Her Heart Keeps Beating

In one case, a young woman fell 40 feet from an escalator, struck her head on a steel beam halfway down and landed on a cement floor. Her fiancé and another couple witnessed the fall, called 911 and waited. I cannot imagine their horror between their frantic call and our arrival, or their sorrow for the rest of their lives. I do not have to imagine my own sadness. I felt it for a decade, and it lingers still.

I was trained as a firefighter, and that training included my EMS certifications. It was rigorous, but far from impossible. I learned how to keep people going, always hoping that the emergency room staff and then surgical teams could finish what we started in the field.

When I encountered this particular patient, I knew that everything that I — or those who followed me — could do would not be enough. The choice to start the life-saving efforts was mine. I made the choice based on the horrified looks on the faces of the survivors, and secretly hated myself for putting the young woman through a violent resuscitation effort. We managed to get a pulse, but I knew she would never regain consciousness.

EMS veterans learn early how to bury the things that need to stay out of sight. We feel things the same way everybody else does, but cannot allow ourselves proper time to heal. A different emergency always comes our way. There is no time to process grief, so we hide it, and move along.

Our strategy works for the people who depend on us. They do not need an emergency responder burdened by a thousand catastrophic events responding to their crisis. They need a person who is fresh, focused and stable.

So I moved on. Days later I read her obituary, and learned that she had a young son who adored her fiancé, and he planned to take care of the child. I can only hope he did.

Ten years passed in a flash. I had made peace with nearly every decision I made during my time at the head of the stretcher. I learned to trust other people in matters of health and well-being.

Eventually, I found myself in a hospital room with my wife who needed medical care. For four days we lingered in the surreal world of tests and results, hospital food, doctors’ rounds, worry, hope and an incredible nursing staff.

One of those nurses was particularly helpful, and we struck up a friendship. Eventually professional barriers were crossed and our personal lives were revealed.

We told stories of our families, and how fragile the human body is. We shared our mutual experiences with loss, and how we learned to cope. Family is of utmost importance, we agreed. She told us the story of her father, a great man from Liberia, and how important he is to her family. We learned how he was nearly lost 10 years ago, and how his life was saved by the heart of an unfortunate young girl who donated her organs after an untimely death.

“You may have heard of her,” our nurse said in her beautifully accentuated speech, her words sounding more like a song than sentences. “She fell from an escalator in Providence.”

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of the books “Rescuing Providence” and “Rescue 911.”

Trust each other

I live in two realities. The first is bitter, divisive, argumentative and full of people with strong opinions who are not afraid to tell the world exactly what they think. That reality is formed by people whose ideology is more important than their humanity. There is little polite discourse, and what little there is falls apart quickly. There is little or no trust, only different sides hammering our ideas onto others who have to wait to offer their counterpoints. Inevitably one person has the strength to withstand the critics and rises to the top of the heap, most often because of their ability to drown out all reason and stick to what they believe is right. The rest get tired of the debate and slink away. Nobody wins, everybody is frustrated and all go back into the holes we have created.

Reality two is full of the same people, only we flourish as a society, drive safely, build things that others enjoy, do community service, spend money we have earned at the jobs we do supporting the other people whose existence we share, exchange pleasantries, hold doors, offer a nod and a smile to passersby and take care of our families. When we communicate it is most often pleasant; seldom are voices raised and feelings are not purposely hurt. Each individual participating in this world trusts that the people we share it with are not out to harm us and are busy making their own lives successful.

I prefer to live in reality number two, the real world, where people can be touched, and the meaning of words better understood when heard, rather than read. Reality number two is the cold, anonymous, untrustworthy world of social media and “fake news.”

Without trust we have nothing. Without the belief that the people and institutions we share our existence with are trustworthy the act of living freely and without fear is lost.  Travel is impossible without trust; those other drivers need to be trusted to follow the rules or chaos on the roadway reigns. Food without trust in its makers loses its appeal, and far too few of us can depend on our hunting, farming and fishing skills for survival. We need to believe, without hesitation that what we consume will not kill us, or make us sick. We cannot lose trust in our medical professionals, or the drugs they prescribe to treat our conditions. Trust in our representatives helps us manage our lives without the added burden of being responsible for the bigger picture. Trust is essential.

The ingredient that has allowed civilizations to flourish has always been trust in others. When suspicion replaces that trust, and believing we are being tricked takes hold, decay begins. Disillusionment festers, and is fed with the resentment of every person who has lost their ability to trust others. When the intricate systems which are made possible by our trust are lost something always waits to take their place. Most often brute force replaces it, and the environment necessary to maintain the intricate balance only achievable with trust is crushed.

Then, the best we can expect is survival. People will instinctively seek out others like them, and groups of people with common beliefs will meld together. Tribes form, and the strongest members of the tribe become leaders, not because they have the best interests of all in mind, rather they have a thirst for power. They crush new ideas, and create an atmosphere of fear among their people.

I do not want to live as a member of a tribe led by somebody who is in charge because he or she is stronger than me. I want to be part of something better, a world where I am free to pursue what I believe are my best abilities, figure out how best to make those abilities attractive to other people, and use my skills to be part of a culture of trust that enables me to obtain everything I need to exist in peace and safety. The real world is far more desirable.

Michael Morse, mmorsepfd@aol.com, a monthly contributor is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and author.