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Black Lamb

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Life goes on

May 1st, 2007

BY ELIZABETH HART

longneckedwoman-copy.jpgI finally got a trip in an ambulance. I’d had relatively minor trips last year: a hamstring torn while falling over the dog in the middle of the night (he’s still having nightmares), a sprained ankle dodging the sudden rise of a sprinkler head (hey, it was the biggest, scariest one on our property), a twisted knee and another ankle sprained while fainting at the scene of a total stranger’s motorcycle accident — but I’d never been in an ambulance. ’Til now.

Sunday night, having wrapped up a satisfying email correspondence, I slid my laptop off my lap onto a leather ottoman, slipped my left foot into my sensible Danish clog, shoved the ottoman out a little, and stood up — all while bringing my right foot through to put into its matching shoe. Standing on one foot I realized, panic lights flashing, that the laptop cord was wrapped ’round my right ankle and that to continue the motion I’d begun would certainly mean yanking my laptop off the ottoman. So I did what any responsible owner of a $2,000 machine would do: I gave a little hop trying to free myself from the cord and twisted to my right to stop the floor-ward momentum of the machine. Bad move, I thought, as the floor rose to greet me. The machine was safely dangling over the edge of the ottoman but I was not so lucky.

A firey blast of molten lava streaked up my leg. Damn. Another sprained ankle? I lifted my left leg to have a look and watched in horror as my clogged foot flopped unnaturally to the left. Oh. Geez. Never saw that before. My daughter came running from her bedroom just in time to shriek at the sight. I began pulling up the leg of my jeans and we both saw the bump of ragged shinbone at the same time. Tears began to roll down her face. I heard my disembodied voice say, “Please call 911.” I hadn’t uttered those words since my mother’s aneurysm twelve years ago, but they came out with amazing ease. My husband came out of the bedroom — I guess I might have made more noise than The Tonight Show’s audience — and he began trying to shift me into a more “comfortable” position. That forced me to utter his favorite sentence: “Don’t touch me.” He did then very sweetly ask what he might be allowed to do, to which I responded, “Go down the driveway (it’s a 500-footer) and show the ambulance driver where we are.”

In another half-breath three young men surrounded me. One quickly hooked up an EKG, another a blood pressure cuff. The third examined my leg more closely and spoke into his walkie-talkie. I answered all questions with whatever words I could squeeze out, told my daughter what to put into a bag, told my husband where to find the insurance card and driver’s license, and we were gone. They raced me out the front door and down my front steps — the most terrifying ride of my life and I’ve been on some great ’coasters. From the time I’d fallen until we were out the door was probably a short fifteen minutes, although I live twenty miles from a hospital and seven miles from the nearest freeway. I’m also behind two security gates off a two-lane road prone to wandering double-wides, random loose cattle, and sightseeing great-grandmas.

On the road, the eldest of the trio, Ron, explained that he would start with the least amount of pain control to keep me coherent (I know I let loose an hysterical giggle at that) until we arrived at the emergency room. That meant nitrous oxide, and he started to put the mask on himself first, which of course made me giggle again. How could he know Little Shop of Horrors is a personal favorite? He winked at his partner and said, “This one might not even need the gas,” at which I must have made a sad face because he grinned and strapped it over my nose and mouth anyway. After a couple of minutes he began to ask more questions: “Are you allergic to anything?” I was drawing a blank. “Like latex?” I looked at him stupidly as he laughingly said, “Richard is” – pointing at his fellow EMT, who immediately fired a pen in his direction. He began to laugh and I followed suit, not anywhere near out of pain yet but knowing that laughing felt better than crying. He asked how much pain I was in — on a scale of 1-10 — and I told him 9 1/2. He peered at me strangely and said, “That’s what you told us inside — have you ever said ten?” I had to think a second before saying, “No, I don’t think so.” “Saving that for something extra special, are you?” I nodded. Like Death.

Then he pulled out a long needle. I slapped my hand over my eyes and told him I frequently faint when I see needles. “Well, we can’t have you fainting in an ambulance,” and so he contrived a way to rig the needle out of my line of vision. He told me he was hooking me up to an IV for fluids but if I gave him a hard time he might just have to stick a little morphine in it, too. He instructed his partner to cut my (favorite) pair of jeans up the side, saying they could save the fabric for me to make a “purse or a vest.” He leaned over and peered into my eyes and began to sing “Oh bla di oh bla dah life goes on” — oh, thank god he’s a Beatles fan, I thought. Nice to know I’m in good hands. Then his radio sounded and he had a short muffled conversation with the hospital. When he got off he looked at me in dead silence, and, alarmed, I asked, “What did they say?” He shook his head a little and said, “I’m sorry, sweetie, but we’re gonna have to put you down.”

Well that time the tears did come and he seemed genuinely sorry as he said, “I’m kidding! I was trying to make you laugh again. Richard — time for the morphine!” I lifted the mask from my face at that and said, “Damn right it is, ’cause if I get off this ambulance laughing my husband’s gonna want to break my other leg!” With that I stuck out my arm, closed my eyes and wish I could say I fell asleep for the next six to eight weeks.

Happily, for most of us life does go on, and I’m trying to put concepts such as “compound spiral fracture” and “titanium plate” into the compartments where they belong — somewhere in the bilge of Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger off in Neverland. My husband still barely speaks, but I’m a bit more understanding now. I’m not too fond of me, either, at the moment, but I’ll get over it. Hope he does. I think of Ron, EMT, traveling comedian, less and less each day, but I’m incredibly grateful and would like to offer this as a generic but heartfelt note of appreciation to him and his compadres, the emergency room doctors and nurses, and all out there who have chosen to help the helpless. If you count yourself in that number, you are amazing, each and every one of you. My sincerest thanks to all. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Hart | Link to this Entry

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