Running with the Fox

I scramble around, working like a fool; thousands of EMS calls a year, every year for twenty years, trying to make a difference, thinking I have, hoping it isn’t all for nothing. I know that in a hundred years every person living now, at this moment will be gone, and all new people will inhabit this earth. The overpowering urge to do something that matters dominates my thoughts when I think of things like that, how fleeting our time here actually is, and how soon we will be forgotten. It’s a crazy world we live in, but at least everybody will be different a hundred years from now

That I am a Rescue Captain on one of the busiest ALS vehicles in the country counts for something-I think. At least I tell myself so. Some days things all come together, like there is some cosmic plan where everything makes sense. Other days, not so much:

Dim lighting illuminates the living room turned bedroom, a commode sits by the window, recently cleaned, the smell of Lysol mixes with the smell of dying, the familiar aroma that stays with us as we journey through the years. The couch is pushed to the side for now, but it will be back in position where the hospital bed now sits, tomorrow, maybe, definitely by weeks end. She’s tired, sick and ready, waiting to go, but life is funny, those that wish and pray for it to end must wait while others never get a chance to know the peace and satisfaction that comes from a life well lived. The family is prepared, and the vigil is underway, I’d be surprised if there isn’t a schedule somewhere, making sure she won’t die alone.

A light rain falls in the inner city, freshening the decay that coats the gutters, bringing with it a much-needed rinse. The rain mixes with oil that has accumulated on the roadways since the last rainfall, four weeks ago, the combination turning the street into a skating rink. The kids in the car don’t know enough to be careful; they haven’t lived long enough to experience a rain slick road on a lazy afternoon. The fact that the cops are on their tail and they have a grand in the glove box and a bag of rocks under the seat throws caution out the window as the driver hits the gas, skids through an intersection, sideswipes an innocent person’s car then slides into a little tree, it’s trunk barely five inches in diameter, but enough to encroach the passenger compartment, and kill the teenage girl who wanted so badly to sit in the front seat. She never had a chance, never thought it would end before it got started, never grew up, or old, or learned that it could all change in an instant.

She’s in the bathroom of her rented third floor apartment, bleeding, a lump in the toilet floats; the pain in her abdomen seems miniscule now that her heart is broken. It’s her third miscarriage, her husband is at work, and has no idea, she’s alone, truly alone now that their child is gone. She fishes it out of the bowl, and wraps it in a facecloth, and calls 911, and sits on the bathroom floor and cries. We arrive, and have no idea the turmoil going on inside her, or what she carries in her facecloth, only that she is bleeding, and needs us. She sits on the stretcher as we ride in silence toward the Emergency Room, wondering if she will ever have a family, and if the immortality that creation brings will visit her, or will her legacy die with her, and her empty womb.

Another girl screams as we wheel her into Woman and Infants, she’s crowning, the baby’s head pokes out just as we transfer her from our to their stretcher, seconds later another baby is born in Providence, the nurses take over, I wipe my brow and thank the rescue gods we made it in time as the umbilical cord is cut and the new mother turns her head and tells the nurse to “get that thing away” from her. She will be smoking crack within the hour now that she got rid of the curse in her belly, not that the curse stopped her from smoking before, she was high as a kite when we picked her up from a condemned building that was littered with addicts and their paraphernalia.

He’s building a fence, been digging for a few hours, his chest hurts, he ignores it, keeps on digging. A neighbor finds him unconscious next to a pile of dirt and calls us. The neighbor knows CPR and starts, and we continue, and do our thing, and get a pulse, and in the hospital they continue and get him breathing on his own. We consider it a victory and get back to work, where another guy is sitting watching TV, feels chest pressure, takes a nitro and calls us. He has two stents, and a history of open-heart surgery, and he’s a diabetic, and he eats bags of chips and drinks bottle after bottle of coke and weights almost four-hundred. He goes to the cath lab. Then home, and back to his chair, and his chips. The man digging holes for his fence posts goes to ICU where he stays for a while, then dies, never regaining consciousness. He was fifty-one.

