Monday, May 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Lights, sirens, action

This could be a movie of a woman being hauled away to die, but it's real.

It is first-person, shot in a nauseating steady-cam style, herky-jerky, Blair-Witch, amateurish. The lighting is bad, too dark, set on a dark Friday afternoon in winter, out in a driveway in the suburbs. The uniformed men are too handsome and big and strapping. The victim looks much too healthy. It's only an allergy attack, she whispers. Just asthma. Just worse than ever before.

Hands lift her onto white sheets. Her sneakers smear on leaves and slush. Red safety-straps fasten over and snug her body down on the portable stretcher. She reaches a hand off, between the working men's bodies. Another man is there, her man, white-faced, stunned. He'd held her upright, whispered “easy, calm” until the ambulance arrived, but now he stands aside. He takes her fingers, rubs them between his thumb and palm, warm to cold.

He is left behind when the horizon jerks upward, turns, bounces round the corner of the house. The ambulance doors slam him into the outside, where she sees him stand there, squeezed into a small window-square of gray sky and naked trees.

The screen goes black, then lightens into Ambulance Interior, smeary, sparkly images lit warm yellow. Voices, sharp movements on two sides. Dialogue from 1970s' TV-doctor dramas.

“Don't move till we get her stabilized.”

“Can't get a distal BP.”

“Pulse?” “Not clear, but pretty tacky.”

Inner dialogue soundtrack: The woman mentally bounces the word around: “Tacky. My pulse is tacky. Sticky? Lacking in taste?” She wants to ask what it means, but her mouth is muffled in a plastic breathing mask. She hears thumping and grunting sounds, and realizes it's her breathing, the shunting, harsh scrapes are not the mechanics of this 2-ton ambulance, but her nose, pushing air hard into the mask. It's barely visible, a misty hardness below her eyes.

It comes to her. Not “tacky,” but “tachy.” As in “tachycardia.” When your heart beats irregularly. Ambulance-speak for an uneven pulse. Blackness.

Packages tear. Sounds roll and tighten as if into a steel tube. Steel, and tubes, and a tug at the left hand. “Flatten your hand or I'll tie a board on it,” says the man on the left. The ambulance moves. The gray window-square shifts, it becomes a movie screen, a bouncing gray backward view of Seventh Street, then Findlay Street, up toward 275. It fades. The right-hand voice says “Switch 'em on; let's get her there. Let's go.”

Someone near her head describes her in Latin and Greek phrases and numbers, feeding her “vitals” into a radio.

“Stay with me now,” the left man says. “It's not too far.”

Far away and above, the region where church bells come from, a siren brays. The woman inside body contracts, pulls deep inside to discuss matters. “Be afraid,” her inner dialogue says. “Pray. Weep. Hum a tune.” A line of “Puttin' On the Ritz” is produced, but she quickly tosses it aside. “I should think of my children,” she thinks. “Review my life, make my peace, ensure my eternal salvation. Is it really this bad?” she asks herself. “Maybe, yes, I've come to that,” a deeper voice answers.

She stays in the dark.

“God?” she mumbles. She listens hard for Him in the roaring in her nose and ears, the soprano siren scales. No choirs. Whispers, maybe. She hears a mawkish revival hymn her mom sang to her decades before, with a creaking rocking-chair backbeat. She lets the memory unreel and wind itself around her mind.

“I will cling to the old rugged cross,” the voice sings, “and exchange it one day for a crown.”

“Christ,” the woman says aloud. A tear runs down her face, round the mask. “I don't want a crown, not yet,” she thinks. “Don't send in the crowns!”

Death by pun? Maybe there is justice in this world, she thinks. She lets herself smile.

The man on the left injects something into the IV. He talks to her, but she cannot understand what he says. The man on the right holds dull-tipped scissors in front of her face. “I'm cutting off the sleeve of your shirt,” he says. “Is that OK?”

He doesn't wait for an answer. The scissors cleave the fabric from wrist to shoulder in a single swath.

“And now I'm giving you a shot,” he says. “In the back of your arm. You're going to feel this.”

“Just do it,” she says.

She doesn't feel it in her arm. She feels it in her throat first, hot up her tonsils. Her mouth waters, her nose burns deep. And a great pain-corona rolls over her scalp, hangover-strength. “You had to ask for a crown,” that internal voice says. Her eyes open wide, sounds return to normal. Her ears pop, like she's coming down a mountain.

“Feel that?” the man asks.

“Christ almighty!” she says. She's not swearing. She means it.

“You're emptying our medicine cabinet,” says the man on the left.

She moves aside the breathing mask a minute, and the IV needle pokes her hand. She sees the left-side man's face for the first time.

“I'm gonna live, you know,” she tells him.

“We knew that,” he says, smiling.

“I didn't,” she says. “Thank you.”

The bad-TV dialogue over, the ambulance pulls up to a hospital named after a doctor-saint. The sun goes down. The woman is saved in time.

Roll credits.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Perrysburg municipal ambulance crew rescued Blade staff writer Rebekah Scott after a “severe allergic autoimmune episode” two weeks ago. She is fine today.

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