By @S F Brooke
Trigger Warning: Blood, Medical Procedures
“Josh,” people ask, “Why do you do this job?”
I respond, “I do it because for eight minutes I can be that hero that I dreamed I could be when I was a little kid.”
When I was young, people told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I wanted to be a superhero, a crimefighter, and a police officer all rolled into one. Turns out… that’s a lie — a great big fat one. Reality kicked in somewhere around my teen years where one starts to realize what one can and can’t do. I realized that I couldn’t be a superhero, couldn’t really have a role as a crime fighter, and lost interest in being a police officer by the time I was twelve. I ended up trying several other jobs that never quite meshed with me. Fast food manager — never want to do that again. Accounting — big no. Lifeguarding — nah. However, once I was in college, I fell into an avenue where everything made sense — perfect sense.
Being in the ambulance, my blood rushing as fast as the vehicle sped along, made for a euphoric high of adrenaline. My partner and I have a response time of eight to fourteen minutes to arrive on the scene to start helping the ones in desperate need of medical attention. Becoming a paramedic was what fit my soul. It made me joyful, it made me adventurous and most of all every day brought an experience where I could feel like a superhero. I am an eight-minute superhero.
Not many of the people I help know my name, even fewer come back to find out, but if I can get to them in time I can help them. That’s why it’s worth it. The feeling of accomplishment when one successfully staunches a weeping wound; the reassurance one gets when a heart starts beating again after that third shock; the sympathy that riles in the chest when one sees a total stranger in pain and then feels a connection.
Somebody once asked me, “Don’t you get sad when you lose someone?”
I replied, “Every day, but for eight minutes, I’m able to give them peace and hope.”
That question stayed with me for a long while after it left the speaker’s lips. Every time I lose someone there is a piece of me that feels like if I’d tried harder, gotten there faster, or had more medical knowledge it would have saved them, especially if it’s their last moments. Not everyone I help I can save and the sad reality of that is for eight minutes I’m all they have — their hope and comfort. There’s always a tiny part of me that knows I failed when their cardiovascular rhythm goes flat. Somedays I repeat all the faces I’ve lost on scenes or on the way to the hospital in my head. Those days it’s hard to get out of bed. Every day brings uncertainties as to what my partner and I are going to see. Some of the calls we don’t speak about again. Others we memorize because they are too painful to forget.
“That was a tough one wasn’t it, Josh?” my partner, Ethan, would say, accompanied by a rough backslap. He’d heave a big sigh and we would stare out our windshield for a moment, the red siren lights shining into the inside of the car.
“Yeah, it was,” I would agree, already having to put it behind us so we could head to the next call. I would turn the key into the ignition and we’d be off to the next eight minutes. This job — this way of life — is tough, but so worth it. My superpowers are not flying or super strength. My powers are when I do CPR on a ten-year-old kid and they gurgle up the water in their lungs and take a breath for the first time in three minutes. It’s when I delivered a baby in the back of an ambulance for the first time (Baby Josh is doing well, thank you) and when I can offer a little girl with crooked pigtails and a broken arm the promise of a pink cast. Being a superhero means being anonymous, helping others when no one else will, and promising that you’ll do whatever is in your power to help someone.
My power is my ability to use my medical knowledge. My uniform has a red medical cross on it — that is my emblem. My cape is my emergency kit that gets thrown over my shoulders as I run to help. My call to aid is three numbers — 911 — and I know no greater challenge than to have a life entrusted into one’s hands with the expectation of keeping them alive. The blood that comes from the veins of volunteers is part of my arsenal and the steady hands of my partner aid my own powers. The flatlines and shaky voices of people in pain are my weaknesses. Doctors, nurses, paramedics like me, are all one big superhero team. One giant medical league of heroes that have a dynamic range from psychological to cardiovascular.
The days go like this. The call comes in — at any time of night or day — and Ethan and I are off. The bumping of the potholes in the road and the blaring siren are sounds and feelings I will never get used to. I hit the button that makes our lights green in the crossroads and we soar through, sometimes a firetruck or police cruiser follows behind us. We burn rubber as we stop and climb down, assessing the situation as we walk towards it. It takes us nine minutes to get there. A panicked explanation from a more than worried wife tells us her husband fell down from the top of a ten-foot ladder and how shelving then fell on top of him. She can’t move him but he is conscious.
“Hello sir,” Ethan starts, already pulling out his stethoscope to check the man’s heartbeat and pulse. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Arthur,” the man replied, face ashen, as we placed a C-Collar on his neck.
I pulled a blood pressure cuff from my bag and wrapped it around an arm, the results were low and his heart was racing under the stethoscope.
“Don’t worry Arthur, we’re going to do everything we can to get you out of here.”
As Ethan asked Arthur if he was having any trouble breathing or any numbness I turned my attention to where Arthur was pinned.
Looking at the heavy shelving units I shook my head at Ethan, “I can’t see much from here. We’re going to have to lift him up. Obvious crush injuries — be aware.”
Ethan and I prepared all of the gauze and equipment needed to help our poor soul, once that was ready Ethan moved. “Josh on the count of three,” he ordered. We lifted and together strained under the weight of the shelves, another person from our team pulling Arthur out from underneath. Arthur screamed in agony as we clearly saw the wounds that had been compressed open up and start flowing freely. It was time to be a superhero.
“Both brachial arteries,” I called out, pressing down gauze pad after gauze pad to stem the bleeding. Our hands were quickly stained ruby red over the gloves.
“Applying tourniquet. We need to clamp them, Josh.”
Eventually grabbing the slippery artery with my tools, I held onto it. Arthur’s wife trying to comfort him while I worked made for background noises as I focused. Grabbing the tourniquet from my partner we tightened them over Arthur’s arms, twisting them to stay secure. Finally, they were strapped in. After patching up Arthur’s hairline fracture on his leg our work was done and he was stable enough to transport him to the nearest hospital. When we got him onto the stretcher and into the ambulance, I elected to stay in the back with Arthur and his wife.
Running an IV of saline into the man’s hand I smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry, he’s stable. He’s lost a lot of blood, but once the doctors have him he’ll be back to climbing ten-foot ladders in no time.”
Arthur’s wife caught my hand, “Bless you.”
I smiled and sat back, making sure Arthur stayed stable. The drive to the hospital was quick and once Arthur was transported safely in the waiting ER nurses’ hands I watched the see-through doors close. I checked my watch — twenty minutes — that’s how long it was from start to finish. My powers were useful for twenty minutes of someone’s life. I still was recovering from the thrill of adrenaline and the rush that came with cognitive thinking under pressure and high stakes. Ethan slapped me on the back.
“Good job, Josh. Nice work.” That was as much thanks as I was going to get for what we had just accomplished.
I was a superhero in my own right — like all first responders before and since. I finally came to realize years later that we are all indeed superheroes of sorts. We might not have capes, cool cars, fancy underground hideaways, sidekicks, or even costumes to hide identities; we are people who are merely trying to do our jobs — those unspoken acts of goodwill that are attached to unnamed people. What, then, really is a superhero’s main goal? For what do they truly use their powers? To save people’s lives. As for us, well, we do that pretty much every day.
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