We deliver babies, pull people from wrecked cars, administer the right drugs at the right time and truly make a difference, most of the time. It’s funny how we tend to dwell on the other times, when all we can do is wonder. I took a walk today, slow at first, then faster until I was almost running. Then I was running, not a graceful sprint by any means, just arms and legs pumping, my heart racing, feeling good just to be alive and well. The neighborhood where I now live is like a park where people put homes. Different trees sprouting different flowers, the ground erupting with different colors every day, the grass, freshly cut this weekend glistens with moisture from an early morning shower, only now the sun has appeared, and with the warmth the water evaporates giving the air a freshly showered feel.

No cars today, most people are at work, just me, the birds and just me. When I think my heart is ready to explode I slow down and stroll the last half-mile, just enjoying the sounds around me. A fox sprints away from my bird feeder as I walk up my driveway. He looks a little old, gray around the whiskers and not as fast as you might think a fox would be. My neighbor who knows everything told me that foxes are not necessarily nocturnal, so rabies probably isn’t a factor. Too bad Mr. Fox didn’t hang around; we could have had breakfast together.

I’ve been told my Grandfather had a pet fox named Reginald. Maybe I’ll catch this guy and keep him.

Nah, I’ll just let him be.

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.”


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.

In the time of the chimpanzee, I was a monkey

I was at Wal-Mart the other day, picking up our usual stuff, cleaning supplies, vitamins and some light bulbs when I wandered down the Halloween aisle. I’m drawn to that stuff, always have been, though I haven’t really gotten in on the adult Halloween Party bandwagon, it’s more of a trip down memory lane for me now. In the middle of the Freddy Krugers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Angry Birds and Sexy Kittens was an adorable little Monkey Suit.

I’m four or five, ready to go. My first real costume is on, and has been for hours. It’s a monkey suit, complete with a nice long tail. We got it from Sears, and I can still smell the monkeenewness of it, the faint plastic, the elastic that got caught in my hair as I put the mask over my face, the “soft” at the end of the tail. It was a great costume, and a great holiday at my house.

Mom and dad were lots of fun then, we bought a record called “Spooky Creepy Sounds from the Haunted House,” or something like that, and my dad would run an extension cord out of a window and hide the record player in the bushes and let it go on repeat during the trick or treat hours.

A light post sat quietly at the end of our driveway three-hundred and sixty-four days a year, but on October 31st a scarecrow would lay at the foot of the post. Unsuspecting kids would start for our door, enticed by the creepy sounds coming from the bushes, go to the door, get a spider dropped on them from one of the upstairs windows (cleverly set up with a retractable line) and if they survived and made it to the door, they would be greeted by a ghastly apparition, my mother, sometimes with a stocking over her face and a hooded, leopard velour cape over her head.

Some kids actually managed to get some candy, and it was never the cheezy little bars, we went all out, giving some really good treats, full sized Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or Butterfingers, sometimes we would put a few together and wrap them in a baggie, but it was always worth the trip. Of course, once the trick or treaters bounded down our front steps with their bounty, the “scarecrow” at the lantern would come to life and scare the bejeses out of them. My father could always lie still for hours, and he put that skill to good use come Halloween.

As we got older it was more fun to stay home and enjoy the night rather than run around the neighborhood acting like a bunch of fools, egging cars, waxing windows and terrorizing the little kids. We did plenty of terrorizing right at home, thank you very much. Dad let us be the scarecrow now and then, and we would fight for the honor. As time went on, people were on to us, but they would still make the trip, parents making sure the new ones got a taste of some real Halloween fun.

It was silly, goofy in a great way, a bit inappropriate at times and completely insane and out of character, but it helped connect us as a family, and now, all these years later when I see a little monkey suit at Wal Mart I’m right back in the jungle with the people who matter most, and who live forever because they were not afraid to let loose now and then, and show their kids how to have a little fun. Remember, times were different then, parents were authority figures, not to be questioned, and not at all concerned about their kid’s feelings or self esteem. They raised us they way they saw fit, and goddammit nobody would tell them otherwise.

Yesterday, I wrote about my mother’s unfortunate experiences toward the end of her life. She had a rough time of it, that much is certain, but after her stay at Butler Hospital, and once properly diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder and put on proper medication was making remarkable progress, putting her life back together, enjoying her family and gaining some independence. The last time I saw her standing she was boarding a plane at Green State Airport heading to North Carolina to spend a week with my sister Susan and her family. It was quite an adventure for her, and I’ll never forget the way she looked as she walked down the boarding ramp, the airliner waiting and a new life ahead of her.

