Our patient lived above a busy restaurant on Wickenden Street, one of the more hip spots in Providence. Traffic was heavy; the sidewalk cluttered with people who shopped and relaxed at the many coffee shops, art galleries and antique stores that line the street. We had to block the travel lane when we arrived. As soon as we stopped, three Japanese sushi chefs escorted an older guy from the doorway of their place.
Benjamin owned the building and rented the space below his apartment to the popular Japanese restaurant. From the concern showed by his tenants, he was a well-liked landlord. I knew right away I was going to enjoy this call; the guy had character written all over his craggy face. He hobbled up the rescue steps—no easy task for somebody half his age with two good wheels—and sat on the stretcher.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him.
“My leg is swollen, and my toe hurts. It’s been going on for weeks. I’m leaving for Europe tomorrow; I hope I can make the trip.”
I took a look at the leg and toe. His left calf and shin were twice the size of the right, and his big toe was bright red.
“How are you going to get around Europe on that?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Can you take me to the VA?”
He thanked his escorts, who appeared reluctant to leave, but Benjamin insisted he would be OK and dismissed their concerns with a casual wave and mischievous grin. The chefs returned to their work, we took his vital signs and got moving.
He was a Navy man and a disabled WWII vet. He was there at Normandy on D-Day, lost some friends as wave after wave debarked from his ship into the slaughterhouse. When that job was done, he went to the Pacific and was training to parachute into Japan when the bomb was dropped and the war ended. He spent a lot of the war escorting the Merchant Marines, a group that suffered staggering losses.
Benjamin survived the war. Sadly his brother did not. He told me about him:
“He was a gifted musician and brilliant Brown grad whose life was cut short in the Black Forest during the Battle of the Bulge,” he explained as we traveled the bumpy streets toward the VA. I thought of my own brother, who had fought the war in Iraq, then a year later Afghanistan, and the loss my family would have suffered if he didn’t make it home.
“My father is a Navy vet, Korea, and my brother spent a year in Iraq and another in Afghanistan,” I mentioned. He paused for a moment, sensing the distance between us had closed and that I needed a little time to regain my focus. Seventy years had passed since his loss, yet Ben’s eyes still filled up when he mentioned his brother. I made a mental note to call mine.
We talked a little more during the trip to the VA. Thankfully for us Ben lived through the war. He taught art at RISD, displayed his work at galleries throughout Providence and became a successful restaurateur. His brother’s contributions to humanity ended on a battlefield. I can only imagine the magnitude of gifts that have been lost, greatness unknown and words unspoken. How much more music will we never hear, art will we never see, or lives will we not be able to share and enjoy before the world makes peace with itself?
I got a wheelchair from the lobby and helped him into the VA’s emergency department and past the latest generation of disabled veterans. I gave my report to the person in charge of patient intake, shook my patient’s hand and thanked him for his service. Then I walked through the waiting room, past all of the rest and into the brisk sunshine of a relentless winter, zipped my jacket, mumbled something to my partner and rode in silence back to the station.
Michael Morse, EMT-C, is a rescue captain with the Providence (RI) Fire Department. Follow Michael on Facebook and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.