The tones went off. The vibration and tone on my hip coupled with the grainy voice signalled work. "2 - 6 Bravo 3 code 3 call. 2 - 6 code 3." For us code 3 means that we will be navigating the sea of useless drivers with our lights and sirens engaged.
I leaned over the arm rest of the chair and reached for my shirt. Out of a sense of duty, I would like to tell you that it was nicely ironed, creases in the sleeves. It wasn't. I slid it over my shoulders and sighed at my partner, "You mind if I attend?". "Sure," she replied. I thought I sensed a little bit of a relief. Sometimes the attendant seat is the hot seat.
As we slid into the car, the dispatch machine was beeping; a normal sign. The clear display read "Highest Level Available - unconscious collapse, 86 male (conscious, breathing)". Dispatch is a walking contradiction.
We reached the highway at high speed. It is quite satisfying to come up quickly on some driver who is willing to take that gamble on his text message. 4,5,6 people fail to yeild prompting us to throw cruel, evil glares out toward them. They'll forget. Same thing will happen next time an ambulance comes up on them. I have to be slightly forgiving, though. Most of the time we come out of the station hot like this it's for no good reason at all. Something the person answering the emergency phone in dispatch couldn't send us routinely for.
"Sounds like an arrest". My partner and I agreed. This was legitmate. Anytime it is a question of whether or not someone is in cardiac arrest it is always appropriate to make good time. Your medical text books will tell you that brain death occurs within 10 minutes of being vital signs absent.
We approached the address. We approached another family in such a horrible state of numb panic. Numb because this is minute 5 or 6 of being without the person, and that person may still be hovering a few feet overhead. Watching, waiting, maybe angry about what we are doing to them. Maybe trying to decide if they want to give the assholes pounding on them the satisfaction or walk somberly into the darkness. Though as I write now I feel like this is nobody's choice.
Dodging a howling family who are almost clawing at us, we enter. I don't need to look for a pulse, but I do. Some people say there is a smell in the room, others a feeling, but we all can agree on a look - dead. Dead looks dead. Pale, possibly gasping, blue lipped, fat or skinny, short or tall, male or female.
I can't see it happen but I know that my partner is already prepping the defibrillator - the lovely yellow box that will shock a few abnormal heart rhythms back into a normal sinus rhythm. She, as I, know the look of this.
It's a 10 second assessment. Stimulus, pulse check, airway open, breathing check. It happens simultaneously. It's a 10 second assessment just to be sure, but nobody who looks like this has a pulse, or if they do they won't for long.
"No pulse start CPR". I can think quite clearly now the sound that came out of the wife as I uttered the sickening words. A deep, gutteral sound like someone smashed her in the stomach with a sledgehammer escapes. She sinks to the floor, face in palms.
We are not robots, but for us the phrase is robotic. It could be no other way. No one can do effective compressions while whiping away tears. Those tears are saved for late nights and strong drink.
I wish to be sparing in the details. This man danced with the lady sobbing in the corner. They made love on beaches and tables, under sun and stars, and it is not for me to air the awful details of the time we spent trying to bring him back. His children sitting in the corner who don't understand what is happening now will know more about it than we ever will by the time the second Christmas without him comes around.
While the first few minutes on scene were busy and exciting the next hour goes by painfully for everyone. I think to myself, "Who would I be to shed a tear for this man, never having known him. I never saw this man as he lived and danced.". I think danced specifically because it is the most lively thing I can picture a person doing. And knowing how I have felt living and loving and dancing it seems right.