I ordered my coffee iced since I knew it would get cold anyways. The glare through the glass window of Maureen’s Beans, the local coffee shop, nearly blinded me as I worked my way outside. The heat was making my cup sweat as much as I already was, thanks to the one hundred degree weather of central California summers. The “Rig”, a newer Ford E350 ambulance, was waiting and running, ready to embrace me with the full blast of the frigid air conditioner. My graying and grumpy partner looked up and scowled at me from the front passenger seat.
“What in the hell took you so long?” Mel, which she liked better than Melanie, asked. She sounded as cold as the blast of air from the AC.
I responded by taking a dramatic sip from my iced caramel latte before sliding it into the cup holder on my right.
“I told them to take extra long since you were with me today,” my voice was laced with sarcasm and a hint of a smile.
“Humph. No one has any manners these days. Is that any way to speak to your elder and superior?” Her arms crossed in front of her navy blue covered chest, emblazoned with the company patch. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the top of her head. Never was a hair out of place, never a wrinkle in her clothing. What she lacked in social graces, Mel made up for in tidiness.
“Geez, Mel, wake up on the wrong side of the coffin? Or did you just wake up deciding to give me crap all day long?” I look in all three mirrors before slowly backing out of our parking spot, waving a station wagon to go first, before glancing at my disgruntled partner.
She gives her well known “I’ll kill you” look that causes all interns and newbies to freeze on the spot and rethink their future in this line of work. Her look only made me chuckle to myself now whenever I witnessed it done to others, because only six months ago I had been that scared newbie. I like to think I can find the good in people and get along, so after some work on both my partner and my self-confidence, we learned to get along. Well better than anyone else could with her. That was probably the reason Mel had become a permanent part of my rotation with the agency. No one else could stand her for more than a couple hours, let alone a twelve to twenty-four hour shift.
Comfortable silence followed for the next five minutes as we passed a couple stop lights and three blocks of mom-and-pop shops that had settled into this town.
A few locals waved to us from the street, squinting to recognize who was on shift today inside their trusted and much needed ambulance, especially in this majority elder populated area. Just this week we had already racked up more heart attacks, strokes, and broken hips than we cared to count. Rarely did we see much else, aside from the holidays and bad weather where accidents and stupidity peaked. Angels Creek could be either a really mundane place, or a crazy place.
Out of nowhere, jerking me out of my thoughts, Mel mumbled, “Damned mattress.”
The pieces clicked, and I instantly regretted giving her such a hard time this morning. John Richard O’Shaughnessy, her late husband, had died five years ago of unforeseen complications during an open-heart surgery. His body couldn’t take it, his blood pressure plummeted, and the surgical staff worked for an hour trying to revive him before calling his time of death.
She didn’t miss much work after his death, only taking time off for his funeral. The old woman didn’t want to stay home and cry with her kids and friends, and I didn’t blame her for that. The bleak explanation for her mood today made sense only to me, because she had confided in me once. We went out to get after work drinks, and she had told me she hadn’t bought a new mattress in the last ten years since she and her husband had bought a house together to celebrate their fortieth anniversary. That was 10 years ago this summer.
“Aw Mel. I’m sorry,” I gave her a genuine sound of empathy, unable to look at her long because of my responsibility to maneuver the giant piece of metal underneath us.
“It’s just an old bed. I don’t know why you sound like that,” the facade she usually held went right back up as quickly as it had been let down. I didn’t press any further, wanting to keep my partner safe from my nosiness.
The radio crackled, just as I turned into the station driveway, inciting a groan from the both of us as we dramatically threw our heads back against the headrests.
A mousy feminine voice spoke over the radio, “A-500.”
“A-500 copy,” I responded, trying to sound as indifferent as possible, despite our current attitudes.
“Possible head trauma, female in her 80′s, at Granger Meadows Retirement Home, 321 Granger Circle,” Lucy’s voice trembled a little bit, which was a big improvement since she had first started. I’d heard in the grapevine that her qualifications were stellar, which probably saved her from being axed.
She was nice, and had worked in dispatch for about six months, having transferred from the Sheriff’s Department of Orange County. Most people couldn’t stand her voice, with the exception of Jake. Jake was the youngest paramedic in our agency who worked in the station nearest ours in the next-door town of Firwood. He was heads over heels for her as far as we could tell.
“ETA five minutes, over.” I placed the radio back in its designated port, pulling out once again as I made a mental checklist ensuring we had all the supplies we need for at least a couple runs.
You never know how crazy the day will get. Mel threw her seatbelt back on with a click, and used a few words that even a sailor would blush at.
Granger Meadows Retirement was only a few blocks away, making our frequent trips to the facility quick. The upscale property had a great view of the mountains and valleys, as it was on top of a big hill that made the engine work overtime on the drive up.
Trees lined the driveway and parking lot in full bloom, which made a great impression on visitors and potential residents. A few residents were stationed on patio furniture or walking around the front garden as I pulled up to the front entrance and cut the engine. Most looked up and even waved, but the few who didn’t were probably unaware of the presence of the ambulance at all.
