It’s a cold morning in he middle of December. You are responding to a report of a person down on the floor, unknown if breathing. You roll through town, making your rights and lefts on the quiet city streets to get to the address. Your lights are competing with the Christmas light on most of the houses that you pass. You keep the siren off, as if it will help you sneak into the chosen location and not draw a crowd of neighbors. The mobile data terminal dings and you see the update that the PD unit on scene thinks it may be a dead body. Your brain goes into 2 track mode. Track one is all the steps you need to take to work this cardiac arrest. The algorithms, the protocol, the instructions for your partner, the questions for the family, the questions from the family and the estimated time that this will all take before you can head home to coffee and a shower. The other track is what information you need to gather to do the DOA report. What you will say to the family if you have to and how this will sit in your brain and on your shoulders for the rest of the day. You have your plan worked out by the time you get to the street you are looking for. You make the turn on the street and see that familiar red taillight strip from the cops Dodge Charger. You know that you are about to find out why they woke you up and which track you will need to take.
You step down out of the truck and grab the resuscitation bag from the side compartment. The neighborhood is quiet as you walk up to the house. You hear a dog barking in the distance as if he is trying to tell you not to go in there. A few lights are on inside and the door is ajar. You walk in and hear someone sobbing. You walk in the kitchen and find the PD officer trying to console an elderly woman. You see her husband of who knows how many years lying on the floor, next to an overturned kitchen chair. The vague information so far is that she heard him fall, got herself out of bed and shuffled with her walker to the kitchen and found him on the floor. The timeline is vague, the story is vague and your decision tree just wilted a little because this is something that is going need a tough decision one way or the other. You look around quickly to see if anyone with you out ranks you in hopes that you can pawn the decision off on them. No luck, you just see saucer eyed partners looking to you for answers and instructions. You have the officer shuffle the wife into another room so you can figure out whats next.
You kneel down to get started on whatever you are going to do. You can see the blue coming in around his lips. You can feel the coolness setting into his hands. You work out a realistic timeline in your head of how this morning really went down and how you got invited into this lovely, neat as a pin home to deliver bad news. You have dealt with elderly people your entire career. You have seen how they move. She didn’t spring out of bed when she heard her life long companion hit the floor. You know she took some time to get up, a few tries probably. A minute to get focused; a few to get out of the dark bedroom and down the hall, searching every room for her prom king that she married before the war. A few to take a lap through the living room to find her high school sweetheart on the kitchen floor and even more waiting on the weathered synapses in her brain to process what she is looking at and what to do about it. After all, he was the problem solver. He was the one who fixed things. He was the one she turned to in a crisis to find the answer she needed. And now he can’t help her. It’s a new place for her brain to travel and you bet it took a few minutes to get there. You add a minute or two for her to remember that she can just dial 911 instead of the 7 digit number from days gone by. You figure in the processing time of the call with the attempt by the dispatcher to give instructions and activate you. You figure in the drive time and come up with a rough estimate of a 30 minute downtime without any resuscitation efforts. For someone his age, you know you are to late. You chuckle to yourself thinking that most people think that when they die, they will be surrounded by loved ones, looking back on achievements. Not lying on the cold kitchen floor with an overweight paramedic hovering over them with two fingers on their neck trying to work through the decision to put the frail old body in front of them through the brutality of resuscitation. The complexity of the decision makes you laugh just to keep from crying. Hooray for coping mechanisms.
You have been through this many times and quickly know what is about to happen. You are about to ruin Christmas for everyone related to the man you are hovering over. You peel back his eyelids and see the black discs looking back at you. The shiny black button in each eye that tells you that he has gone somewhere else. He is not here anymore. He’s left the building. The man who walked and talked and did things yesterday is gone forever, and you are there to confirm that yes, Christmas is ruined for all who know him.
You do what you need to do to confirm that you are indeed the Grinch in this case. You get your information for the report and turn the scene over to the PD. You walk out of the house into the cold air and take a deep breath. You hear the distant bark of your canine guru as if to tell you “I told you not to go in there”. The burden of ruining someones Christmas is a heavy one. It puts some weight on you that you will carry for who knows how long. Fortunately for you, the weight will probably be lifted by the end of the day. After all, this isn’t the first Christmas that you have ruined. As is often the case, your mind starts to flip through the pages of the picture book titled “All The Times You Have Ruined Someones Christmas”. You reminisce on all of the pictures that come up. None of which you are fond of. Some of the pictures come to life. You can feel the cold night air from that car accident with the dead teenager. You can hear the cries of the family in the other room as you clear the turkey out of their fathers airway so you can ventilate. You can see the snow swirl around the rotor wash as the AirMed chopper lands in the empty cornfield to pick up you lady who got ejected from her car after getting t-boned by a drunk holiday driver. You can smell the garbage, urine and death odor of the house of the hoarder guy whose papers have been piling up on the porch for a week. You can taste the bitterness of the saline residue on the cap of the saline flush you just opened with your mouth because your hand were to covered with blood to do it. All of your senses are active and you can’t wait to get out of the uniform in hopes that all of the memories will come off with it.
That’s what we have to do sometimes, ruin Christmas. It is what we signed on for, whether we knew it or not. It is one of those jobs that has to be done. Someone has to pick up trash, someone has to dig graves , someone has to tell parents their child has cancer and someone has to tell a family tree full of people that their Christmas is going to be ruined for this year because dad, grandpa, brother, cousin or your friend is not going to be there. We take that burden on and carry a portion of that ruined Christmas with us into our Christmas year after year.
If you are lucky, you won’t let your Christmas be ruined by what you do and the burdens of the ghosts that follow you around. I know it’s hard to think you won’t but it can be done. I have heard about it happening . I’m sure it does. Hopefully it will this year for all of you.
Have a safe and very Merry Christmas!!