Starting a story with a misquotation is likely a serious faux pas, but alas, I did it. Get over it.
We were called to Jim’s house by a 3rd party. Actually a fourth party. Jim had missed a lot of work so his boss called his next of kin–and estranged daughter–she called a neighbor and between the neighbor and his boss, made the decision to call the ambulance.
I was greeted on the rickety steps by a confused looking gentleman I learned to be Jim’s boss. As I walk past him he tells me Jim had fallen and was on the ground all night. Jim says he’s not hurt. He says he is fine. Every word he speaks is enunciated in booze. The fruity smell of cheap vodka and cheaper beer permeate through his pores. Even the feces he has all over himself smell of sweet, cheap alcohol.
But Jim is adamant that he isn’t hurt. He knows where he is, he knows what day it is, but he just can’t admit that he is hurt. He just can’t admit that he needs help.
See months earlier Jim lost his mother and sister in a week or two. Jim, already an alcoholic took these double crosses and stumbled back to the ropes. He bowed out and lost control. Now the alcohol has control.
See, Jim isn’t fine. You can see the cellulitis has eaten at his legs. He’s not eating. Not bathing. Not doing anything other than getting delivered in cheap booze. Intentional or not, he’s killing himself. He’s of sound, if not sane, mind. He by law, can make decisions for himself. People are allowed to let themselves die here.
But after I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to get Jim to go to the hospital today, with me in the ambulance, his family arrives. His estranged daughter, her husband, and the granddaughter he hasn’t seen in a year. I try to “prep” them for what they are going to see. This isn’t going to be the “dad” you’re use to. But she walks right by.
And the crying, and the begging, and fighting begin. PD tells me they have no grounds to hold him. No threat to self or others. See, Jim insists he’s in contact with his lawyer, who is going to take him to the doctor on monday. The problem is, he can’t tell me his lawyers name. If you ask Jim how much he’s been drinking he changes the subject. If you ask Jim to stand(knowing he can’t) he changes the subject again.
Jim wants to stay home and drink another day. I think he knows that if he manages to stay home and drink enough days his body will finally give in to his mind and end this all.
But just because someone thinks they want to die a miserable death doesn’t mean we SHOULD stand idly by. I had walked out, as the city around me is imploding with 911 calls and transfers, I’d given up. Nothing was working. I waked out, got my signatures and was getting into the truck when the daughter came up to me.
“Please help me”. I don’t want him to die here. I don’t want him to die alone”. I try to explain how little there is I can do. I’ll be honest, I don’t expend a great deal of energy trying to get people to go to the hospital. If people say they don’t want or need me, I send them on their way.
But not this time. I’d already spent 50 minutes on scene, a few more won’t hurt. I walked back inside, daughter trailing behind me. We walk past an unopened box of “Omaha Steaks” with a postmark before Christmas. What kind of man leaves a box of meat–tasty meat–on their front stoop?
Inside the front door Jim’s son-in-law and granddaughter are sitting there. Granddaughter is crying. I walked up to Jim and said flatly…. “if you can stand, I will leave you alone forever”. So he tries to stand up. And flails and fails miserably. Sad, but in a way, what everyone needed to see.
I kneeled down to his now low level. Firmly, but compassionately I said…
“Jim, look. Look around this room. These are all people that care about you. Your daughter. Your granddaughter. Your boss. Your neighbor. Even me and my partner. If we didn’t care, the easy way out presented itself 100 times or more. But we didn’t take it. I stuck around. WE all stuck around. Because I’m scared that we’re going to come back tomorrow morning and pick you up in a different way. In a black bag and instead of going to the emergency room we’l have to go to the morgue. I’m terrified that I’ll have to look at this little girl over here and tell her that her grandpa is dead because we couldn’t convince him to go to the hospital to take care of some moderate medical problems. I’m scared that I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t do right by you. You have a chance to go out with some pride. Go out on your own, not be drug out of area against your will or in a body bag. Do this for your pride, if nothing else. Your pride is going to kill you”
and all he said to me:
“Well I don’t wanna hurt your beauty sleep. You need all you can get. Lets go”
And so we went. Quietly and calmly. At first he was defeated, but then the relief swept over him and the fear faded away.
In my longest scene time ever(1 hour, 48 minutes) I actually did something. More than I do on every major trauma or code or stroke I go on.
When the powers that be wanted to talk to me about the scene time delays I told them to read the narrative. I wasn’t going to justify it any other way. I wasn’t going to say sorry. I got a sick person to go to the hospital.
THAT is my job.
Damn it, Jim.