BLS gets no respect

This morning’s column in The Providence Journal recalls a run of the mill BLS call that I responded to with firefighters from Engine Co. 14. (see yesterday’s post)

BLS is anything but run of the mill. 80% of the calls I responded to were for people using EMS because they could, it’s the 20% that matter most, and 10% of those were BLS. The fact is, the firefighters I worked with always gave 100%.

BLS is every bit as important as ALS. Maybe even more…

From my column in The Providence Journal 

The call came:

“Rescue 1 and Engine 14, respond to Ellis Street, nature unknown.”

We found Tommy flat on his back on an Oriental rug in a home in one of the poorest sections of Providence. His mechanical wheelchair stood idle a few feet away. His mother tried to explain to us in Spanish what happened. When she realized most of us did not understand, she stopped speaking.
One of the guys from Engine 14 translated for her.

“He was getting off the bus like he does every day, but today, he started crying uncontrollably. Nobody knew what to do. One of the kids knew where he lived so they took him home.”

I knelt next to him on the clean rug. The little that these two had was kept immaculate. Being a caregiver is exhausting, emotionally and physically. That Tommy’s mom did so in a home on a street that we respond to daily for gunshot victims, overdoses and assaults was bordering on miraculous. Never again would I pass this home, on the way to one emergency or another, without looking into the window, and remembering the graceful presence that managed to exist although surrounded by misery.

“Does he understand me?” I asked Tommy’s mom, forgetting that she did not speak my language. The firefighter translated.

“He’s mentally delayed, doesn’t respond to language, has good days and bad, usually he is very happy, never cries or complains.”

I felt Tommy’s legs, looking for deformities. I tried to straighten them out, then noticed the braces sitting next to his wheelchair and thought better. He was helpless, staring at me, then his mom, then me again. Words between them were useless tools, their language understood by them and only them. I got a small taste when Tommy’s eyes locked on mine.

He cried out when I touched his left knee. I didn’t see any swelling but I just couldn’t tell, and Tommy couldn’t tell me. We wrapped him in a blanket and carried him outside. A bunch of kids stood at the door — eight, nine and ten years old — and formed an honor guard as we carried their friend. Or, if not their friend, the kid in the wheelchair who lives on the corner into the ambulance.

It occurred to me then that this was not such a dangerous place. This place was home, and a group of little kids cared enough about another kid — one who couldn’t talk to them, play with them or run with them — to stand guard, and make sure we took care of him.

We rode to the hospital in language-barrier silence — me, English with a little Spanish; Mom, Spanish with a little English; and Tommy, with no language at all, except for his eyes. What went on in his mind was a mystery to me, but I had a feeling his mom knew everything.
I hoped they knew that, somehow, they had profoundly affected a tired old firefighter who was losing his faith in humanity.

Being reminded by Tommy and his mother how much goes on just out of earshot and hidden from sight was one of those remarkable things that happen for my soul when I open my heart.

 

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