Rescuing Providence: Q&A with Lt. Michael Morse
Ed's Note: Author Michael Morse released a new book at the end of 2011. Responding follows Morse for 38 hours as he and his co-workers respond to emergencies in Rhode Island's capitol city. The book's pace is as relentless as the 9-1-1 calls that keep the characters moving in this provocative look at the nation's 9-1-1 responders, and the people who need them.
In Rescuing Providence, you'll ride through the tough streets of South Providence, RI, past historic mansions on the city's East Side and the tattered but emerging West End with Lt. Michael Morse of the Providence Fire Department as he and his EMS team respond to drug overdoses, heart attacks, car accidents, gunshot wounds, suicides, alcoholics, premature births, broken bones and other medical emergencies that are all in a day's work. This humorous memoir was published by Paladin Press and is available from Paladin or Amazon.com through links on Lt. Morse's blog at www.rescuingprovidence.com.
Why did you write this book?
I'd had in my mind for a few years that what I do for a living would make a good book--not only a memoir of a career in EMS and the fire service, but just one shift could make a book because we do so much. Providence is very busy. I think the average is 17 calls per truck in a 24-hour period, and there are six rescues. That's a lot of stories. I also wanted the focus to be more on the people of Providence than on myself, because I find the people we respond to are an interesting lot.
Did you keep a journal? How did you remember so many details?
One day on my way to work, I decided this was the day I was going to start a journal. It was Easter weekend in 2004, and I just started taking notes. As soon as I got to work, I wrote about my ride in and my morning routine, and before I went back into service after each call, I wrote down all the things I remembered: colors, people, conversations. I did that for four days and ended up with a long list of notes that took me almost two years to put together in book form. The original manuscript was about 400 pages covering 42 calls in a 38-hour period. What I thought was interesting was the exhaustion and my battling fatigue and trying to maintain some professionalism as the hours and calls dragged on. The struggle of getting through the calls and being away from my family all came together. In my mind, it was probably a lot more elaborate than it turned out to be. The book turned out to be pretty simple, but writing and thinking are two different things completely.
You're both a firefighter and an EMT. What was it about the medical aspect that appealed to you more than fighting fires?
I was a firefighter for 10 years, and I still love doing it. But as firefighter/first responders, we'd get to a patient's house, do CPR if necessary, give oxygen and take vital signs and then wait for the EMS guys, and I got tired of waiting for them. I wanted to be one of the rescue guys, so that's what I became.
So many books today are self-published, but you went with Paladin Press, which is a publishing company. Was that a deliberate choice?
It was. I have this hope of getting a career as an author or some sort of writing career when I leave the fire service. Since I published my book, self-publishing has come a long way, but at the time I published in 2007 there was a stigma attached to self-publishing. Everyone told me if I self-published I wouldn't get reviewed and wouldn't get the respect I needed from a national audience, so I went through the process. I have a stack of rejections from agents and publishers, who all loved the book, but they were afraid it wasn't marketable and not enough people would buy it. So it was tempting to go the self-publishing route, but I didn't want to be a bookseller, I wanted to be a book writer.
The book was published 4 years ago. What response have you had, and does it appeal to both people in the industry and laypeople?
I wrote it so anybody could read it, hoping the general public would appreciate and enjoy it. I didn't care if they understood it--it wasn't a cry for help or attention. I just think it's a great story. The response has been overwhelming. The publisher is a good company, but they sell books from their own website and catalog and don't have a good distribution system. The copy editors were great, the designers were fantastic, and I couldn't have asked for more, except for distribution. I did that myself.
How would people find your book now?
If you go to my blog at rescuingprovidence.com, I have links to both Amazon.com and Paladin Press.
Any plans for future books?
I do have another book that I'm hoping to get published soon. When I originally wrote Rescuing Providence it covered a 4-day shift, and people suggested I shorten it to 2. Part 2 is the next 2 days, so it's a continuation of the first book.
Excerpt from Rescuing Providence: Chapter 23
1543 Hours: Dehydration
"Engine 11 with a Cranston rescue; respond to 111 Reservoir Avenue for a man with 10 days of diarrhea."
"Rescue 1 clearing the fire; we'll handle."
"Roger, Rescue 1. Engine 11, disregard. We'll cancel Cranston."
With one radio transmission I've made a lot of friends. Cranston rescues hate coming to Providence. The rescue crews from surrounding communities think the Providence rescues hang around all day waiting for the good stuff--shootings, stabbings, electrocutions, and the like--and hide when the shitty runs come in. They are only partly right.
"I love these runs," said Mike as we drove to our destination.
"We've been running like crazy," I responded.
"I hope we don't get the run-around."
"Let's run right over there."
"Time could be running out."
"We've had a lot of runs today."
"We've had the run of the city."
"I hope we don't run out of gas."
"This is my kind of run," Mike finished the absurd conversation. I let him get the last word, not because I'm a nice guy, but I ran out of comebacks.
A man in his forties waited outside. He had a door at the top of ten cement steps propped open. "Hey guys, thanks for getting here so quick. It's my father. He's been throwing up and having diarrhea for ten days. I'm worried he's getting dehydrated. What's up with you guys," he asked. "You're soaked."
