In reflecting on my time as a caretaker, I’m finding that occasionally non sequential and otherwise irrelevant events from my past pop into mind, and at the risk of breaking my stride and that of my tale, I’d like to bring you along on one of these mental excursions that has been banging around in my head as of late. Please join me as I take you back with me to a house, on a dark street, on a dark night in Denver.
The following should be considered a work of fiction, though it is a tale based on a call I ran some 20 years ago or so. There are obviously details I could not know, and others I’ve changed so as to respect the privacy of all involved.
I hope you enjoy the ride.
Sirens wailing, the ambulance took the corners too fast, tires protested against the damp asphalt. Windshield wipers brushed the mist of the November night from the glass. Denver, Colorado, where earlier a young mother had apparently had her ﬁll of either toxins, adolescent insubordination or a combination of both. She walked into her upper west side living room to ﬁnd her 13 year old daughter resting peacefully, having fallen asleep in front of the television, carefree, her lips slightly parted, deep into an innocent slumber. The young mother switched off the TV and crouched next to her daughter, brushing the hair from her face she shook her shoulder gently. “Honey wake up” crawling from her dreams the girl awoke into her nightmare.
“Sweetheart”, her mother said, “God is calling.”
Her mother rose slightly bringing the carving knife up and then down again in a forceful arc, tip ﬁrst into the center of her daughters chest, angling up slightly, anchoring it deeply into her breast bone. The young girls breath escaped from her lips in a agonized sigh. Her mother stood and walked out of the room.The girl lay on the couch for what seemed like forever, maybe lasting only 30 minutes before her mother returned to her side.
“Are you still here?” the young mother asked, pulling the knife from her daughters young chest with a series of tugs and then returning it once again with a thrust even more powerful than the last, burying the blade to the base of the handle, leaving six inches of steel between the girls lungs, its tip just resting against her aorta, nicking it slightly, causing it to leak the life sustaining, sanguine fluid. The young mother again rose to her feet and walked slowly, wordlessly, from the room.Once again the girl lay on the couch, breathing slowly in, then out, with each breath feeling the blade inside her chest, foreign, uncomfortable, but surprisingly not painful. Forty ﬁve minutes had passed, and her mother had not returned. Having drifted in semi consciousness, she felt her strength and clarity returning slightly. She rose slowly from the couch.
‘This is not right, not fair‘ she thought to herself.
As she rose the pain hit. Causing her to cry out slightly and twitch, moving the knife and causing more pain still. She stood by the couch in her dark home, a clock ticked on the mantle. Outside a car went by. It was after midnight, but not by much. She made her way slowly to the front door steadying herself, first on the couch, then the table, using the lamp as she passed by, and ﬁnally bracing her weight on the doorknob as she turned it. She heard the familiar click of the latch, the same click she had heard most of her short life. The door swung inward slowly and the cool fall air followed, bathing her. She felt suddenly very cold. She stood in the doorway for a minute contemplating her next move. She heard applause and muﬂled voices from the house next door. Lights through the neighbors window ﬂickered softly, illuminating a room not unlike the one she had just left for the last time. She made her way down her front steps and across the yard, looking up at the impossibly tall stairway she now had to climb, four steps, then a step further to the door. Each movement, each breath caused shooting pain. She wanted to scream but could not draw the breath for it. She slowly made her way up the steps. One, two, rest.. breath,.. three, four and forward, her outstretched hand falling softly against the aged wood, leaning…Inside, a woman sat in a lounger, feet up and cigarette in her hand, watching her TV but lost in thought. ‘What was that?!‘ she thought, coming alert, a slight fear pricking at the back of her mind. Was that a sound outside her front door, against the door, a tap, or a weight, causing the door to shift? She sat unmoving, not breathing. Her mind automatically running through a checklist of events as she had entered earlier that evening returning with her groceries. Pulling the keys from her pocket, turning the lock, and pushing the door open in front of her, kicking it shut as she had walked through. Had she locked it then? She couldn’t remember. She rose from her chair, heart pounding. Her slippered feet made no noise on the wood ﬂoor but the house creaked beneath her, sounding much too loud to conceal her movements. She pulled aside the curtain slowly and peeked out into the dark fall night to see the young girl from next door leaning against the door. She breathed a sigh of relief and ﬂipped on the porch light. Unlocked the door, smiling that she’d remembered after all, and pulled the door open, “You gave me a star…” she began and the blood drained from her face as she saw the young girl in front of her, eyes wet, pleading.
“Six, go ahead.”
“Code 10 on a stabbing, 2132 Viejo, wait for a code 4”
“2132 Viejo, copy code 10″I turned to my partner, and smiled nervously. “Cool!” Mixed emotions flooding my senses, excited and scared. I was new to Denver General ambulance and stabbings were high proﬁle calls, I was attending and this was to be my challenge. We stowed the books we had been reading and took off.My partner pulled us skillfully up to the curb with a_forceful but smooth deceleration. Looking out the window I realized it was time to go to work as approaching were four ﬁreﬁghters carrying a 13 year old girl on a wooden backboard. I could see the anxiety in their eyes and soon realized why. I climbed from the ambulance and greeted them with my usual, “watta-ya—got?” none of them spoke, nor did they need to, for as I approached I could see the handle of the carving knife protruding at a downward angle from the gauze the rescuers had placed around the hilt. I trotted to keep up with them as they headed towards the back of the ambulance, jumped in and received the head end of the backboard sliding it up onto the pram, undoing belts with one hand as I pulled her in. My partner climbed in and spiked two IVs hanging them as I placed a non-rebreather mask on the girl, and started and IV, she was now my patient. I placed the straps across her as a police officer climbed aboard.
“Mind if I ride in?” he asked as I continued to work.
“Not at all.” I replied. Turning to the girl I could see she was alert and seemingly very calm. I explained I would be starting IVs and hooking her up to some equipment and asked how she felt.
“Fine” she said
I have recognized and at times have fought the apathetic communications we all seem to be victim to. Though I can sometimes see their advantage, more often I see their fault. Question, ‘How are you?‘ Answer, ‘Fine.’ An excepted version of ‘Howdy’. Not truly a question and answer, but a greeting.
I tried again, “What I’m looking for is how bad your pain is, and do you hurt anywhere else?”
“Not too bad”, she replied in a small voice, denying other injury.
I went to work assessing and preparing for a ‘crash’. The officer took advantage of the silence to begin his investigation.
“Can I talk to her?” He requested.
“Sure.” I said.
He asked what had happened and I marveled at the sobriety with which the girl breathlessly told her tale.
Our ambulance raced gently through the night with our charge, delivering her to the arms of the ever capable and eagerly awaiting ER staff at Denver General. If she had any chance, they were her best. I turned over care of my patient to them with an efficient report, marveling at the scene I had just borne witness to. I received a small reprimand for providing the emergency department with too little warning of my pending arrival, and my partner and I returned to our ambulance to await another call.
Of course you’ll want to know how it all turned out; Thanks to the superb efforts of the ever exceptional emergency room staff, the girl survived, and thanks to the ever vigilant and capable Denver Police, her mother was arrested a short time later.