I remember responding to a 'signal 9' (that's my house's code for 'rescue' call) not so long ago. It concerned an elderly lady at an assisted living facility. The terms 'assisted' and 'living' are all relative, evidently. The outside of the building looks nice enough, as does the reception area at its entrance. But do you know that rather odd smell of 'old lady' perfume that mixes with cheap, stale make-up smell and mothballs that emanates from certain closets of the 'maturely challenged'?? Yeah, baby. That's what permeated the facility's hallowed halls beyond the reception area. The residents all seemed depressed, or sleeping. I probably should have checked them for a heartbeat while I was there. The facility's "nursing" staff seemed too removed enough to care. As a matter of fact, they all seemed to do their best to avoid me and my brethren for fear of being asked questions like "what happened"? Frightening indeed.
The facility was right around the corner from the house. My bus was the first to arrive. Understand, that we are a volunteer department, so, when there's sufficient EMS staff on board the bus, it leaves the house to go to the scene. So, here I was, in all of my EMT glory, riding with a more senior EMT (I will call him "senior"). I give dispatch a '22' (arrived at scene), grab trauma, O2, collar bag, and go in, past the pillared entrance.
"Where is she?" I ask.
"Oh, back there somewhere," the saggy woman wearing a nurse costume mumbled, as she wiped the sleep away from her eyes. She really looked the part. I mean, she even had white shoes on, and wore a little white hat just like Trixie from "Emergency - The TV Series".
"Can you show me?" I asked with urgency.
"I can't leave my desk", the very nice lady stated authoritatively.
Great. There's a lady in distress somewhere in the building and 'slumber nurse' is playing dress-up with her wardrobe. There seemed to be a ruckus down yonder, so, that's where i headed, but not before slumber nurse complained about how bright the ambulance emergency turret lights were. And why, she wanted to know, do we need those walkie-talkie things on if we're not using them? (Insert cat-fight sound here).
I saw the patient sitting in a puddle of blood down the hall. Blood was pouring out of her nose area at a pretty fast rate. 'Senior' was just looking at her. The zombies costumed as facility staff did their best to run the opposite way. They were all old too though, so they didn't really run. They just opened their eyes wide and kind of 'race walked' in all different directions. The chief radioed for a stretcher. Me, well, I ran over to the patient, did my best to determine the mechanism of injury, and mostly applied direct pressure to stop the bleeding. Turns out the old lady fell and hit her nose. The excessive bleeding was due to the fact that she was the closest thing to a Plavix addict you can be without having pure water for blood.
The whole scenario wasn't very life threatening really. But I often reflect on that call because of its ironic moments. I mean, I was presented with a gusher, sitting in a blood puddle, and I just sprung into action without hesitation or reservation. Others ran. And even others asked 'what happened?' They were the ones who stopped, thought, and decided to concern themselves with...well, themselves. Where was their compassion? Where was their sympathy?
Ah, but then again, where was my own? I did not stop. I did not think. If I did, I might have acted like a zombie similar to the facility staff. I might have even just watched, like "senior" was doing. Instead, I did not concern myself with anything. Something within me took over. I seemed to have removed myself from the situation. I was on some kind of autopilot I suppose. Yes. Automatic. At the very instant when I am supposed to have been compassionate I was apathetic. It's so strange to me, really. I am passionate about being an EMT while at the same time I am dispassionate about my manifestation of being one. I have apathy towards those who I treat because I have compassion for them before I treat them.
My lawyer hat looks nothing like Trixie's. I described to someone what happens when I wear it though: 'my nerves run through every part of my file.' Every week I get at least one resume and cover letter claiming "I have a passion for the law". We, as attorneys 'appeal' to judges - in the 'Court of Appeals' no less. We are told to represent our clients 'zeal
ously'. Yet, we tell jurors to act without sympathy; without prejudice; without passion. We are taught that the law treats the underprivileged and privileged the same way. And (too?) often, we as attorneys turn a blind eye towards the truths of our clients' cases. My lawyer hat is BIG and TALL. That's so I can fit any one of a number of hats underneath it. I could be wearing a hat of compassion or dispassion at any moment. And when common sense tells you to look for one type of hat on my head, you will probably find a different hat there.
I love my wife. I love my children. I kiss my beautiful wife smack on the lips before I leave for the day. My sweet boy and girl cry passionately when I leave the house in the morning to go to the office.
"Daddy, daddy!!! One more kiss and hug, plllleeeaaasssee?" Tears dancing on their cheeks, breakfast syrup on their little chins, standing in the doorway, running in place, half naked. I run from my car at the curb, and give those beautiful kids a kiss and a hug that i hope lasts the rest of the day for them. And then I trudge to my office, and become a slave to its calling.
I get through the day
wearing my attorney hat only by becoming dispassionate about my family. That is to say, I work late because of them; I don't think of them because I have to complete my case assignments so that I earn money to support them; I don't call them during the day. I don't email them.
I am a player of the game of passion everyday. At home, at the office, on a call. When the passion switch in 'on', the passion light is off, and vice versa. (Insert Neil Diamond, 'put on your Heartlight' background music here). I know, I know... confuses the crap out of me too. And let me tell you what wonders it does for my marriage. I have hope though. My wife still turns me 'on' when the lights go 'off'.