The black car sails by as we sit here in the darkness under the large oak tree. Here on this street I doubt I have ever known the name of, we sit parked a convenient distance from the hospital as dictated by contracts between men I may never meet.
We sit here, as the hours slide by, waiting for the voice over the radio to bark out commands or the pager to give us the name of our next patient.
81-year-old male, general weakness, hospital to residence.
30-year-old female, hospital to hospital, suicidal ideation.
Two-year-old female, foreign body obstruction, ER to ER.
The names are not relevant; these are people whose lives we will intersect for a brief moment as they travel through our realm.
We are waiting for that glowing orange radio to tell us our next assignment. The clock insists the time is 11:39—two hours left in our shift. Paul is asleep in the passenger seat beside me, the orange glow between us. I am trying to find a comfortable position around the steering wheel and thinking fond thoughts of bed.
The radio comes to life, Steven tonight, his slow Tennessee enunciation frustrating as we are waiting for our summons. “Code 2 BLS.”
A short transfer, just across the street. Paul sputters to life as I put the rig into drive and roll away from the curb. “I was just about to fall asleep!” he says. I laugh. “You were snoring.”
The windows are dark at our destination. Paul is still pulling together his paperwork as I am pulling out the gurney. We coordinate again to lift over the curb. A thoughtlessly choreographed sequence, effortless. We’ve been together a long time now.
Finding our patient is easy. His is the only light in the dark hallway. Room 20, bed C.
A flurry of activity. A man in the bed holding ice to his forehead. A smear of blood on the floor. Information in a series of staccato sentences.
From the patient: I fell out of my wheelchair. My head hurts. Where is my phone? Don’t forget my jacket. I’m cold. Maybe 10 minutes ago. No, no pain in my back.
From the nurse: 56-year-old male. History ESRD, CHF, paraplegia, anemia. Allergic to penicillin. Full code. Ground level fall, approximately 2320hrs. Shallow laceration right temple. Transfer to ER for CT, medical clearance.
Signatures for the money people. Load and go.
Same short drive.
Park in the back.
The ambulance parking that still makes me pause. A red curb here for my use.
Inside, a flurry of activity as we walk by the nurse’s station. Whose turn is it? Anthony wins, Brian’s new patient. We get bed three. Again, the important information is repeated in a series of short, staccato statements. 56-year-old male. History ESRD, CHF, paraplegia, anemia… Here is the phone, the jacket.
Collect more signatures for the money people.
Passing by the nurse’s station again, this time with the empty gurney, it is time for different kind of checking in. Say bye to Andrew, the strongly accented nurse who always wants to give me his chair. Ask Will the ER technician about his classes; he’s almost ready to apply to nursing school. Wave to Ben, sneaking away again for a cigarette.
Clean. Sterilize. The careful folding of the paper sheet over the gurney so it does not rip. Paul appears again to join me in the rig. “129 clear.”
Back to the quiet darkness of the oak tree. 12:37, one hour left. The radio sleeps.
Just another Sunday night.
*I changed everyone’s names*