The Library

Rainy afternoon, I’m sitting in a comfortable chair in a library that was built some 200 years ago. The smell of paper, and people, and the passage of time is nearly overwhelming. A little girl invades my space, and looks at me, unafraid, and asks if I like kittycats.

“I do like kittycats, how about you?”

“I love them,” she says and walks away.

An old man and his daughter, I presume take a seat near me, and begin reading. Every now and then they stop, long enough to acknowledge each other’s presence, then go back to their little worlds that are being created by the words on the pages they read.

words

Symbols on a page, translated by our brains into pictures, emotions, ideas and histories, much like the ones I am creating at this very instant astound me, and give me pause, and I look at my keyboard and can’t help but be touched by a moment of grace.

Is this magic? Or is it science? I don’t know what it is, but by god I plan on using these letters, these words, sentences and paragraphs to the very best of my ability as I spend a quiet afternoon creating something that was not here when I sat down to write.

Loneliness

I leave my home, headed toward the city, a few adults are walking, one or two people riding their bikes in full gear. When you have to dress for a bike ride the freedom I once felt climbing on that two wheeled contraption, pedaling like a madman, then jumping off at my destination and letting the bikes momentum carry it to a crashing crescendo is lost. Those stretchy pants and weird helmets turn a fun ride into an excercise routine quicker than a ride in tenth gear.

It’s desolate outside our compartments, windows up tight and air conditioners flowing. Tinted windows disguise the drivers and occupants of the machines that crowd the roadways. We’re like little ant soldiers following each other on man made paths, unable to break free of the pack and make our own way. Some of us are coming, some going, some just wandering, staying in their lane until they run out of gas.

Buildings line our route, people inside, workers mowing the lawns, their trucks parked, their equipment humming along. Gone are the days when a whistle or hum could be heard from a contented old man walking purposefully down these streets. The old men are as gone as the children, all inside as the world and people in it speed past the walls we have created.

It’s a lonely existence.

Honest Expectations

From The Providence Journal, August 7, 2022

Integrity, honesty and ethics signpost in nature. Message, quotes, words, meaning, goals, company, business, rules, path concept.

Michael Morse

My daughter’s first job after college was at a restaurant. It was a lively place in a trendy area, a place to see and be seen. She saw a lot there; high rollers and the sycophants who surrounded them, drugs and debauchery on parade nightly. She was convinced that the world was a crooked place by the time she left, and nothing I could say from my modest little corner of the world would change her mind.

“Everybody is up to something,” she would tell me. “And the people who are honest don’t stand a chance.”

I couldn’t help take her views personally. I had been working eighty hour weeks for years, drove a twenty year old car, looked older than I was and owned one suit, reserved for weddings and funerals. Working honestly had worked for me, I figured, and even though I wasn’t flashy or one of the movers and shakers she interacted with nightly, I managed to make my little corner of the world a beautiful place. It took me a very long time, but I eventually learned that the key to happiness and contentment is having reasonable expectations.

Wanting what you have is far more fulfilling than constantly fighting to get what you want. Things acquired dishonestly will never compare to something earned, no matter how impressive they may appear to the look at me crowd.

On the surface, it was difficult to argue against her position. My own world experience showed me a similar view. Working as a firefighter on an EMS rig in the inner city was an eye opener. The culture I encountered was “take what you can get away with, and leave the crumbs for the suckers.” There were winners, and there were losers, and the people good at playing the game appeared to be winning.

I had one advantage though. I saw behind the curtain. I witnessed firsthand the price paid for the illusion of success. I saw children without fathers in their lives living in crummy tenement houses, women struggling to provide, waiting for the first of the month for their government checks so they could fill their refrigerators and put a little gas in their unregistered, uninsured vehicles.
I saw the boys masquerading as men playing the game, strutting through the ghetto like kings in their fancy cars with tinted windows. I saw them on the streets in their little gangs, wheeling and dealing, in and out of jail, sometimes shot, sometimes shooting.

I had to let my daughter learn for herself that the players were being played. Theirs was a short term strategy, one that never ends well. Theirs is a world of tricksters and illusion, fast cash and faster crashes.

The world I choose to inhabit is an honest one, one with small daily rewards, one that values integrity and avoids deception. My world is built on solid ground from which a foundation is able to strengthen with slow, steady progress of productive achievement and does not collapse when hardship finds me. And hardship finds all of us eventually; even the people all dressed up playing the look at me game with money on loan from a bank of dishonesty that has no mercy when things get difficult.