She had a massive stroke a few days after she arrived, and never walked, or talked again, and died in a nursing home eight years later.

Every year I break out the Leopard Print cape, and feel the softness of it, and pull it over my head and scare the kids who dare come to my door on Halloween. It’s in the cedar closet in my basement, where it waits all year long.

Memories cannot wait, they must be created every day, because we just never know what the future has in store. Life goes on, we go away, but the impressions we make last forever.


Rest in peace Senator McCain

“Hello Senator Reed,” I said without considering that maybe he preferred to be left alone. It was too late to take it back so I pressed on.

“Don’t you have people to do this stuff?” He chuckled at that, and replied with a little grin, “I sure do. Me!”

We made small talk for a few minutes; comfortable things gray haired guys talk about at a hardware store. I wasn’t purposely avoiding political talk, it just didn’t come up. I did offer my condolences for the passing of his colleague, Senator John McCain, figuring the two of them must have been friends.

“Sometimes we would get heated, and when it looked like we were getting nowhere, John or I would mention the reason for the impasse was because he was an Annapolis man, and I was West Point or vice versa, and the tension would evaporate, and we could get back to work.”

The respect and admiration for his former friend, adversary and fellow Senator was genuine. I was fortunate to witness his true depth of emotion, and the cynicism I had allowed to fester for years was granted a welcome reprieve. We were silent for a time, both lost in thought. For Senator Reed it was no more than a passing moment on a Sunday afternoon and a comfortable chat with a constituent. For me it held far more significance.

I got to see the man behind the press releases, and the carefully worded responses to pointed questions concerning national security, budget matters, the president and whatever tragedy warranted a senatorial response.

The people turning the engines of our country; people like me, people working part time at Lowes on a Sunday afternoon are not often privy to the people who represent us in Washington. We are spectators to the grand schemes portrayed on the twenty-four hour news and our social media feeds. We get the two dimensional view, the cardboard cutouts and the edited versions of the events of the day. We hear speeches that are far too often written by teams of writers, and vetted by focus groups and checked and rechecked for anything that might expose the person speaking as one of us.
Every now and then one of us has an opportunity to connect with another of us who happens to be a United States Senator.

We talked about Highland Falls, a little town that lies on the Hudson, next to West Point. I told him about a little RV park that my wife and I stayed in last year, and how the proprietor sat on his porch that once was a railroad station telling us stories about his past.

The old man talked about the history of his little place, which as it turns out both of the senator and I had been profoundly impacted by. I spent a leisurely summer day on the banks of the Hudson, gabbing with my wife and a nice old guy about history, and President Lincoln who had disembarked on the very spot I sat on. Senator Reed told me the story of how he and his classmates boarded a similar train from the same spot that Lincoln had stepped off of, and rode the tracks all the way to Philadelphia.

“It was the last year they used the train,” he said. “We filled it. It was quite a ride.”

As we spoke my mind was filled with images of the Senator and his classmates in 1971, the specter of Viet Nam and growing discontent at home hanging over them as they rode the same tracks that had transported troops to battlefields in Gettysburg, presidents to Washington and regular people to the city to find work. It was kind of overwhelming.

But gray haired men can’t whittle away the whole day gabbing, there is work to be done. I took my right hand off of the handle of the broom I had been holding during our conversation, shook the Senator’s hand and finished sweeping.

I actually enjoy that job; it gives me time to think.

Political climate is what we make it

“The current political climate” is a phrase that describes how dysfunctional life in the United States has become. The words are used by the media and politicians, as well as by people at coffee shops, bars and dinner tables, to strengthen their position on hot topics: Donald Trump, racism, Supreme Court nominations, global warming and gun control. To name a few.

The words are written or spoken, and all who read or hear them are expected to understand without question that there is an ideological war raging between right and left, and we are all embroiled in it.

I think we all might be a little crazy, and that the current political climate is in our heads. The people we have elected to represent us are often elected because they have promised to fight for us. In most elections, the fighter gets the votes and the diplomat goes home.

This philosophy holds true in the strange world of politics, but not so much in the lives of the people affected by it. We the people fight as a last resort, not as a matter of course. We understand that there is more to life than grandstanding, attacking another’s position and winning. We have no choice, we are in this together. Our world is not black and white, 50-50, or left vs. right.

