He shows up ready to work. He sits at the end of the kitchen table in the same spot. Its the spot that he has worked up to over the years. Seat by seat. As the guys older than him retire, he gets to move up another spot at the table. Eventually making it to that chair.
He goes by many names; “The old guy”, “The senior man”, “The crusty bastard”, “The lead medic”, “The mentor”, there are hundreds of different names. He’s the guy that everyone looks up at when the shit is hitting the fan. He’s the guy that calms the scene when he walks onto it. He’s the guy that the young guys go to to bounce ideas off of or review a serious call. He’s often the glue that holds the team together.
The young guys filter in, in their street clothes and flip flops. They change into their uniforms when they get to work. The bed bug infestation in this country has made it a great idea to launder their uniforms at work so that they don’t take any of the dirt, sweat, blood, bugs or bad karma home to their families. It’s a great idea but the senior mans habits don’t let him do that. He shows up ready to work. His generation does that.
He was raised by a generation of tradesmen. Men who worked on the line at the plant. Men who showed up ready to work. Men who were late if they showed up 15 minutes before their start time and men that didn’t crumble under the pressure of life, work or families. Men with little tolerance for bullshit. Men who didn’t need safe spaces. Men of a different generation with different values.
He goes about his day, call after call. He mentors his young medic partner along the way, letting him make mistakes and using them to teach, to get better. After all, he didn’t get to where he is by not making mistakes. Why not pass on what he knows.
He gets in and out of the “bus”, “the medic”, “the rig”, “the gut bucket”, whatever you want to call it, slower now. He climbs in and out of the truck with a grimace on his face from his aching knees. He has knelt on them in the rain, in the snow, in the mud, on broken glass, in the dirtiest homes, on plush carpet and the cold tile floor of a nursing home. His back burns from years of picking up “larger customers”, wrestling matches, pot holes and climbing in and out of mangled wrecks for so many years. He’s a witness to all of the worst and the best of society. He’s there watching as it all ends. He’s there watching as it all starts. He’s there watching and participating.
He’s got the war stories carefully memorized. It’s a script that he reads when asked. It is filled with the details of the calls that have the “wow” factor that everyone wants to hear. He recites it over and over through the years, replacing some old stories with something new. He holds the worst of the worst for himself. He punishes his brain from time to time with the “what ifs” and sits in the dark private moments trying to make peace with the ghosts he has created. They sit around him like it’s an intervention. Each one with a hand on his shoulder whispering things in his ear to try to make him go mad. But he has gotten good at ignoring them. He won’t let them win. He knows what it takes to keep them in their seats. He has years of practice.
The hours of the shift tic by. He has some wins and some losses. He has a front row seat to the decay of modern society. He is a fan of humanity and the destruction of it. He roots for humanity but often sees it lose. He deals with the losers. He cleans up the mess. He’s often a janitor, a bag man or a freight handler. His spot in the system is to pick up the packages or clean up the mess. He goes door to door and collects. He delivers the package in better shape than when he picked it up sometimes but not always. There are deliveries to make. He keeps on going.
He’s a familiar face at the hospital ED’s. The nurses know him even if they don’t know his name. He’s called by his department name most of the time. They listen to his patient reports and know that they are getting the stripped down version. No fat. No “ummms” or pauses or “I don’t knows” or uncertainty. They know that what they are hearing is what is happening so they act on the facts and don’t second guess. He’s a credible source.
The night is his favorite time. Less traffic. More craziness. Less heat. More activity. Less of the easy stuff and more of critical calls he loves. He lurks around in the dark. He’s the best friend to the unfortunate, hovering over them when they have lost their fight with the demons. The dark helps him focus. He sees deeper into their souls in the dark. He knows what they need. He moves them from the darkness into the sterile light of the ambulance. His mobile lab. Hope on wheels. He works on them as the lab moves side to side, up and down, forward and backwards. Stops and starts. He does his work in the moving environment like a conductor directs an orchestra. If the environment isn’t moving, he can’t work as well. He hates to hang out on scene. He knows he needs to get going. He must deliver his package. His tattered, broken package so they can make the needed repairs. “These people don’t need me” he says again and again, “they need to see the doctor”. He moves with purpose. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. It’s not about how fast you do things, it’s about how well you do things fast. All things that he lives by.
He’s back and forth to the hospitals with some regular deliveries and some not so regular. He hopes for all wins over the 24 hours but has some losses mixed in. He fills all his roles during that time; counselor, mentor, father, brother, social worker, medication expert, professional Narcan administrator, cop, firemen, patient advocate, clergy, battlefield surgeon and many more. He is the senior man.
And then morning comes and his day is coming to a close. He’s tired and weary from the shift and is ready to leave but looking forward to coming back. He is satisfied with most of what he accomplished but he will carry some of his day home with him to keep him company until the next time. He wraps up his pass off to the oncoming crew and gets ready to go.
He sees a new face. A young face. A fresh face. A face that he has seen a thousand times. A face with purpose and determination to make a difference. He sees his face from decades ago. He sees the new guy, ready for work.
The new guy sits up in his chair at the table. The new guy has heard of the old guy and looks at him like he is looking at a dignitary or rock star. The new guys mentor is there beside him, ready to get the day of learning started. The senior man walks past and says hello. As the senior man rounds the hallway corner, you hear the new guy ask “how old is he”? His mentor leans in and says “43 but that’s 80 in medic years”. Nothing can be closer to the truth.