Three stories from a night on the town:
Show Is Over
She spent hours at the gym, had her nails done, a pedicure, her hair was perfect, and she spent a few hours getting ready for a fun night out dancing in Providence with her friends. She was beautiful and looked fantastic, and people noticed, and she didn’t mind, as long as they weren’t creepy about it.
Some moron crashed into their car at 2 in the morning, spoiling a great night. She’d had a few drinks but was far from intoxicated and wasn’t driving anyway. She was hurt in the accident and needed to be seen at the ER for some stitches and x-rays.
Sometimes all we can do for our patients is make them feel better during transport. The high-tech equipment and highly trained EMT were reduced to performing one of the simplest, kindest and most ancient of all medical techniques: I covered her with a blanket. Her anxiety level dropped in half. The beautiful body she showed off earlier in the night, and did so with class and style, was no longer on display.
Party Is Over
The party was in full swing for most of Thayer Street, not so for Marissa. She sat on a curb in front of Starbucks, the shoes that once matched her party dress now splashed with mud and vomit. “I just want to go home. Take me home,” she said to the guys from Engine 9.
Whether she was aware we were there to help her is unclear; I imagine all she could see was a blur. Fortunately for her, we showed up to take her “home” rather than somebody whose intentions were not so noble. She was defenseless. We carried her onto the stretcher, gave her a bucket and a towel and drove toward Rhode Island Hospital, where she would join 20 or so other intoxicated college kids. As I searched her small black bag for some ID, I found a fancy silver flask, empty now, but carefully filled earlier with the cause of all of her troubles. Her ID lay under the flask. The picture on it—showing a beautiful California student—was a sharp contrast to the drunken wreck thrashing on the stretcher. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said over and over. I covered her with a hospital blanket, but she kept pushing it away, unaware that her dress, which cleverly covered her when sober, now left nothing to the imagination. I wrapped her up as best as I could before wheeling her into the ER.
Like the Fish
It would have been better if she was what I expected. It would have been a lot easier if she was some drunk, crazy, screaming lunatic, filled with booze and hate, fighting with some other girls about whatever it is they fight about. It would have been just another call if she just cooperated, and was obnoxious and demanding and thought the world revolved around her, and ignored me and paid more attention to her phone. That would have made it easy.
But it wasn’t easy.
She was adorable and sober and dressed for a night dancing with her boyfriend. She was worried her mom would be mad she got hurt. She wasn’t drunk; she didn’t even drink. She was in the line of fire, that’s all. The wrong place at the wrong time. She was in the way when a drunk, crazy, screaming lunatic threw a bottle, and her face broke the intended path, and more glass started to fly, and fists and kicks started, and when it ended her beautiful face was sliced up, and her teeth were broken, and her eyeball gouged, and a four-inch laceration bled from the top of her breast and soaked her dress with blood.
I wish she hadn’t smiled through the mask of blood, and then winced with pain when the jagged edges of her skin moved, and her lip separated when I asked her name.
And most of all I wish she hadn’t told me, with another painful smile, that her name was Marlin. Marlin, like the fish, she said, and asked me if her face would be OK.
Not everybody who ends up in ambulances on Friday and Saturday nights is out of control, vomiting and intoxicated. Those who are, though, are experiencing a change of mental status, which is most definitely a medical emergency. After a lot of years and a lot of vomit, I’ve learned that people are people, and sometimes they need us. I try to act as if it were my daughter on the stretcher and treat the patient accordingly. Too bad I don’t get to yell at them in the morning. (Except Marlin—her I would hug.)
Michael Morse, EMT-C, is 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.