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First Person: The Five Stages of Grief

0415 hrs. The tone sounds in the station and the blow lights fill the space with harsh fluorescent light. “Rescue 1, respond to 160 Broad Street at Crossroads for a female with tooth pain.”

1. Denial
“Tooth pain? Surely they jest. This must be a mistake. I’ll just lie here, pull the blanket over my eyes, wait for the lights to go out and it will go away.”

“That’s Rescue 1, respond to 160 Broad Street for a 22-year-old female complaining of tooth pain.”

2. Anger
The grumpy rescue officer sits at the edge of the bunk, finds his shoes, throws his shirt over his head and shuffles toward the pole.

“Tooth pain! This is bull! You have got to be kidding me! Call a cab! Get a bus! Get over it! Tooth pain, she’s going to have tooth pain I when get there all right. No, she won’t have any teeth when I get there! Tooth pain. 9-1-1 for tooth pain...”

3. Resentment
As our heroes roll toward their fate they commiserate.

“Can you believe this bull? Toothache! We’re the only truck in the city doing anything. Must be nice to work in a normal city with normal people who don’t call at 4 in the morning for a toothache! Why do they even send us? What’s the matter with those dopes at fire alarm? Toothache. Unbelievable!”

4. Acceptance
Rescue 1 arrives on scene to find a 22-year-old girl standing alone outside of the homeless shelter holding her chin with both hands, crying. She looks miserable.

“Did you call for a rescue? You did? What’s the matter? Toothache. Come on, we’ll take you to the hospital.”

They help her into the side door of the rescue, make her comfortable, get some vitals and transport.

5. Closure
At the hospital they bring their patient to the waiting room, say a few polite hellos and get back into the truck and drive toward home.
“Rescue 1 in service.”

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 author of the books Rescuing Providence and Responding, and the Stories from the Streets column on

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