Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Checking Out

“Suicide was against the law. Johnny had wondered why. It meant that if you
missed, or the gas ran out, or the rope broke, you could get locked up in prison
to show you that life was really very jolly and thoroughly worth living.”
--Terry Pratchett

Christmas Night.
I was just washing up the last of the dishes when my pager went off. "Stand by at your stations; call the center for details." I pulled on my coat as I dialed county dispatch. I really didn't have to call the center for details; I could have just gone down to the station, but I wanted to know what, exactly, was going to mark my first on-duty Christmas. "You've got a drug overdose, with alcohol, the patient is being a little combative so we're getting the state police over there before you go in."
Aces. Just aces.
When I got to the house, the rest of the crew plus ALS and a former member home for the holiday greeted me and we rolled, party of five. I was happy there were so many of us since I didn't know exactly what 'combative' was going to mean. The first thing I saw was a quart bottle of Yukon Jack on the counter, and most of it was gone. Nice little place, dish out for the cat, Christmas tree, and a man in a recliner flanked by two staties who are explaining to him that he needed to get his shoes on. While he was doing this, his daughter asked him if he was planning to leave any kind of a note. "Nope!" he said cheerfully. He pulled on his shoes, tossed an afghan at the cat, and came smiling into the kitchen, where he scooped up his coat and stared in wonder at the number of people in the house. The crew chief made introductions and he greeted us all with a broad smile. "Jeez! All these people!" as if he just walked into a surprise birthday party. We walked him to the ambulance and in the course of questioning I learned that he took two whole bottles--pain medication and sleeping pills. He kept explaining how he just wanted the world to leave him alone and he just wanted to die, and this news is delivered with the same magnanimity as everything else he said. The paramedic drew blood, we monitored his vitals, and he asked each one of us in turn if we are having a good evening.
After assessing the relative happiness of each of our Christmases he demanded of one of the crew "Do you know the true meaning of Christmas?" The crewmember gave him a quick answer of neutral, professional benevolence, something that conveyed "We'll be at the hospital soon, just hang in there."
Our very medicated patient declared "Its when God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to save sinners," in a way that made me expect him to recite Luke 2 in its entirety. We got him into the ER, and when I stopped back with paperwork a good while later, the entire group of family, frends, and neighbors who followed us to the hospital were still clustered together, waiting. I looked at the varying expressions on their faces, while they came to terms with what brought them there on a night that is not supposed to be spent in a hard plastic chair in a brightly-lit hallway, and all I could think of was "And Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart". She had an initially fearful but eventually hopeful Christmas to ponder in dark times. I sincerely hope these people will too.

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