The world is indeed a crooked place, but ultimately those who can find the straight and narrow path through it will find peace, freedom and satisfaction at day’s end. My daughter got out of her first job with her integrity intact, and is now raising her family the right way. If you must be up to something make that something honestly, because in the end, that is what matters most.

And now, back to The Opioid Epidemic

The opioid epidemic hasn’t disappeared, it’s just waiting for things to quiet down for it to be newsworthy again. Meanwhile, people are struggling and dying. Or living . . .

He opened his eyes. The bugs in his head stopped buzzing, and he looked at me.

“You weren’t breathing,” I said.

It was just me and him in the back of an old ambulance in Providence, Rhode Island. A team of people had helped get us to this point. Some of them lingered outside the truck, waiting.

They used to talk of the “Golden Hour” back when I was new at EMS; those precious 60 minutes between the onset of symptoms or a traumatic event and the arrival at the hands of a competent hospital staff. Times have changed, and so has EMS. We are doing things in the field that no longer need an hour or doctors. I learned a few things over the years, and I used something called “The Golden Minute” when I responded to suspected overdose patients. My goal was to get my patients breathing, not to straighten them out.

“I gave you enough Narcan to get you breathing on your own,” I explained. “You are probably still high from whatever it was that got you here, and there is a very good chance that you could stop breathing again when the drug wears off. “

The person on the stretcher relaxed a little and considered his options. He could flee and shoot up again. He could find a quiet spot and ride it out, hoping he didn’t go back into respiratory distress. Or, he could take a moment in a safe, clean, quiet environment and gather his thoughts.

“Chasing the high sucks,” I said nonchalantly. “You can never recapture the feeling of the first hit.”

He stopped thinking and looked at me again. I’m was no longer a threat. I neutralized the situation; the power I could hold over a relatively helpless person lying down while I looked down on him had been given away. I lifted the back of the stretcher so he was in more of a sitting position and took a seat on the bench across from him.

“You know the worst part?” he asked. I listened.

“I don’t even care if I OD. The risk is worth it. Either I’ll be high, or I’ll be gone.”

If ever there was a time for quiet reflection, it was now.  I closed my eyes and let that statement sink in. I hoped my patient was able to do the same.

The Golden Minute had passed. We could talk all day about getting clean, getting sober, getting his life back in order. I could lecture him and do the “You were dead until I saved you” nonsense talk. I could have the police respond and have them do their thing. I could do a lot of things but chose to do nothing, hoping that I’d already done enough. A firefighter working as a medic in the city was not going to cure anybody’s addictions, but I could certainly lube the rusty wheels of rational thought with some honesty.

“I’m required by law to transport you to an appropriate medical facility,” I said, not really sure if it was true. “In this case, it’s the closest emergency room. It’s a madhouse, people lining the halls, all the rooms full, overworked staff, and not at all conducive to healing.”

Sometimes the magic worked. This was one of those times. He agreed to go willingly. I stood and opened the side door, told the police officer he was all set, and let my partner know we’d be transporting. It was a five-minute ride, silent but comfortable. As expected, the ER was at capacity, people screaming for pain meds, intoxicated homeless men restrained on their stretchers, bored elderly people scattered about, a dozen ambulance crews waiting for triage, and the staff working relentlessly to care for the never-ending stream of people that we bring them.

I said goodbye to my patient and headed back into the city. Another person had overdosed, and police were on the scene.

Time

Work less/Live more

I looked back at what I had done, and the time I had wasted, and the relationships I had let go, and for what? It wasn’t the money, that has a way of finding a groove, it sort of fits into the slot we create with our needs being overrun by our wants, which finds us in the cycle of work more, spend more and do less living and more working.

I thought I would be lazy if I didn’t achieve. Productivity was my compass, my worth, my reason. Turns out the only direction the compass pointed was directly down. The more I worked, the more my soul receded, the more my spirit was crushed, the more my self-worth evaporated into a steaming pile of shit; I had allowed myself to be defined not by who I was, but what.

And I didn’t even know what I had become until I got off of the treadmill and had a moment to take a hard look.

There is one thing that is common among people of every class, station and age.

Time.

The rich man gets what the poor man gets, The brilliant the same as the not so bright, the sick the same as the well. Here, in time we are all equals, and all of the riches in the universe won’t change that.

Spending time wisely beats spending money. Every time. Too bad it takes so long to figure that out.

Walmart. Yesterday.