We jumped out, Mel opening the side door as I circled around to reach inside and grab the trauma bag and mobile EKG machine. By the time I had retreated to the back of the ambulance, she was sliding the gurney out and waiting for me. Tossing the heavy equipment a top the yellow metal gurney, I followed Mel who took the lead on the way inside the front double doors. She was the paramedic, so I always followed her lead and tried my best to anticipate her needs as we handled our patients.
Emily, the front desk concierge, greeted us and told us which room we were needed in. It wasn’t too hard to find since we knew the layout pretty well, and the sound of firefighters shuffling around was hard to miss. They were the first responders, who assessed first and then relayed their information to Mel. I had to listen in otherwise I didn’t get much.
A tall and well-built blonde firefighter approached us as we headed into the small one bedroom apartment, nodding his hello to me before turning to Mel, briefing her on the situation. We had these calls a lot, and as much as I wanted to believe I knew what to do without being told what had happened, I always listened and took in as much information as I could so I could be more efficient for Mel. Once they were finished talking in hushed tones, Mel turned to me and gave a signal with her hand to usher me in front of her to start with the vitals.
Immediately, I saw how the head injury had occurred. A chair was upturned on the carpeted ground underneath the ceiling fan, our patient a few feet away seated on an outdated floral printed glider.
The patient in question, Edna, had a bump on her head. The octogenarian told us what happened, an overwhelmed and distracted look on her delicate wrinkled face.
“I just wanted the fan to be higher. It’s so damned hot in here,” she said to no one in particular.
“Edna. Hi, my name is Mel O’Shaughnessy, and I’ll be your paramedic. This young lady over here is Desiree O’Rourke, your EMT today. I understand you took a fall. Mind if I take a look while you tell me, again?” Mel carefully got to her knees, which made an audible popping sound as she lowered herself. She began gently touching the area around the swollen bump. She always used our full names, which used to irritate me.
Maneuvering around the first fireman, John, who had met us on the way in, I stooped down with my blood pressure cuff, stethoscope, and E.K.G. leads. I attached the three leads by peeling off their new adhesive backing and attaching them onto her chest and hip, turned on the machine, and then moved on to get a manual blood pressure.
Feeling John hover nearby, I asked him to hand me a roll of medical tape, explaining as I did so, that its a small trick I had picked up early on.
Slapping the tape on my navy clad thigh, I told him, “It’s an easy way to record vitals and other information to later use for the hospital and paperwork.”
Watching as I scribbled the first set of vitals, and a time next to them, he seemed impressed.
“I guess I’m going to have to tell my men; they always forget what’s what by the time we get back to the station, especially if we make more than one call.” With that, John walked away to start rounding up his men.
Her blood pressure was a little lower than I’d like, but we kept assessing her, planning from the beginning to take a trip to the ER to ensure she didn’t have more serious damage to her head.
We finished our assessments within a few minutes, taking a moment to patch her head with gauze and some self-sticking tape to help keep the bleeding at bay and allow the wound to clot. Someone lowered the gurney before we assisted Edna onto it, and strapped her in with the safety belts.
“You comfortable Edna?” I asked as I tightened the final belt around her waist.
She smiled and wiggled her thin penciled in eyebrows at someone behind me. “I’d be more comfortable if he would join me!” She was referring to a young fireman.
We finished with Edna, leaving her in the care of qualified nurses and hospital staff, then headed back to the station to do the tedious paperwork that follows every call, no matter how cut and dry it may seem. Just as we finished our paperwork and finally lifted our heads from the secure company laptops, I heard both our stomachs growl in the small dim living area of the house-turned-station.
“You up for the deli downtown? Or one of the taco trucks?” My stomach growled at the thought of a delicious burrito, or a quesadilla dripping in cheese, hot and ready to fill our bellies.
We re-stocked our rig, locked up the front door, and drove our way towards true happiness. Well, to us food was the first step to true happiness.
The taco truck we loved and often frequented, was in the more run-down part of town, sitting in the corner of a parking lot that hosted a nail salon, a tax office, and a laundromat. Parking, we jumped out and all but ran to the window to order. The woman inside taking orders was Rosa, a girl I went to grade school with, who greeted us with a big smile and started writing our orders. She knew us so well.
Before our orders were ready, I felt a heavy feeling of dread. It was oddly quiet, and our radio hadn’t gone off for over two hours. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of clashing and bending of metal. It was as if I’d jinxed us.
We sprinted to the Rig and started it up, listening for chatter on the radio, but nothing was coming across yet. It still wouldn’t hurt to go check it out, we would get the call anyways within minutes.
I eased the heavy truck to a stop, looked both ways into the street, spotting the backup of traffic and people getting out of their cars to see what the hold-up was. I cursed and threw it in reverse, opting to take a back route to get us there. The road wasn’t made for more than one lane unfortunately, so I had to take it slower than usual.
I parked in an alley between a liquor store and a barber shop. Throwing the door open, I stood up, one boot taking hold on the step of the Rig, the other still inside, we gaped at the scene that lay before us.