"We don't want to get dehydrated so we soak ourselves with water every hour," said Mike. I grinned and shook my head.
"Where is he?" I asked.
"Right over here," he said and led us into their home. The kitchen was clean but cluttered with paperwork. Pictures of Red Sox and Bruins players decorated the walls. A signed photo of Roger Clemens posing with the man who met us at the door was held to the refrigerator door with a banana magnet.
"Hey," the man said, looking at me like he knew me, "you could be Roger Clemens's brother. You look just like him."
"Really?" I asked. Nobody ever said that to me before.
"No way," said Mike, shaking his head.
"No, really," the man continued. "I met Roger at the Marriott a couple of years ago. I'm telling you, you could be his twin."
I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not.
The patient sat in a recliner in a room just off the kitchen. He looked awful. His skin was the grey of the coldest sky of winter, yet sweat formed on his forehead giving the illusion of transparency on his seasoned face. His eyes were surrounded with black circles, three layers deep. He was wiped out.
"Mike, get the chair."
Mike was gone before I finished saying it. One look at the man told us he wouldn't be walking to the truck.
"How are you feeling?" I asked him.
"Awfully weak," he responded. "I've been vomiting with diarrhea for ten days now. I can't stop." He was apologetic, as though his condition was his own fault.
"Let's get you to the hospital then; you look terrible," I said.
"His doctors are at Fatima. Any chance you could take him there?" the son asked.
Fatima is the furthest hospital from us. With rush hour traffic to contend with the trip will take fifteen minutes. His condition wasn't life-threatening. Rhode Island Hospital was a nut house with a six-hour wait, and more importantly, I liked these guys. I don't have to take people to the hospital of their choice, but I wanted to help them out.
"No problem," I said. I would have taken this guy to Florida. I really don't know why, but sometimes I instantly like people.
"Thanks, we really appreciate it," said the son.
"Pop, these guys are going to take care of you. I'll meet you at the hospital later."
"Make sure you lock up," the older man said to his son as we wheeled him out the same door he had walked out of thousands of times and carried him to the rescue. How humbling old age can be. After a quick set of vital signs, we were on our way.
"How long have you lived in that house?" I asked him.
"Be fifty years next week. There's five bedrooms upstairs. Me and my wife would have celebrated our fiftieth anniversary if she hadn't died a couple of years ago. We bought the house for seven thousand dollars! Can you believe that! I could sell it tomorrow for two hundred thousand." His voice picked up steam as he went on.
"More than that, I bet. The place is beautiful."
"You should have seen it when my wife was alive. Women have a way with those kind of things." He had a far-away look in his eyes as he reminisced. I wonder what he's thinking.
"Do you live there alone?" I asked.
"No, my boy lives with me. He's a great kid. I don't know what I'd do without him."
"From the look of him, he feels the same way about you."
"We're lucky to have each other. He looks out for me, and I give him something to do."
A teamster's baseball cap sat proudly on Harry's head. He was a big man in his day. Though his shoulders were hunched and he had shrunk with age, he still exuded a certain power. The days of vomiting and diarrhea hadn't taken the sparkle from his eye when he talked about the past and his family. This was a good, hard-working man, the kind that I aspire to be, and hope I am. He took care of his family to the best of his ability; "done his damndest," provided a beautiful home and lived a good life. These things were obvious to anybody fortunate enough to be in his presence. I was glad I went in service and took this run.
"What kind of work did you do with the teamsters?" I asked.
"I started driving truck, then went on to manage the warehouse at the print works. Thirty men worked for me back then. I don't think the warehouse is even in operation now; all the work is overseas."
My father started his career after the war with the phone company as a janitor. He stayed with the company until he died at sixty-one. He was an engineer with thirty or more people working for him.
"You're right. It's a shame what's happened to the country."
"It still is the best country on earth." He said the words simply, without any unnecessary embellishment.
On impulse I asked Harry, "Were you in the war?"
I like to ask people his age what they did during World War II. I am amazed at the different answers I get. Some served in the armed forces; others stayed stateside and helped in their own way. I wonder how it feels to be of an age eligible to have fought in that war and answer people of my generation's questions. Are they decorated war heroes? Do they feel shame if they weren't heroic fighting men? Were they proud that they didn't participate?
"Army. Pacific for three years."
"How was it?" I asked.
He wasn't upset but obviously didn't want to talk about it. I had the feeling that if he did we would be in California before his story was through.
"Thank you for your service to the country." I was barely able to get the words out, my voice choked up. I don't know why I got so emotional, but I always have. These old geezers bring it out. Some day I'll be in their shoes and hope I have half of Harry's dignity.
I felt the truck stop and knew we had arrived. Our Lady of Fatima Hospital is actually in North Providence, a city separate from Providence. It is confusing. South Providence is part of the City of Providence, but North Providence and East Providence are not. They each have their own government and services. For such a small state, Rhode Island is very confusing. West Providence doesn't exist, but we do have the West End, a part of Providence. The East Side is also part of Providence, but don't confuse that with East Providence. There are a lot of politicians in such a small area.
"What's all the chatter back here? I'm getting an earache," Mike said while opening the rear doors of the rescue. He has a way with words.