-Young guy passes the closer parking spot when he sees it would be easier for me to make the turn and takes the one ten spaces away.

-Young girl pulls a carriage out, wipes it down and passes it to me before grabbing her own.

-Young man at return desk is polite, articulate and competent.

-Older woman chastises me for passing too close in one of the aisles. Both wearing masks, maybe five feet instead of six. She works in a nursing home she tells me I obviously don’t care about the elderly.

-Three year old petting a Paw Patrol stuffed animal gives me a high five as his mom stands behind him’ smiling through her mask.

The only ones who spoke perfect English were me and the older lady.

The Jewel of the Hi-Rise

I have no idea what possessed me to stick my hand into the bowl, little white pebbles were sitting next to a candle, luminescent, perfect and drawing me in.

“Are those edible?” I asked, then stuck my hand in. Too late I realized it was a water candle. I’m glad the apartment was dimly lit as I felt the blood rush to my face.

The patient thought it was the funniest thing he had seen all day, so did his roommate and the three firefighters from Engine 15. So much for my grand entrance. What can I say, it had been a long day.

“Robert” had been having trouble breathing for about a week, suffered from COPD and was also HIV+. He was thin, and frail, and not at all well.

“Can I go to Miriam?” he asked.

Miriam Hospital was the furthest hospital of the city’s five, but was also the most appropriate facility, considering his history. Considering I had just stuck my ham sized hand into his water candle, it was the least we could do.

“Of course.”

He lived with a roommate in one of the public hi-rises in the city. Their space was dignified, graceful and perfectly suited for them. It was comfortable, tastefully decorated and serene. We loaded him up and started the fifteen minute journey toward the ER. He told me that my hand in the water trick was the first thing to make him laugh in a long, long time.

He had a dignified air about him. Born in South Carolina he had never lost his Southern charm, even though the job he had in his previous life took him all over the world. He lived in San Diego, Texas, Chicago, Jamaica and his favorite by far, Malta. A friend of his still owned an oceanfront villa there, and he planned on visiting soon.

The HIV medications that saved his life also cost him the things in life he thought most precious. His homes-he had two, one on each coast and a few timeshares scattered around the globe; he sold his Mercedes, his stocks and bonds, his “things.” His once vast accumulation of possessions now fit into a three room apartment in a run down facility filled mostly with people scraping by on social security checks. Yet he seemed happy.

“What good is a big house when you can only sit in one room at a time?” he asked. “Who needs a Mercedes when there are gardens, and woods, and city streets, and the stars with their infinite possibilities. What more can I ask from this life than what I have at this moment, which is a nice conversation with another person who is not afraid to stick his hand into a stranger’s water candle?”

We talked about life, and what it means, and how to handle loss, and failing health. I did something that I seldom, if ever do. I told him a little about myself, and my life, and the big home we used to live in, but could no longer keep because of my wife’s illness. I let him know about the heartache we felt when we lost the pool, the cabana, the gardens and friends, then the dogs, then the second house that turned out to be all wrong, and the rental, and how each move chipped a little bit of our soul, and tested the very fabric of our marriage.

As we backed into the ER bay, we agreed that through loss much is gained. That what is essential is invisible to the eye. What matters cannot be bought, we all need to live and find happiness with what we have, because through it all, we have a lot to be thankful for.

He asked me to put his coat over him before we wheeled him out of the back. It was cold outside, and an icy mix rained down from the starless sky. I picked up his coat, and grinned.

“Mink,” he said as we rolled him out of the truck. “I didn’t give up everything.” He looked to the starless sky, felt the cold, freezing rain fall on his face and smiled.

And so did I.

Wouldn’t Change a Thing

By Michael Morse

There comes a time when you have already done more than you are yet to do. When that time comes, I hope you can look back and remember how good it was to make a difference in countless lives because you were there.

Few of us will spend our entire lives in EMS, but the time we spend immersed in the field will stay with us always. Magic and grace are in abundance when one person is responsible for the care of another and the person hurting is comforted by the person healing. The two bond as only people in those circumstances can.

I am truly blessed to have been the person doing the comforting.

Of all the health care professionals practicing medicine, EMS personnel do far more relative to their training and education than the rest. Nobody in the chain of treating sudden illness or accident victims does more with less.

EMS personnel do not have the luxury of support staff or somebody watching over who knows more than they do or has more experience. During the time spent on scene and during transport there is only the patient and the provider.

