Far From Okay

Far from Okay

 

Shots were fired into a crowd on Westminster Street in the West End, just past midnight. One person was shot, a hole in his hand and another in his thigh, near a femoral artery. The wounded leg grows as the seconds tick, blowing up to twice its normal size.

“It’s just a leg shot, I’ll be okay, right?” asks the diaphoretic patient, his heart rate skyrocketing and his blood pressure crashing.

I look him in the eye and tell him we’re doing everything we can and open the ringers to full flow while my partner sinks a 16 in his other arm. . .

He went to the bathroom and didn’t come out. When we arrived at 0122, he was Code 99. CPR started; IVs going; one, two three defibrillations; tied to a trauma board; carried down two flights of stairs and out of a million-dollar home on the East Side.

“He’ll be okay, won’t he?” asks the man’s wife as we rush into the night and the waiting ambulance.

“We’re doing all we can,” I tell her. “Call somebody and meet us at the hospital. Please don’t drive.”

And we’re gone. . .

Their car crossed the line, sideswiped another car, crossed two lanes of traffic, and crashed into a utility pole–the wooden ones, the ones that don’t give. The car was demolished, the three kids whose night came to a sudden end at 0314 were critical. More rescues were called for, the most critical of the group extracted first. She’s the driver, she appears intoxicated, and she is worried about her friends.

“Are they okay? Will they be okay?” she repeats herself over and over as we restrain and immobilize her, put her on the stretcher, then put the 02 mask over her face. Her questions are muffled now but the same. “Will they be okay?. . .

She’s on the couch in her modest home in the North End; it’s a nice house, well kept, pictures of little girls on the mantle, schoolwork on the fridge. Her face is swollen, her arms bruised.

“Where is he?” I ask.

“Gone. He’s drunk. He hit me then left.”

She doesn’t want to go to the hospital. We bandage her up, wait for the police, offer our condolences, and leave. Her boyfriend is under arrest. It’s 0430 when she asks, “Is he okay?. . .

The group home calls at 0600. It’s a respectable place on the South Side, usually no trouble there. One of the residents didn’t wake up. He’s sitting in a recliner, TV on, eyes open, syringe and spoon on a little table next to him, near the TV Guide.

“Is he okay?” asks the group home manager.

“No. He’s dead. . .

I know she was up late; I try not to wake her. I slip under the covers, put my arm around her, and close my eyes. It’s nearly 0800, home at last.

How was your night?” she asks, before returning to sleep.

“It was okay.”

Blackness.

I wake up. She’s been awake for hours. It’s afternoon, probably late, might be time to get back to work. She’s busy, doing the things that normal people do, laundry, some food for the night, both for me, and for her. We’ll be separated again, me back to the city, her, alone. Again.

Sometimes I wonder which is harder; leaving home or staying in it. At least I have some excitement to look forward to, even if it comes with a price.

She gets to look forward to me coming home, only I never return the same way I left, and every shift tears another piece of my humanity away, leaving her with less and less of the person she used to love with abandon.

Now, I wonder, will she abandon me? Will she continue to sleep alone in the bed we once shared? Will she tolerate my silence?

Sometimes things are far from okay.

 

Newer Year

The world is going mad, and has been for quite some time. Just in case you think the end is near, allow me to offer some perspective; I was a kid in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies, a young man in the eighties, an older young man in the nineties, a middle aged man in to 00’s and still in the middle in the 10’s. During my time on earth, things have remained pretty much the same. It just seems we are closer to the edge these days. In reality, we have been teetering on it since somebody invented us.

Yeah we have terrorists to deal with, and thugs a plenty, seems like everybody has a cause these days, some injustice or another to protest about, and let the world know how oppressed we feel. Truth is, we are no worse off now than we were fifty years ago.  It is understandable that the youth of today feels hopeless. They, more than any other time in history are aware of every little mistake that somebody makes, every act of terror, every abuse of authority and every tragic occurrence. We are all bombarded with images of grief and destruction- every day, day after day. It’s enough to drive a person mad.

Imagine for a moment World War II with Twitter. Or Viet Nam on Facebook. Or Columbine on Instagram. The general population would have been horrified if they knew what war looked like up close and personal, and had their inboxes inundated with every heartbreaking story that happened, as it happened. But just because we were unaware does not mean that these things didn’t happen far more frequently than they do today. The world is a violent place. Having our homes and minds violated by that violence has created an atmosphere of doom and oppression that simply does not exist in our everyday lives.

I spent a quarter century as a firefighter/EMT in Providence, RI, a small city filled mostly with of beautiful  people and more than a few violent ones. I responded to hundreds of shootings. I never saw a gun except on the belts of the police. I’ve never met President Trump or thought much about him personally, yet I am drowning in an ocean of images and opinion about things that have little or no impact on my day to day life.

By allowing these images and opinions to become reality, I have, in effect created a false reality that I need to override on a daily basis. Because I have lived longer than a lot of people, and remember nuclear bomb drills in grade school, daily overdoses in high school, stabbings in nightclubs, race riots, the KKK, assassinations, genocide, famine and true oppression I am able to do so. I know that terrible things exist. I also know that I have a very good chance that terrible things will not happen to me, hence my cheery outlook for the future.

I worry about you. Without the perspective gained from living in the present, and seeing for myself that though there are dangers lurking everywhere, those dangers will not affect me, a doomsday attitude may very well overtake the optimism needed to thrive in a difficult world. I wish I had the power to make social media go away, at least until we have the opportunity to grow as human beings, and understand that in a world full of people, focusing on the horrors that some unfortunates experience will only invite depression and anxiety into your lives.  Being aware of heartache, danger and the potential for catastrophe is far different than inviting it into your thoughts every day, and letting it fester.

Life is for living, not watching. Live your life, taste it, feel it and enjoy it. Be aware, not afraid. Know that kindness overrules cruelty, and that though it takes time to see and understand it, life is ultimately fair. There is a reason for it, and some day that reason will be clear. Until then, just breathe it in and make your place in the world beautiful.