This is the fourth of a five-part series. A new part will appear each day this week. Happy holidays to all who serve from EMS World.
At precisely 0300 the tones went off, and Michaelmorser Scrooge slipped from his bunk. The station was quiet—not a peep could be heard once the tones quieted down. The rescue waited, and Brian sat in it.
“A Merry Christmas to you, sir,” he said. Scrooge ignored him.
“Where are we going now?” Michaelmorser asked, quite miserably.
“To the children’s nursing home,” Brian replied nervously, “for difficulty breathing.” He stepped on the gas.
Quiet filled the cab as they rode toward their destination. Scrooge had little to say and much to think about. The three ghosts that haunted his nightmares were just that, he decided.
Nightmares. Apparitions born from too many rescue runs, too much overtime and not enough peace and quiet!
They arrived at the nursing home. The freezing rain had turned to snow; it tickled Scrooge’s skin for a moment, then melted and annoyed him. He wiped it away. Brian lagged behind.
“What are you doing?” Scrooge snapped at him. “I’m freezing, and you’re wasting time fiddling about with some nonsense!”
“I’m getting the equipment.”
“Don’t bother. We’ve been here dozens of times,” said Scrooge. “The kid probably has the sniffles!”
The elevator rose slowly toward the third floor and the patient. It groaned to a stop, and the doors opened. The floor was empty—nothing stirred.
“Hello!” Scrooge cried, and his voice echoed back. At the end of the long hallway was a shadow coming toward him. The elevator doors closed, taking Brian away. The shadow continued to approach, growing larger. A man took shape. He wore nothing but a black cape, his face hidden in darkness.
“Where is the patient?” Michaelmorser demanded. The apparition said nothing, but pointed a bony finger at Scrooge and beckoned him to follow.
Respirators worked, hissing and gurgling, the machines that filled the lungs of the barely living doing their ungodly task without mercy or feeling. The sound comforted Michaelmorser. Children’s eyes peered from each room they passed. Some roamed the hallways, apparitions of their former selves, little ghosts whose lives had ended right in the very space he now occupied.
Scrooge grew impatient. “You!” he shouted to the shadowy figure that led him down the endless corridor. “You are the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come! Admit it and identify yourself! I demand it!”
The figure slowed and turned, and in his arms held the boy whose heart lived outside his body. The specter held a body that did not breathe, did not move and did not live. The heart did not beat, and Scrooge, having let his skills lapse, having now spent so many years but going through the motions, had no idea what to do.
“I fear you more than all the others, spirit!” Scrooge beseeched. “I implore you, make him breathe! Do something! Start CPR! It’s only a heart outside a body; surely you can make it beat once again! Look into his eyes, you monster, they still flicker with life! You have the power to save him and give him a chance, another day—Christmas day! Perhaps this day will be the day they find the miracle needed to restore his heart and let him live a normal life! Do you not care? Does his life have no meaning to you at all?”
The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come extended his arms and held the child toward Scrooge. As Scrooge reached to take him, the monster’s hood slipped back, exposing his face. It was Scrooge’s own.
“No! Please, it cannot be! Please, spirit, tell me, is this the future that will be, or is it the future that might be?”
The boy now rested in Scrooge’s arms, and his eyes, their light quickly dimming, met Scrooge’s. He stood there, the ghost gone, Brian gone, the nurses and other patients gone, and did not know what to do, and he stood alone in the Cabbage Patch and watched the beautiful boy’s lights go out.
Michael Morse, EMT-C, is currently captain of Rescue 5 in Providence, RI, and has served on the city's busiest engine, ladder and rescue squads as a firefighter, rescue technician and lieutenant during his 21-year career. He is the author of the books Rescuing Providence and Responding.