And for me, I have a higher power who keeps me calm, letting what I have learned about the human body, mind and spirit flow. Sometimes I like to believe this keeps the poor soul dying on my stretcher breathing for a little while longer than he would have without me.

It’s heady stuff when I stop and think about it. Now that I have more time behind me than ahead, I have a lot of time to think about it.

The best part of looking back is that all the frustration, sadness and pain dissipates like morning mist when the sun breaks through. The memories, without fail, remind me that because of what I did as an EMT, my life has meaning and purpose.

Taking all that I learned about myself, my partners and everybody I got to know during my time in uniform with me into the next part of my life has made leaving the profession painless. I will never be without the camaraderie of the firefighters I worked with, cutting people out of cars, dragging them out of burned out buildings or carrying them down their stairs.

The nurses, doctors and so many others in the city’s emergency room are part of me now. We shared far too many traumatic moments for those times to be forgotten. The cops, the bouncers, the security guards and an entire city full of people that I encountered are all part of the experience of a lifetime.

EMS will survive without me, but I will not have to survive without EMS. It’s in my blood, in my memories and is an enormous part of who I am. I do not know where my life will lead now that I have left the daily grind of being on the ambulance behind, but I do know this; it was a dramatic 25 years.

Although I didn’t realize that while it was happening, I see it clearly now, and can honestly say that every mundane call, every sleepless night and even the nightmares were worth every second.

If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Originally published in EMS1

Image of my final EMS book, on sale lots of places but not everywhere.

Fat Drunk and Stupid is no Way to Live

Healthcare systems and EMS worldwide are in crisis. Hospitals are full, wait times for an ambulance reach hours, people languish in hallways waiting for a room. The people taking care of the people are tired, disillusioned and angry, and leaving their profession in droves. Co-pays, specialist visits and medication are more and more expensive, and people are dying rather than seeking medical care.

And the processed food industry thrives. Vape pens and fancy alcohol are the rage. Addiction to unhealthy fats and sugars – both natural and chemically produced is epidemic. Organic vegetables, grass fed meat, wild caught seafood and proper nutritional supplements are twice the cost of pesticide riddled, soy and grain fed cattle, farmed fish fed an unnatural diet and mass produced generic medications. Processed food is cheap and everywhere.

The populace is getting fatter, and far less healthy than any time in recent history. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke and autoimmune disorders effect everybody, either directly or indirectly.

The World Health Organization focuses of vaccine and ignores nutrition and excercise. Vaccines are an effective tool aiding in the health and well being of humanity, but are far from our salvation.

We need to get healthy. Our species was not designed to be fat and idle. Plentiful, unhealthy sustenance pushed down our throats with little or no effort to aquire it is what is killing us, overburdening our health care providers and institutions and creating financial ruin when our obese population crashes, and becomes a burden rather than productive members of society.

Our health care factories and those leading them have an infinite revenue producing stream of sick humans to exploit, and our government representatives are flowing with cash from lobbyists keeping the disease riddled, addicted money train rolling at full speed.

Take care of yourselves, folks. Nobody has our backs. It’s up to us to maintain our bodies to the best of our ability. Staying out of the health care machine unless absolutely unavoidable is the best medical advice available.

Where is everybody?

It’s summer, beautiful, eighty degrees, slight breeze, no humidity. My street is dead quiet. No kids. No dogs. No lemonade stands. No sounds of kids playing in the pool. You can’t mistake that for anything, there is a certain edge to the kids voices when they are in the water, their voices carry for blocks.

Where is everybody? Summer vacation is nearly half over, or maybe it’s actually turned and on the downhill slope.

There are no kids riding bikes; pedaling so hard their hearts feel like bursting, going nowhere in particular but in a big hurry to get there. I’ve walked my dogs through the paths that hide from most adults eyes in this place, without dogs a middle aged man walking through the woods looks fishy, and that is a shame, because there is little I enjoy more that a walk down a shady path, finding a rock to sit on, stretch and relax, waiting for sunlight to break through the leaves that flow with the breeze. There is something great about the fleeting warmth, then coolness the wind through the leaves brings. A simple gift, one with no need for reciprocation except for the simple appreciation of air, sun, shade and nature.

No kids in the woods. No haphazard forts. No goofy bridges over rain engorged streams. No 2×4 ladders nailed sloppily to trees creating a stairway to nowhere. Everybody is gone, or more likely, inside, glued to their devices. Connecting.

I’ve got some connecting to do today. And no electricity, batteries or any other man made distractions will get in my way.