To: jgage @wildwind.net (John R. Gage)
From: DESOTO @americawest.com (Chris & Deborah DeSoto)
Subj.: At 4 a.m.
Hey Uncle Johnny--
Well, just like the subject line says, itís 4 a.m. I canít sleep. Iíve been lying in there next to Deborah and all my tossing and turning is keeping her awake. Plus the babyís kicking. I know the ultrasound says itís a girl but the way Deb winces Iím thinking my kidís going to be a football player! Anyway, I had to get out of the room for awhile. Every time Deborah wakes up she thinks of something more outlandish that she just *has* to have. At one-thirty I was downstairs fixing her a Tobasco and vanilla ice cream sundae. Sounds like something *youíd* enjoy!
I just canít sleep. I keep thinking of what happened today. Charlie and I got called to Rainier University first thing this morning. Possible drowning. In a fountain, of all places.
But Iím getting ahead of myself...
God I miss Dad tonight. Seems like Iím missing him more and more as time goes on, not less. Especially when I look at Deb and think how if Dad could just have held on a few more months he could have held his grandchild in his arms. He was so excited when we called to tell him the news. Damn cancer anyway. All the millions of dollars they pour into research and my dad still had to die...
Dying. I guess thatís what Iím really thinking about tonight. No, Uncle Johnny, donít worry, Iím not getting the chop look. Iím not thinking the next rescue I do will end up being my last or anything like that. Itís just...it was so weird today. I keep going over it in my mind.
Did Dad tell you about the last time he was here in Cascade? I didnít know it was going to be the *last* last time but I think now that maybe he did. You know Dad. He just didnít want us to worry. Kept saying the chemo was doing the job.
Anyway, he and I got into this fight. Well, not a fight really--you know Dad! You and Mom used to both say the worst thing about Dad was he *didnít* really argue when the two of you wanted to. But Dad did argue with me that night.
Thereís a Bill before the Washington State legislature right now making it illegal for anyone but a doctor to pronounce death. Right now itís written so that almost anyone--well, rescue personnel--firefighters, police, paramedics, nurses as well as doctors--can call off lifesaving efforts if in their *opinion* the victim is dead with no hope of revival. The proponents of this bill want all paramedic units to carry telemetry units so a hospital can tell us when to "call" a rescue. Either that, or transport the victim to the hospital with full life-saving efforts and let the doctor call it there.
My partner Charlie agrees with the Bill, but only because he *hates* having to tell people their loved ones are dead. Not that he does. That always seems to be my job.
What does this have to do with Dad? They were debating the Bill when he was here and he was all for it. He didnít think a paramedic should be able to pronounce death. I got kind of smart mouthed, said just because *you guys* werenít allowed to back in the deep dark infancy of paramedic programs, didnít mean we shouldnít be able to. I said something like, "Dead is dead and you donít have to go to medical school to recognize it."
Damn. What an arrogant smug bastard I was.
This isnít making much sense, I know. Let me start from the beginning--again!
Last night was pretty quiet really. Itís close to the end of the school year; we had a couple of calls to Rainier and to State College both. Always the same thing--accidental overdose of caffeine--usually because the kids are gulping cokes and coffee along with the No-Doz. Damn, I wish theyíd take that shit off the market.
OK, OK I know, Dad wouldnít approve of my language. But they *should* take it off the market.
A little after six a.m. we get still another call to Rainier. This time the dispatcher says itís a possible drowning. So of course Charlie and I figure itís at the pool, right? But a security guard meets us at the front entrance and leads us right to the middle of the campus. Thereís a fountain there.
Next to it was a body.
Charlie and I grab the equipment and get over there. Right away I have a bad feeling about this one. The guy--it was a guy, maybe my age or a few years older--was just so pale and his lips were blue. Charlie broke out the Ambu-bag and kind of had to wrestle with the guy giving mouth-to-mouth before he seemed to get the idea we were there to help. He kind of stumbled to his feet and I got a good look at him. And damned if I donít know him. Heís a cop, Jim Ellison, and not too long ago Charlie and I treated him after he was shot during a robbery gone bad. He wasnít hurt that badly but still I was kind of surprised to see him. And jeez was he freaked. I tried to talk to him but it was like I wasnít even there. He just kept staring at Charlie and at the guy who was doing the chest compressions and kept repeating over and over, "Come on Chief. Breathe. Just breathe."
I got the vicís vitals--not that there was anything to get. No pulse, no respiration. No pupilary response and his skin was cold. Hypothermic. I glanced into the fountain. The water was pretty cold and dirty from all this rain weíve been having.
I tried to find out what had happened. And that was another weird thing. Here it was barely dawn and all of these people were standing around. Turned out later most of them were cops. They were *all* just staring at the vic and Charlie. Finally some guy who looked like he doubled as a model for GQ gave me the basics. The vic was named Blair Sandburg. He was Ellisonís partner or something--later I remembered seeing him with Ellison at the shooting--but the paper tonight said he was also a TA and a grad student at Rainier. My informant--he had kind of an unusual name--Rafe or Roff or something--said when all the cops arrived theyíd found Sandburg in the fountain. Face down. Not breathing and no pulse. That had been ten, maybe fifteen minutes before we got there. And no one knew how long the vic had been in the water before the he was found. I saw Charlie look at me when we heard that. We both knew the chances of this guy coming around and not being brain-damaged were pretty small.
