In my line of work, inventory results are the measuring stick of the previous year’s success and shortcomings. It had been a long day, with less than positive results for one of the locations in my region. I was exhausted both physically and mentally. Although it would take me almost an hour to get home, I was glad to have a rural drive with little traffic. There would even be some patches of the trip that were void of cell phone signals. I turned the radio off, and drove in silence.
Forty-five minutes into my trip home as I passed the bridge overlooking the dam, I could hear notifications chime. This let me know that I was back into the world I had briefly escaped from. I found comfort in the fact that I would soon be home. First my work phone alerted me to the 3 emails I had missed while out of range, then I assume my personal phone chimed with the usual app and social media alerts.
A moment later, I heard the vastly different sound of the 911 alert that firefighters receive when dispatch sends an emergency call. When I saw it was from a neighboring jurisdiction, I naturally assumed it would be too distant for me to make it to the station, dress in turnout gear and take the appropriate vehicle to the scene. Usually, the first thing I look at is the type of alert it is. I almost always respond to structure, vehicle or forest/brush fires if I’m in town. I took a sigh of relief when I saw it was a medical call, since I am not an EMT, I typically don’t respond to these. I opened the detailed message accompanying the alert.
CALLER STATES 73 YR OLD MOTHER HAS TAKEN A WHOLE BOTTLE OF ZANAFLEX MUSCLE RELAXER – SAID SHE COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE – STOP
Since this is a neighboring jurisdiction that I happened to be traveling through on my way home, I opened the alert map. My heart raced as I traveled at 62 mph down the rural state highway, because it had shown that I was 1.2 miles from the residence. I barely had enough time to let it sink in before I could see the house to my left. I pulled into a desecrated patch of grass and road shoulder, took a deep breath and got out. I was the first on the scene.
As I walked toward the residence, I saw an older man standing outside a camper trailer, smoking a cigarette. There was a boil on the back of his neck near the shoulder. This immediately reminded me of something I’d seen my wife watch on Dr. Pimple Popper. To be honest, it looked like it was in dire need of medical attention.
“Sir, where is she?”, I asked as he pointed with a lit cigarette in hand toward the small house to his right.
“Just let yourself in through the screen door and go on in”, he said.
The screen door creaked, and my heart sank at every millisecond it took to open. The house was dark and there was no one in the kitchen or the living area. Family portraits and shelves of what my grandmother referred to as “What Nots” decorated the living room walls and tables.
“Hello? Ma’am? I’m with the Fire Department… can you hear me?”
There was no response, so I walked deeper into the house. As I made my way through the kitchen, I once again called out. This time I got a response.
“We’re in here.”
I introduced who I was once again and made clear that although I was here to help, I was not an EMT. Lying on the bed was an elderly woman on her side. Beside her, was her 40’sh year old daughter. They both had tears in their eyes.
“I don’t know why I’m still here”, the elder of the women said. “I took half this bottle.”
To my shock, she still held a prescription bottle with the lid removed. There appeared to be at least two dozen more pills left behind. I asked her if I could have the bottle so that I could see exactly what she had taken. To be honest, that wasn’t the reason I wanted the bottle. Because I take no prescription meds and hardly ever even take an aspirin, and with almost no medical training. I wouldn’t know what to look for. I just wanted to ensure she didn’t ingest what was left. I also asked if I could take the small zippered duffle bag on a chair by her bedside, as it too seemed filled with a wide variety of prescription meds. As I took the medication out of the bedroom and placed it on a kitchen table, I saw the glare of a flashlight entering the house. It was a county deputy. I introduced myself and brought him up to speed on what little information I had so far. I anxiously hoped that EMTs would arrive soon as I returned to the bedroom with the deputy.
“Ma’am, talk to me and tell me what’s going on?”, I asked.
“I’m just tired. I’m tired of living. I’m ready to go… I’m tired.”
I knelt down by her bedside and saw an old framed photograph of a man and woman resting between her forearm and chest. The picture was obviously circa early 1980s. The woman in the picture bore little resemblance to the woman in the bed who now wished to end her own life. There was however, enough similarity between the two to piece together that this was an old portrait of her and her husband. The man in the photo, somewhat resembled Conway Twitty. I took a tissue and wiped a tear that was running from the corner of her eye toward the pillow. It was a faded photograph of long ago, with her husband who had passed away some twenty years prior.
“I’m not going to the hospital. You can’t take me if I don’t want to go.”
“Ma’am, did you know that this is my first medical call to respond to alone? I just happened to be a mile down the road. It sure would be nice if you helped me out and made me look good”, I joked, and to my surprise, she smiled and sincerely thanked me for coming.
The jurisdictional fire department finally arrived with equipment and vital signs were able to be taken. She still refused to leave and just asked to let her lay there. EMT services were en route, but they were still miles away. A phone call was made to call in the medication that was ingested and the prognoses was not very positive. We would need to keep a close watch on her blood pressure and heart rate as we awaited means to transport her.
A brief discussion occurred about the possibility of having to use restraints to transport her. She had repeatedly stated she wasn’t going and at times became verbally combative. I surely didn’t want it to come to that.
“I saw some cornmeal on the kitchen counter… I bet you can cook some good cornbread. I need you to get through this so you can teach me how to do it in case my wife ever up and leaves me”, I joked. She chuckled and proceeded to tell me how she makes it. The ambulance had just arrived.
I started moving furniture in various areas of the house in anticipation of a stretcher being brought in as far into the house as possible. There was further talk about whether they were going to utilize soft or hard restraints to safely transport the patient. This bothered me more than I anticipated. I knelt down with another firefighter as they brought the stretcher into the house. We both listened to her as she spoke, and periodically looked over at the blood pressure and heart rate monitor. Of course, I mostly pretended to know what I was looking for, although I caught on pretty quick.
“It’s my time. God knows it is. I’m tired”, she told us.
“Ma’am, if it was your time, he wouldn’t have sent us here to help you”, I told her. The other firefighter agreed and reiterated that. I feared she was going to be taken out kicking and screaming, which couldn’t be a good thing for her. It was the last thing I wanted to see happen.
I looked her in the eyes, with my own eyes welling up with tears and I said, “Ma’am, can I ask you something? You seem like such a sweet person… if you passed me in trouble on the side of the road and saw that I needed help… would you stop and help me?”
“Why yes… I would”, she responded.
“Then I’m asking you please, let me do the same for you.”
She slowly raised up with our help and sat on the side of the bed. “I guess we can give this a try.”
I stood back and allowed the EMTs to do their thing. She was now cooperative and allowed herself to be placed on the stretcher. I helped gather up the medical bags and monitors and walked outside.
As I watched the ambulance pull away, I climbed back into the car. I too… was tired. But I also took a brief inventory… and this time I saw that it wasn’t as bad as I once believed.