For our society to function, it is imperative that all involved understand that every one of us has something of value to offer. The complexity of life demands it. Our world would fall into irreparable chaos if each of us, every moment, fought to be right. Travel would be catastrophic, peaceful gatherings reduced to riots, education impossible and high-quality health care an unobtainable dream.

Human beings have learned the value of understanding another person’s views, and right of way. We understand the laws of nature, and follow them without question. It is truly miraculous and validating that 300 million people are able to exist in peace, be productive, help those in need and truly care about everybody else.

The distractions we are bombarded with daily do not define us. We are far more important than President Donald Trump’s tweets, or a Supreme Court nomination and the circus that surrounds it. It is difficult to ignore the drama, and oddly comforting to choose a side and live in an echo chamber of like-minded people. But that ultimately leads to resentment, disappointment and despair.

“The current political climate” is exactly what we allow it to be. I refuse to succumb to the mantra that my beliefs are in stark contrast with half of my fellow citizens. I have far more in common with people I disagree with on political matters than I have differences.

I know that I like meatloaf, punk rock, kombucha, the NFL and Nike sneakers. People close to me despise all of those things. But we all love each other, and most of us love meatballs, rock music, sweet tea, sports and cool T-shirts.

The devil is in the details, and we have become obsessed with focusing on the details that divide us. What is good and oft forgotten is the graceful dance the vast majority of us perform daily.

Providence Journal Op/Ed by Michael Morse, 1 Oct 18

On your feet or on your knees

I see guys half my age taking a knee during The National Anthem and wonder if it was all for nothing.

What did Martin Luther King Jr. accomplish? Were the Birmingham marches a waste of time? Did James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner die in Mississippi in June of 1964 so that fifty years later, after all that people like them, Rosa Parks, William Lewis Moore and countless others could be forgotten?

20180704_085048.jpgDid my refusal to be part of a racist mindset, and treat all people equally, and support laws and policies that make it illegal to discriminate matter not at all?

Does everything that the majority of my generation did, will do and continues to do to reject bigotry mean nothing?

I don’t know.

I do know that police officers are being killed at an alarming rate. I also know that black men are sometimes killed accidentally, or maliciously by some police officers; the color of their skin contributing to their demise.

And I also know that good people are being beaten down, and conditioned by their environment to go against their nature, and judge others not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin or the uniform they wear.

And the carnage continues with or without people insulated from it taking a knee.

I believe that it would be far more beneficial if our celebrities got off the crosses of their imaginations, and stood for something that we all stand for, peace, love and our country, flawed as it may be.

The Bruins

The basement was cold, musty and, when I was alone, a little scary. A space heater hissed and crackled — hot to the touch, ugly, yet strangely comforting. Asbestos tile covered the floor. Doors on one side of the room opened to a narrow passageway where the furnace, the heart of the home, sat, called upon to provide warmth when needed, forgotten when not. The “Christmas stuff” waited in the little closet under the stairs. Now and then a little smell of Christmas would escape between the louvers of the door, spreading warmth of a different kind into “The Garden.”

A couch sat in front of an old RCA television console, reserved for game night. Wires snaked from the back of the cabinet, stapled against the paneled walls, into the passageway and out the cellar window, up the side of the house next to the chimney and onto the roof. The latest in television technology was planted there, much as the American flag was planted on the surface of the moon earlier that summer, only this was no flag — it was a rotary antenna.

Some nights, when the antenna pointed north toward Boston, the picture was almost clear. Sometimes turning it northeast worked better, and for some mysterious reason pointing it south provided the best picture on the weekends. Even the best picture, though, was always obscured by “snow.” It never occurred to us that some day we might actually see the puck.

But if there is heaven on Earth, it was in the basement of 19 Haley Road on Game Night.

My father, Robert Morse, watched nearly every game on that old TV, inviting his fan club to his lair, where we kids would make it through the first period, slumber during the second and be out cold by the third. Occasionally a thrown empty would crash against the TV screen, the anger directed at some hooligan from the other team, usually a Montreal Canadien, but the bums on the New York Rangers weren’t much better. If the noise woke us, we might see the end of the game before sneaking up the stairs to bed.

