Two years ago I walked into their home at midnight, met a wonderful couple, he sick with congestive heart failure and other ailments, she taking care of him. He was a big man, nearing the end of his time. He was lying in a bed in a room at the rear of the 100 year old house, confused, a little combative and soaked with sweat. Evidence of the life they shared was everywhere, just an older couple living a simple life in a simple home in the heart of South Providence.
Combative, ailing people don’t bother me much, there generally isn’t much behind their anger, most always an underlying medical cause. “Harvey” refused to let us take care of him, refused to leave his bed, and had refused to eat or drink for a few days prior to his desperate wife calling us. A 100 pound woman, especially a wife, has the power to make her mate bend to her wishes, most of the time, this time she met a stiff wall of resistance.
“He’s a longshoreman,” she explained. “Stubborn as a mule and dumb as a post,” she said, lovingly. He looked at her, a light went on and he simply said, “I’ll go.” My partner at the time, Vikro had the stair chair ready, but he adamantly refused to be carried from his home. Somehow, he found the strength to walk the fifty steps to his front door, and then allowed us to help him down the front steps, then up the steps into the rescue. The walk nearly killed him. I questioned my decision to let him walk, but it turned out to be a good one. We took them to the ER, he landed in a critical care room, Vikro and I moved on to different patients.
A few hours later, I returned to the ER with somebody else, but took the time to visit them. He was lucid now, she smiled as I shook his hand and deflected the genuine thanks he offered, saying the usual “it’s my job” things. I don’t remember what caused his confusion, his blood work was way out of whack, IV fluids and whatever else they gave him at the hospital worked wonders. He was funny, and kind, and appreciative. So was she. I was happy to have helped them. It was a “good” call.
I saw his picture on the obituary page two days later. He died that night. At least he walked out of the place he raised his family under his own power, and into whatever existence waits.
“Was your dad a longshoreman?” I asked a fortyish lady who now occupied the same bench seat her mother did two years ago. Now, her mother lie in the stretcher, battling lung cancer, bald, skinny, feverish and sick from radiation.
“He was,” she replied, curious.
“I knew it was you as soon as you walked in,” said the little lady on the stretcher, smiling. “You are a good man.”
“So was your husband. He made me laugh. I’m sorry he died.”
“You came to his wake.”
The funeral home is in Rescue 1’s district. Something possessed me to pay my respects. A large crowd of people attended. One hundred black people and one big white guy. I went through the line, the woman now dying on my stretcher taking the time to introduce me to nearly everybody there, even the funeral director. They treated me like royalty. Must have been the uniform. I’m glad I went.
Brian started an IV, took her temperature and got some vital signs.
“The IV fluids will help the rapid heart rate,” I explained to the daughter as her mom rested.
We rode peacefully through the tired neighborhood toward the hospital. This was me and Brian’s final call after a particularly brutal thirty-eight hour shift. When we were dispatched at 0612 the sun had just broken the horizon.