. 3 o’clock was tour change for a lot of the crews, so no one usually liked to get a call so close to their tours end. Joe at times would put his walkie-talkie on the police channel to monitor different calls in the area when we had nothing to do or in order to avoid driving towards a potential patient.

“Signal 10-10, Shots Fired, Carlton Ave and Myrtle” was the call we heard on the police channel. Seconds later over our radio, the dispatcher called 3-5 King for a male shot, 128 Carlton Ave between Myrtle and Park. 5 King acknowledged the call and was on their way. I was just about finished my paperwork and nibbling on a donut while noticing that Joe had started rolling out of the Ambulance bay at Woodhull’s emergency room ramp. Without speaking I knew he was taking a slow ride in the direction of 5 King’s shooting. If it was something good we could help out and if it was nothing we would continue on in to our station. We were half way there when 5 King screamed over the walkie-talkie……..

“Central we need backup forthwith, large crowd. We need another unit and WHERE THE HELL ARE THE POLICE?”  3-5 King was operated today by 2 female co-workers of mine. That’s all we needed to hear. We knew the location well, The Fort Green Projects. I changed our status to available, then I grabbed the walkie-talkie and said, “Central show 3-5 Charlie responding.” Joe put the pedal to the metal, full lights and sirens and we were off. I gathered gloves for he and I and pulled my tech back from the seat, through the small window that separates the back and front of the ambulance. As we arrived, I remember feeling Powerful as I watched our Ambulance part the crowd like Moses at the Red Sea. I jumped out and ran over to Joann and Vicky, the 3-5 King crew members. “Hey Tom, we got a 24yr old male shot multiple times, some from very close.” I heard someone yell, “Yo Tom, that’s your man. Fix him.” I didn’t see who said it and hadn’t even looked the victim in the face because he was partially covered with an oxygen mask .

I got a real strange feeling in the pit of my stomach and suddenly felt like I was outside of my body. Things for me appeared to be moving in slow motion as my mind was trying to process the comment. “Your Man”,……….my man who? I could feel myself motioning the girls and Joe to grab with me, the sides of the trauma board that we had placed the victim on. We lifted the board onto the waiting stretcher that Joe had removed from 5 King’s ambulance……. “On Three,” I yelled. One, two…….three.” We hoisted the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. We got in and closed the door to shield us from the large crowd. Joe climbed into the driver’s seat and was giving a notification to Brooklyn Hospital. It wasn’t a trauma center but none of us felt the patient would survive the ride to Kings County Trauma Center or Bellevue over the bridge. I was at the victims legs cutting away his saturated denim jeans. Joann was at his head applying pressure to a small hole on his forehead while wiping away blood from his face. I still couldn’t see who he was.

He was wearing a thick black North Face Goose Down Coat. It was unzipped and revealed a blood soaked t-shirt. I hadn’t gotten that high up on his body because of the large hole I encountered on his left inner thigh. Blood was squirting from that hole as well as running freely from the torn right testicle. I applied a heavy trauma dressing and pressure while reaching for surgical tape then a gauze wrap. Vicky was at the side door of the ambulance talking to a somewhat familiar voice. I Still felt like I was outside of my body. Joe yelled out, “We gotta roll, Be careful back there.” Vicky closed the side door and continued to write. “What are his Vital signs?”, I said to no one in particular. Joann said, “trying to get them now but it’s hard cause he has this big old coat on.” She pulled out her scissors and I guess without fully visualizing the outcome of her next action, she cut the coat. I saw it in the corner of my eye as I had just moved up to the gapping hole in his stomach. Before I could get the word “NO” out, she had already sliced through this thoroughly stuffed down coat that had feathers now flying everywhere. I wanted to smack her, but I knew she didn’t mean for that to happen. We had to have vital signs before we arrived at the hospital. Vicky and Joann cleared all the feathers away from his arm and retrieved a blood pressure. “That’s your man”, still echoed in my head.

Joe yelled again from the small window that separated us…..”What’s his BP?”

Vicky Yelled, “78 over 42 and dropping.”

Damn, I knew he was dying.  “Was he responsive at all?” I asked Joann. Joann was moving at a traumatized pace. I saw Vicky gathering the Ambu Bag for resuscitation, but Joann was quiet. I followed her eyes down to the patient and realized that she was trying to apply pressure to the back of his head. She looked like she was about to throw up. I tried to switch places to give her a break. She was holding brain matter lightly against the side of his head. She wouldn’t let go so I moved down to his wrist to see if he still had a Radial Pulse. “This big ass watch is covering his pulse sight, and it’s covered in blood too. I grabbed gauze to clean the watch so that I could find the clasp to remove it. I could hear Joe talking on the walkie-talkie while backing into the Emergency Room entrance at Brooklyn Hospital. I got the watch off and was stuck. “Gold Presidential Rolex”……I only know one person in this hood that had one of those.

“What’s the patient’s name?” Joe yelled to us.

“His name,” Vicky said………….”

His name is TYRONE BESS, I said”…………”oh shit, that’s my friend”, that’s what they meant, I did know him.  He was a’ Small Time Neighborhood Hustler, with a Big Time Heart.’

The rear ambulance doors were yanked open. Joe and some other EMT’s and hospital staff were waiting. They pulled the stretcher out as Joann and Vicky who had started CPR rode the side of the stretcher as it was pushed into the hospital. I saw Joe come back out of the emergency room and walk pass where I was still sitting in the ambulance. I was gazing at the mess, the blood soaked bandages and the saturated down feathers that were all over the place. I gathered the cut up clothing that was left behind to put in a property bag. Pieces of brain matter were on the floor next to the bloody gloves Joann took off. His bloody Rolex Watch was on the countertop next to me. I decided that no hospital staff or police would handle this. I cleaned it off with Peroxide and dried it.  Earlier, Vicky was retrieving information from a woman that sounded familiar to me.

