For the second time today, I stand in line at the local ice-cream shop. This time, I manage to get my order in and make idle chit-chat with the couple sitting next to me. The boys wait outside, in the medic, enjoying their treats while I, the probie, wait inside with a grumbling stomach. We were here about 30 minutes ago before the tones dropped, sending us on an engine run that would be cancelled before we even got there. This time, however, the tones drop and the voice on my walkie tells me that an elderly man has been struck by a car. I yell, "Bye!" to the staff and citizens inside, thinking how ironic it is that I'm called out yet again before I have a chance to eat. I climb into the back of the medic and put on purple gloves.
We arrive at our destination....wrong address. Dispatch advises us that they are dealing with a "confused" caller and redirects us to an address about 5 minutes away. Our other medic unit is close behind as we catch site of the man at the end of the driveway frantically waving us down. He runs up the driveway just ahead of us to a large barn surrounded by fields. One of my crew comments, "A guy running....never a good sign." As soon as the medic comes to a stop, I climb out, first grabbing the first-in bag, then from the side of the medic the c-collar kit and backboard. The guys are already in the barn as I enter. Rounding a large tractor forked in front for loading bales, I see him, surrounded by the bales of straw he was undoubtedly focused on only minutes before. He lies motionless, face-down. As the rest of the crew steadies his head and turns him over, a voice says, "Get ready for CPR." I open a BVM and assemble it like I had been shown, hooking it to the O2 bottle, waiting briefly for the bag to fill. As one EMT pumps his chest, I cover his mouth with the mask and begin to squeeze....wait....squeeze....wait....I can't help but notice that the grey eyes from partially opened lids don't move, don't see. I pause to allow the insertion of an oral airway, then squeeze....wait....squeeze...A flurry of activity is around me. Kits are being opened, life-saving implements assembled, pads placed on the man's crushed chest. I see his white hair, his stubbled chin and cheeks...the only visible wounds are some abrasions to his arms. He is shirtless, no doubt from the heat of the day and toil of farm labor, wearing shorts and his cowboy boots, now crossed over each other awkwardly as seven people try to save his life. The AED is attatched, everybody lets go of him and the only one now touching the man is me, intently maintaining the seal around the mask as I squeeze....squeeze....squeeze. We wach and the line on the monitor is unmistakable. Nothing. Not a blip or a bump. Asystole. It's over. The medic in charge calls time of death. In slight disbelief, I stop squeezing, remove the mask, and pull out the OPA. Some blood follows the plastic device, spilling onto the dust around my feet. Numbly, I begin to put things away, stopping now and then to shoo the flies away from the man who, 20 minutes ago, had been going about his day like any other. I stop once again to peer into the grey eyes for a sign, any sign, that it isn't over yet. But it is.
My heart briefly pangs for the man whose life has suddenly ended, then focuses on the man who had been driving the front loader. He sits in a car, sobbing and shaking and I rap on the window. His eyes meet mine and I open the door. Placing my hand on his shoulder I tell him how sorry I am. How we tried, and how I wished there was something I could do. My eyes mist and I ask him if I can hug him. Briefly we embrace, his tears wetting my shoulder where he buried his face. I can't be sure, but I believe he was related to the man whose broken body we had tried to salvage...I can't imagine, can't imagine. I hold back the tears and replace the sunglasses that hide my moistened eyes.
On the way back to the station, I can't help but think how quickly life can change from same old shit to utter catastrophe. Lives change in the blink of an eye and the dead leave the living to sort things out. My mind turns to the $8 worth of food I could probably still pick up if I wanted it. I arrive at the station, pack up, and go home. Maybe next time food can fill that strange emptiness in the pit of my stomach. But not this time.
I believe I did my job. We all did. I'm alright with the way thing went. But I will never forget.