Vigor mortis

Friends over; a soft, balmy day and all seemed well until the pager beat out its staccato summons. Run to the door, into my jumpsuit as my blood iced at the dispatcher’s report: car versus bicycle, 3372 Reston Road–it would be a bad one, I knew, I knew, I knew.

Out and off, 2002 responding to the scene, old Scout leaning with the wretched curves, time passing too fast, then I’m there. People standing around, looking at others hunched in the ditch; Scout left idling, flashers winking and clacking; steaming, dented wreck a few feet away. Later I’ll stare at reeking car; stare at deformed 1970s steel; a boy’s body imprinted on grill and hood at 45 mph. But not now; now I’m straight to the ditch, bystander sidesteps and I see the motionless back; a child: no blood but gray, terribly gray. My probing gaze moves up, meets a bystander’s eyes—Richard, the neighbor; eyes infinitely deep, terrified eyes, talking eyes that plead for me to act.

“We’ve got to roll him Richard; no choice–hold his head and move him as a unit–do the best you can”. The ditch is three feet wide, a foot deep, the boy fits perfectly, plopped in it like a coffin in a grave.

We roll him and I look down, down into lifeless eyes; deep blue lips and gaping mouth. Blunt, sudden realization–I’ve trained for this, now I must do it, even as I bend down and listen, look; fingers on the carotid, and there’s nothing.

He’s dead, he’s dead, yet my choice was made a year ago when I began the EMT course … everyone’s watching and I can’t figure if that’s important, and then it ceases to matter, the first breath goes in and the chest rises…it works! The rhythm is instant, then the airway goes away; I look up, realize that the crew is here–there’s Ted–take traffic–there’s another–take compressions. The mother is there, incredibly controlled, asking to help. She bags for a minute, two, then at the edge of loss, hands off the bag.

Winston FD rolls in; I realize I’d overheard the radio traffic and chatter about our radios not getting out of the canyon we were in–but bless Winston, they pieced fragments of our desperate calls together and just responded with their ALS unit; they came and they’re here. Into the rig, I continue CPR, they intubate and I bag. Mother in front, radio traffic for Trauma team: pediatric traumatic code, en route. Twenty crapping miles of two-lane back roads; golden minutes melt. Slowly, though, time slips back to normal, then slows to abysmal; into Roseburg the back way and mother goes hysterical, demands transport to Mercy. Caught with uncertainty, the driver turns even as he tells mother that Douglas is ready and waiting and Mercy isn’t. Brief indecision, then a code 3 u-turn and back the main drag. Backing up to ER, adrenaline returning even as we know the handoff is imminent. Into the trauma room; brief milling, why are all these EMS folks in the way; hey, they got the bag and the IV’s, we’re outa here, but we know he’s dead…

And dead he was, but yet he lived; a quadriplegic, but maybe, perhaps, yes maybe, a better person through God’s dimly seen grace….

I saw him last, two years later, in his wheelchair.

At the end of the first pew, Sunday morning.

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