That voice I now realize was his mother, who was fighting back tears to be as helpful as she could to us. The side door was just about even with Tyrone’s head. I wonder if she had seen the blood, seen the burn marks from the gun powder. I wonder if she had seen Joann holding her son’s brains to the side of his head. I hadn’t noticed that tears were steadily falling down my face until I realized that my vision was suddenly blurred. I put the watch in fresh gauze and stuffed it into my pocket. I closed the ambulance doors and walked across the street to the store. I bought a Snapple Grape for myself and 3 Snapple Ice Tea’s for the rest of the crew. As I walked back across the street towards the hospital, coming into focus was a large group of people that were surrounding my ambulance. Men, women and children were all talking loudly. Some crying hysterically, some asking why and almost all of them turned around as I came across the street. I had just popped the top off my Snapple and now felt almost ashamed to be drinking it. I knew he was dead, but did they? Would they blame me? Was I looking insensitive right now by casually taking a drink? Did it show, somehow on my face, that I had been crying too? I didn’t know him nearly as long as they did, yet the pain of his death was more than I could handle. It was 29 degrees that afternoon, but for some reason I need air. Fresh Air, air not filled with death. The refreshing Snapple that I had only sipped was no longer a taste I desired. Why did I feel so alone right now?

I can’t expect the crowd to embrace me and no one else from the job knows him like I did. I was getting closer to them but it didn’t feel like I was walking. I don’t even remember looking both ways as I crossed the busy street to them. As I reached them, all I could say was “We really tried. I think he lost too much blood though”. That was it. I couldn’t think of anything that would comfort them. The screams got louder but they had each other. I didn’t want to, or feel the need to be out there when the news of his death was confirmed. I needed to get out of there now. I opened up the back of the ambulance and tried to straighten up as best I could for the girls. I walked into the ER with his clothes that we’d cut off, placed in a plastic bag with his name scrolled on it in Black Marker.   I turned around to leave the ER only to see his mother being escorted in with a female police officer. She looked me directly in my face as if she was searching for the news on me. I couldn’t even look at her “eye to eye” without the tears forming again. I stepped to her and placed the watch in her hand. “I know this isn’t going to bring Tyrone back and far from what you want to think about right now, but I didn’t want to leave this in the hands of the hospital or the Police. It is a $26,000 watch. Perhaps it can help you.” She put the watch in her bag without opening the gauze to view it.

“Thank You, I know you tried your best out there, God Bless You and Your Crew for what you tried to do for my Son”. She touched my hand and then proceeded into the emergency room. Wow. I wiped the tears again and walked back out. Joe had just pulled up in our ambulance that I had forgotten was still at the scene. I put 2 of the Ice Tea Snapples in 5 King’s ambulance and handed Joe his. He didn’t say much on the way back except, “That was sad.” I was frozen. Mr. Cool had nothing to say. Joe hadn’t heard the final outcome. He didn’t even know that I knew the victim. We backed out as 5 King came out and got into their ambulance. “Thanks for the back up guys, really appreciate it”. I still said nothing. We got back to our station for shift change. I just walked past Lt. Frizell and everyone in the lounge and went right into the locker room. Joe must have told Frizell what happened out there because about four minutes later Frizell bussed through the locker room doors.

“Tom, something came up and I had to put Eddie to work with Andrel this evening. Sorry, your overtime has been cancelled.”

Oh Shit I forgot all about that anyway, I thought to myself. He walked back towards the locker room door. I heard the lock turn and Lt Frizell was back, standing in front of me.

“It’s part of the job son, you gotta let it go. Gotta leave it on the scene. What will separate you from the rest is being able to get back out there and deliver that patient care to everyone the same way you did for your friend.”

“But I froze. I was moving in slow motion. He probably could have survived if I wasn’t slowing things down.”

“You didn’t freeze up. Joe and the girls said you took charge of the whole scene. I’ve lost some really good friends while in Vietnam. Made me fight harder, love deeper and be a little more careful about the things I did and the way I lived my life. Take your time back here. Clean yourself up and be proud of your actions today. Go home and enjoy your days off with your family. See you in 3 days. If you feel like you need a few more days off, call me and we’ll work something out. Sorry about your friend.”

“Thanks Lieutenant.”………….. Wow, I felt so much better just because he felt I was important enough, or he respected me enough to come back here and talk to me.

Our relationship was never the same after that. I mean, I don’t know how he viewed me, but I developed a Super Respect for him and will never forget that cold Wednesday afternoon. That wasn’t my first shooting or dead patient but it was the first time I encountered a dying friend. It feels different seeing someone so young go from, full of life one minute to clinging to life in the next.  I was present when “Old Man Walter died and even the time I saw Peggy die from a Grand Mal Seizure. We always knew it was just a matter of time for both of them; they were heavy drinkers that had other unaddressed medical problems. This day, this person, my friend, his death hit me so hard; by the way he died as well as his death itself. Six penetrating trauma wounds, wounds that no matter how soon we got there, there was no way he would’ve avoided death. Perhaps that’s just something I tell myself so that I can continue working in this crazy, but still somewhat rewarding, field. I guess I will never really know the answer to that and I don’t think I want to either.

( by Derek Harp, presented by Arthur Lewin, )