Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
the way to shutdown, and my memories are staccato vignettes, mostly devoid of feel-
ings because I was largely unaware of having any. We handled mangled, charred, and
decomposed bodies, but I got physically ill only twice, when the bowels of dead people
emptied on me.
Gold Cross worked two-person crews out of a central headquarters and four suburb-
an stations. We started at 7 a.m., taking a few minutes to inventory first aid supplies,
refill oxygen tanks, and check out our vehicle. Entire shifts sometimes passed without
an emergency, but on weekends a crew might pull several traffic accidents, a shooting
or stabbing, and a heart attack. My assistant was often a stout, good-natured T.W.C. stu-
dent from Central Islip, New York, nicknamed Slim, who kept me laughing with wise-
cracks delivered in a heavy Long Island accent. Between calls we studied, watched TV,
and slept. Sooner or later a buzzer would go off, followed by the loudspeaker: “Three-
car accident, northbound Loop 820, south of Highway 121.” We'd run out lighting ci-
garettes, then I'd flick toggles for the emergency beacons and turn on the siren as we
rolled down the driveway. Within minutes we'd be applying compression bandages, put-
ting on inflatable splints, and inserting “resuscitubes” over the tongues of unconscious
Slim and I worked in a chaos of flashing lights, clanking tow-truck chains, and moan-
ing victims; we treated patients amid the worrisome and vaguely nauseating smell of
gasoline, while all around us blood was pooled on floor mats, smeared on windshields
like scarlet finger-painting. Strangers were literally and figuratively in our hands, with
rumpled clothes, smashed glasses, arms and legs limply askew. One woman kneeled
over her wounded boyfriend and kept us at bay with a knife until police arrived, but usu-
ally injured people were cooperative, even poignantly trusting. Sometimes their eyes
darted about as if an invisible, dangerous something were out there; other times they
seemed oddly detached, as if contemplating some distant memory. We'd unload at a hos-
pital and fill out paperwork, then return to the station, replenish our first aid supplies
and grill steaks for dinner.
Patients usually required only straightforward stabilizing procedures, but occasion-
ally complications arose. Once I had a compress on a man's head gash when bystanders
alluded to another wreck victim in a nearby ditch. Because my guy's bleeding was con-
trolled and another ambulance would've taken twenty minutes to reach us, I sent Slim
into the darkness. Suddenly someone jerked my hand off the dressing, shouting, “I'm a
nurse and this man's injured. You'd better get him to a doctor!” I muttered, “Oh shit!”
and pushed her aside, reapplying the bandage and reassuring the victim. Meanwhile
Slim concluded that no one else was hurt, and by the time we reached a hospital the
nurse had phoned in about my behavior. Another night we picked up a tiny woman
who'd sought refuge from her husband's blows behind a refrigerator. She weighed less
than a hundred pounds but was so wrought-up from physical and psychological batter-
ing that two big cops had to help us gently wrestle her onto a gurney.
We were legally bound to treat all intact patients even if they weren't savable. I gave
CPR to numerous heart attack victims with open airways and good skin color, for ex-
ample, but none of them revived. One night a hammer-wielding thug attempted to as-
sault an elderly lady in a seedy apartment building. She, however, fired a .38 point-blank
and left him with streaming neck wounds and no pulse. The stairwell was too narrow for
a gurney, so Slim pulled him to a sitting position, I grasped his wrists from behind and
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