In 1989, my wife and I took my father to Boston Garden for a Bruins game. The old place was expected to be torn down at some point. (It was demolished in 1998.) We were afraid we were running out of time. Turns out we were, but not for the reason we expected. My father died a year later, at 61.

He had followed the team since the 1930s and had never set foot on the hallowed ground. It was a magical moment when he entered the arena and stopped in his tracks as he looked toward the ghost-filled rafters and saw firsthand the championship banners that had collected over the decades.

It was if the Earth stood still. He stood, hypnotized, tears filling his eyes but not escaping; never escaping, and took it all in. For a man who started following his team by listening to the National Hockey League’s “Original Six” franchises — the Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs — on the radio it was a near perfect moment.

It certainly was, too, for his son who spent the best years of his childhood in a magical basement.

Bruins hockey. There’s nothing better. Especially when the Stanley Cup is in sight!

The Backyard Carnival, “Them boys ain’t right!”

from The Providence Journal, Sunday, July 22, 2018

by Michael Morse

The Jerry Lewis Telethon wasn’t until Labor Day, but the anticipation began weeks before that. When the envelope containing everything needed to throw a successful Backyard Carnival finally arrived in the mail, the planning was over, work had begun.

We gave ourselves a day to prepare, plenty of time to throw the finest shindig in history! All we had to do to get on TV during the telethon was to raise the most money for Jerry’s Kids, and how hard could that be?

We had the perfect yard for the festivities. My father was the greatest home grown landscaper ever, our grass was perfect; fresh flowers everywhere and neatly trimmed. He didn’t use any fancy gadgetry or chemicals either, he did it with a push mower and a hand trimmer, with a bit of slave labor provided by one or more of his brood who were grounded at any given time during the long hot summer. We got time off for hard labor, and the more weeds we picked the quicker we returned to freedom.

When he wasn’t slaving over his grass, he went to work, so his children had the run of the grounds. With no interference from the authority we were free to create carnival perfection.

Fortunately for us, he had forgotten last summer’s mini golf course that we created by digging holes in the middle of the lawn and creating obstacles with things we found. Freshly painted shutters stored behind the garage made a fine waterfall when we propped them up with sticks and applied the garden hose, an upside down bird feeder that we modified with a hammer was a perfect trap and a trash can – tunnel that we banged with an axe until the bottom fell out made the third hole much more challenging. We even used an old flag pole; the last remaining vestiges of last summer’s “Fort Apache,” for the final hole. Now that was a true masterpiece; an old tent bought at a yard sale with our paper route money, erected in the middle of the yard and protected from The Indians with boulders, spears, garden tools and bb guns became in a child’s eye an impenetrable fortress. I still fondly recall the aroma of wet canvass and sleeping bags full of body odor every time the temperature soars past ninety.

Apparently, Fort Apache was not indestructible. The Apache Chief, aka “Mad Dad with a Temper” razed the place and put the Calvary in the brig for a few weeks. In retrospect, liberating Mrs. Otis’s milk box from her doorstep and burying it inside the fort to use as a latrine probably wasn’t our finest moment, but what the heck, we couldn’t very well leave the fort unprotected while taking care of business, could we?

But enough ruminating, we had a carnival to plan! The kit came with posters, tickets, balloons, a few games and little else. It did have a pre-addressed envelope for sending money to Jerry, and we planned on filling it! We sent our sister, Little Mel out to the streets to round up a pack of wild dogs that had been roaming our neighborhood for the petting zoo. She was only five, but the dogs seemed to like her.

Somehow we talked my friend Opey O’Brien into standing in a ring and dodging the lawn darts we planned on charging a nickel per throw for, and borrowed some sheets from the linen closet, hung them on the clothesline so one of us could hide behind the wall with bats and whack little kids who paid a dime to run the gauntlet. Whoever made it to the other side first won the blue ribbon that came in the carnival box!

By noon we were ready. All we had to do was wait for the crowds to appear, take their money, put it into the envelope, mail it, and wait for Jerry to call. Sadly, Mom was our first and only customer.

“You boys ain’t right,” she said before shutting us down. The Backyard Carnival was over before it began, and we spent the rest of the summer pulling weeds.

