Lasting Impression

He was dead. His friends paced the room, smoking cigarettes, sneaking glances at their fallen comrade. He died sitting in his favorite chair, or at least his most recent favorite. One of the smoking guys had let him stay with him these last few months, he had nowhere else to go. The doctors at the VA had given him six months to live a year ago, he was just holding on. One of the guys cooked a meal for him last night, a steak and macaroni and cheese. There was nothing left on the plate that sat empty in front of him.

We chatted for a while, the two guys, me and Brian. The dead guy may have been listening, some day we’ll find out for ourselves. He was a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and so were his friends. Hepititis C is what eventually did him in. He was a good guy I was told.

The police handle these things once we declare a person dead. We waited for them to show up. I asked if the rosary that was wrapped around the dead guys hands was of his own doing. One of the guys said that he put it there when he found him. We stood by, silently until the police showed up.

“I can’t breathe in here,” was the first thing he said. “Put out those cigarettes.”

The tranquil, respectful environment was instantly transformed. Now, I stood in a section eight apartment with three nearly homeless vets, run down, kind of grungy and oppressive. And one of them was dead. I wish I smoked, I would have sparked one up right then and there. I was in their house. If they wish to smoke, smoke away, especially at a time like this.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said and told the cop the official time of death. The two living combat vets stepped outside to finish their butts. I couldn’t help but think of this line as we drove away.

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” William Shakespeare

Their friend was dead, and the government officials were assholes.


  • Colleen Heinsohn says:

    I would have wanted to smoke then too. I have been on this scene. Although, at the time I was not in EMS.
    Yes, I have treated this guy. He was my dad. I found him Easter Sunday morning. I talked about his guns and his life with the cops that showed up. I always felt it was odd standing there having a conversation over his body, but felt he was there and didn’t mind. I found $100 bill in Daddy’s pocket that morning. I wondered about him getting the money from the bank. I used that $100 bill to pay the preacher that did Daddy’s funeral. I often ponder how Daddy never knew that $100 bill he carried around in his pocket for a few days would be used for such a thing.
    I was inspired by this event to become an EMT. I wanted to be there for guys like my dad and for the family or friends left behind.
    I have been a Basic for 2 years and taking paramedic night classes now.
    Great Blog, thanks.

  • michael says:

    Thank you, Colleen. You will be a great paramedic, I can feel it.

  • Aline Kloeppel says:

    I’ve had this patient also. I’ve taken care of him/her alive and dead. I always try to show them the greatest respect and honor their service. My former employer had the contract for the local VA Nursing Home.
    It’s sometimes hard to make my young partners understand why they should show respect to the cranky old man in the nursing home, or the dirty homeless man that’s trying to forget his memories by hiding in a bottle. They, and fire and PD, were always amazed when I could get these patients to cooperate. All it took was a little respect, sometimes with a little ‘sugar’ added. It rarely failed me.
    Someday, I’ll be “that” patient. Before I got into EMS, I did twenty years before retiring from the military. I hope, that, when it’s my time to move on, that the Emergency Services personnel will show me the same respect.

  • j swiggett says:

    My first call after returning to my volunteer service as an EMT after my mother died suddenly was to a CA pt. that had just passed away. I couldn’t really empathize with the family and what they were going through. At least I knew the EMS responders that came to my house when my mom died, what is it like to have a bunch of strangers in your house when you loose a loved one? It really made my think about how I handle myself in these situations.

  • michael says:

    Thanks for reading, Aline and J., and sharing your stories. A little respect and empathy goes a long way, not just for the patients sake, but ours as well.

  • Michael Morse says:

    There is real joy in this (EMS) and you don’t even have to look for it. They call us. We just need to see it.

    Thanks, AD, that was fantastic.

  • Adam Samuels says:

    Being from a large military family, and being a member of the Army National Guard with combat experience, I have always had the utmost respect for veterans. My first job in EMS was with a service that had a contract with the local VA hospital, I always found it to be an honor to transport these people (not just patients). I would be in the back with them for 1-5 hours. Transporting veterans was in many cases good therapy for them and me. Often the conversation would about our experiences in combat. I often found the most intolerable person could be brought to a point of understanding and cooperation when they realized that I truly cared and understood. The downside for them is that they served this country, protected it’s freedom through their blood, sweat, and tears; yet we (as a country) abandon them in there time of need. They are stripped of there honor and dignity and placed in the cheapest housing the government can provide if they even get that much. It is a true shame how they were expected to give all, but we as a collective body can’t or won’t give some or any. Their selflessness was met by our selfishness. It is nice to see that so many of my fellow cohorts in EMS have come to understand the power of providing honor, respect, and dignity to our patients, veterans, and man kind. My only hope is that as more and more people are exposed to EMS and its crews; they see this honor, respect, and dignity and it becomes contagious.

  • Daria says:

    This is a little off-topic and I apologize for that, but I recently read a story that went beyond the pale. A female EMS worker and her co-workers (ambulance? firefighter? not sure) went to the scene of a bad traffic accident. The EMS was able to immediately determine that the man in the car was deceased. She accompanied the female driver to the hospital, then went back to the accident scene. She pulled the ID on the man and it WAS HER BROTHER!!!! The case was just adjuticated and the driver got 90 days. Her attorney is appealing to have that reduced!!!! Yes, it was a DUI accident, and the very idea this EMS declared her own brother dead destroys me.

  • Michael Morse says:

    Roger that, Adam.

    Daria, that is awful. Thanks for commenting.

  • Jason says:

    we’re not all assholes come up to the eastside midnights we treat people better than most on the dept of course the brass doesn’t like us because we aren’t super cops but I’d rather be a good guy who’s a cop than a good cop who’s an a-hole I guess what I’m saying is don’t judge us all the same and keep up the good work

  • michael says:

    Hello Jason, I have no problem at all with you guys, I’ve been the asshole more times than I care to admit as a matter of fact. I was just kind of shocked that anybody, cop, EMT of firefighter would walk into somebody’s house where a body still was and start ordering people around.

    Stay safe out there!

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