Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ping Bong

I took a writing class and the instructor talked about identifying our "ping" moments in life to use as writing prompts. I like this and have been whirling through the memory Rolodex ever since in an attempt to identify and revisit. As you can imagine, some are wonderful and some are...not so much. Here's one that keeps floating to the surface.

A handful of years ago I had a job at a hospital that involved a lot of partnership building with local EMS and Fire/Rescue organizations. It got to the point where I was actually sort of working out of one of our local fire stations a day or two a month. Firefighters are an insular bunch. There's a lot of machismo, and the air is literally thick with testosterone. There are a handful of women firefighters, and increasingly more so, but when I was there it was literally, me and the boys.

There is a lot of "hurry up and wait" in the firefighting world. Moments of shrieking intensity punctuated by long periods of boredom during which they all clean, and organize, pack and repack, wash vehicles and watch bad television. It was definitely a sociology experiment for me, trying to fit in, hang out and just blend into the background while we all waited for the chime bongs indicating a call to duty.

Riding along on calls wasn't originally my intention, but the lure was irresistible and it didn't take long before I was strapped into the back of an engine flying down the highway at breakneck speed on my way to some potential tragedy. Ironically, I don't think I ever made it to an actual fire. Mostly car crashes, a gas leak, a non existent brush fire and the rest of it was calls for EMT assistance.

On one of my very first outings we were called to a local nursing home for a heart attack.

I could never figure out exactly what I was supposed to do, or where to stand, or how to behave since I clearly wasn't part of the team, but was obviously along for the ride.

When we got to the facility, I followed them in and we found ourselves in the physical therapy area, a gym of sorts, with machines and mats.

A very elderly man was lying on an elevated mat in the back of the room and one of the staff was performing CPR on him. A few other staff members were looking on. This man was, for all intents and purposes, dead when we got there. I glued myself to a back wall and marveled, really, never having seen anything of the like.

The boys sprung into action, boxes were opened, veins were tapped, IVs were started, and they immediately took over for the staff to continue the chest compressions.

It is incredibly surreal to stand there and watch some one's life end. For the boys, it can happen several times a day, so while they are serious about their tasks there is definitely an air of nonchalance to it all.

At one point the firefighter doing the compressions looked up and around the room to find me. I just stared at him and he winked at me. THAT is the ping moment in all of this. "Who me? Oh, nothing much, just saving a life."

I spent the next few weeks seriously contemplating taking an EMT course and becoming a firefighter. Unrealistic for myriad reasons (not the least of which is my incredible fear of heights) the idea did not stick. But the moment certainly did.

They got a pulse, eventually, and sent the man to the hospital where he later died. I wonder about that a lot. So much effort to postpone the inevitable. The trauma, the expense, the time spent working on him, when this man could have gone quickly and quietly after his last workout. Who is to say? Not I, certainly.

The conversation as we pulled away from the scene was, not surprisingly, about what to eat for lunch.

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