A Glimmer of Hope

I see the neighborhood mostly through the rear windows of Rescue 1, the images traveling past me going backward. Glimpses of city life witnessed through fleeting glances, snuck between patient care and the paperwork that goes with it. We travel these roads often, cut-throughs between Providence’s busy main thoroughfares, shortcuts learned from years of taking people to hospitals. To us they’re just streets—tools, if you will; means of travel. For the people who live on them, they’re home, often disturbed by speeding rescues and piercing sirens. Sometimes gunfire precedes these interruptions.

As we rush to the scene of a child struck by an auto, I think of the last time I was on this particular street. That time it was for a kid from the neighborhood who didn’t make it out. The last time I saw him, I was standing in the pouring rain in somebody’s backyard. He had a bullet hole in his head. Rain thinned the trail of blood that ran down his chin and onto his t-shirt, making it look fake. I felt for a pulse, felt the skin cold at my fingertips—no radial, no carotid, nothing. His eyed rolled back in his head. I wanted to close them like they do in the movies, but it was a crime scene. I backed out, careful not to trip over the gun that fired the bullet that ended his life.

A few days later I saw his face again. I had to look twice at the picture; he didn’t belong on the obituary page. He was a young guy, long braided hair, his mother dead, raised in foster care. He left his foster mother, a brother and two kids without a father. It was strange, but the picture on the obituary page didn’t differ much from the mental image I had from the day I saw him dead. Going through the motions of life is far different from living.

Life for the rest of us goes on. As we passed the house where he died, different people sat on the deck, enjoying the summer five feet from where a young man ended his life. I looked out the side window and remembered, then focused on the kid who needed us more.

They had put her in the grass, 20 feet from the road where a slow-moving car had run her leg over. She had been playing, enjoying the day with about 20 people, grill fired up, cold drinks full, an inflatable bouncy tent in one of the backyards. A crowd had formed around her; we had to squeeze our way through as her relatives slowly gave ground. Her father had to be moved away from his daughter so we could do our work. He reluctantly let his baby go and watched a bunch of strangers tend to her. She screamed in fear and pain while we splinted her lower left leg, crushed, bleeding and swollen. But she said, “It’s OK, daddy,” her own pain secondary to her worries about her distraught father, as we lifted her onto our stretcher and rolled her away.

A crowd had formed, as it often does in the inner city when flashing lights and the trucks that run them make an appearance. More times than not something violent has preceded it. This time there were no hostilities. It’s a little different when the victim is an innocent 7-year-old and the injury an unfortunate accident rather than an act of aggression or revenge. The crowd stood by respectfully, watching as we did our thing, stabilized the patient, calmed her fears and tried to ease her pain.

There are differing philosophies regarding family members in the treatment area during emergencies. My own is to let the family in and have them close by to offer comfort, especially when children are involved. The little girl’s mother entered our ambulance through the side door and sat on the bench seat, watching as we got ready to go. The leg had been packaged; only some gauze was visible under the blanket that covered the child.

“What is her name?” I asked the mom.

“She doesn’t speak English,” from the little girl, calm as could be.

“Well, then, what is your name?”



“No. Magneline. M-A-G-N-E-L-I-N-E.” Talk about grace under pressure.

She told me her date of birth, her correct address and everything else I asked her. And she told me she was worried about her father. “Where is he? Is he OK?”

We got rolling, Hasbro Children’s Hospital less than a mile away. Her father followed. Once inside the hospital, the nurses took over. In the small treatment room, with the girl’s mother still close by, they undid our packaging. When the mom saw the injuries, she broke down.

“Don’t cry, mama,” said Magneline, soothing her mom, letting her know it would be OK. Then her father joined them, and little Magneline comforted him too.

Then they administered morphine, and little Magneline rested.

I cannot imagine Magneline sinking into the same black hole that draws so many of the inner-city kids into nonproductive existences. The allure of quick money, street cred and popularity takes initiative away and replaces it with instant gratification that cannot be maintained and often ends violently, sometimes with a bullet in the head.

Some of the most promising children are tempted to join gangs, live on the fringes and develop contempt, anger and mistrust of society. Others have a certain something and manage to overcome the allure, stay focused and in school, and make something of their lives. In doing so, they help the rest of us see that even in the bleakest of places, there is always a glimmer of hope.

Thank you, Magneline.