But we tried. Oh, God, Uncle Johnny, we tried. By this time the tall black guy who had been doing compressions was obviously exhausted and I relieved him. Charlie kept up the bagging and I pounded on the guyís chest for over twenty minutes. All the time, the cop--Ellison--was right there, just chanting, "Come on, Chief, come on Sandburg. You can do it. Just breathe." His voice was getting more and more desperate.
Finally we had to call it. Charlie looked at me and nodded, then he removed the Ambu-bag. I leaned back on my heels and looked at all the people around. I was speaking to all of them but mostly Ellison when I said, "Iím sorry, guys." And I was sorry. I hate losing victims but in this case we never had a chance. The guy had probably been gone long before his friends ever arrived to fish him out of the water.
Well, Ellison went ballistic. He stared at me with this look of horror and then rage...and maybe even hatred. Finally his face settled into these lines of disbelief. All of the others were crying or on the verge of it, but he yelled something like, "Sorry? What do you mean youíre sorry? You canít stop! Heís NOT DEAD!" Then he just like threw himself on the ground next to his friend and started yelling at him to be alive.
Charlie and I gathered up our gear and went back to the unit. We were putting the stuff away, being real careful and meticulous, but really just stalling, of course--putting off the moment weíd have to take out the body bag and go back to the corpse. I felt bad for Ellison but I was kind of nervous too. I mean, this guy was just NOT accepting his partner was dead and I was worried just what heíd do when we tried to put the body in the bag.
I glanced over at the group of people around the body. Mr. GQ had stepped over near a woman . In all the chaos I hadnít even noticed her standing there but now she was crying. The tall black guy whoíd been doing the compressions and another guy in a wild Hawaiian shirt were pulling Ellison away from the body, but he was fighting them and yelling, "No, you canít go!" or something. You know how hard it is to remember the exact words later, but God, Iíll never forget the look on this guyís face when it finally registered his friend was gone. His knees just collapsed and the other two guys were holding him up. I reached for the kit again. I just knew we were going to have to treat Ellison for shock.
Before I could move, though, he did. He threw himself on the ground by the body and it was so strange. He just kind of cradled Sandburgís face in his hands and stared down at him. It was like...I canít explain it but it was like he wasnít really seeing what the rest of us were...but something else. The rest of them just froze, watching him, although the tall black guy--I later found out he was Ellisonís boss, Captain Banks--looked like he was going to try one more time to get Ellison back to the real world but before he could, Ellison said something. I couldnít hear what it was but Banks just kind of stiffened and then stared down at the body and Ellison with this look of wild hope on his face.
I looked at Ellison and I mean, I thought this guy had flipped completely out. Weíre talking lunar tunes here. He was giving mouth- to-mouth again and then chest compressions. At least I guess thatís what he thought he was doing. His hands were in the wrong position and his movements were wild and frantic.
Charlie finally took out the body bag but I grabbed his hand and shook my head. Iím not ashamed to say Ellison was scaring the crap out of me. Iím sure he would have beaten us to death or maybe just shot us if weíd come anywhere near Sandburg with that black bag.
Then...Uncle Johnny, Iíve seen some wild things in the years since Iíve been a paramedic. Maybe even some things other guys would call miracles. *Iíve* never thought they were miracles--just the good rescues, the lucky ones that helped to make up for all the bad times. Miracles or good treatment, who knows?
But this one...this one *was* a miracle. This guy--Sandburg--he was dead. Dead. Dead. And then, all of a sudden he *wasnít* dead.
I was watching, so I saw it. All of a sudden our "corpse" starts coughing and choking up water. Ellison yelled for us to get back there. Charlieís mouth was hanging open and I was looking around for the hidden video cameras, but we grabbed our stuff and hustled our asses back over there. Ellison turned the guy over on his side, and just in time. Our "dead" victim started vomiting up dirty pond water and gasping. Charlie got the O2 on him while I moved Ellison to the side and said something stupid like, "Thanks, Detective, weíll take over now." I mean, something just really insane. If Iíd been him and the vic had been Charlie I think Iíd have punched me, but Ellison just stood up grinning like a Halloween pumpkin and leaning on the other guys, saying, "See?" like, "See, I TOLD you he wasnít dead!"
Charlie and I thought about it all day. We didnít say much. We got Sandburg--and Ellison, since there was no way he was being left behind--to the hospital in the ambulance. We got another call and had to leave while he was still in ER. But tonight after our last run Dr. Donaldson caught us and wanted to talk. Heíd gone over the log and he said weíd done everything correctly and made the right call when weíd ceased treatment. Charlie and I just looked at each other and Charlie said, "But Doc, the guy is alive!" and Donaldson looked down at his desk and hummed and haahd and said, "Well, yes...but clinically he was dead and you did everything reasonable and expected."
Like that would have made us all feel so much better if the guy had woken up in the body bag or in the morgue.
Or maybe he wouldnít have woken up at all.
Anyway...the rescue has a happy ending. Sandburg is doing okay for a guy that was dead less than 24 hours ago. Theyíre going to keep him in the hospital for a while--among other things he has a nasty concussion, whoever put him in the fountain hit him first--but heís out of ICU already. The doctors are attributing his revival to "an endorphin rush secondary to the bodyís last ditch release of adrenaline"-- the kind of shit they mumble when what they mean is "We donít have a clue." I ran into Ellison tonight as I was signing out and he even shook my hand and thanked me for helping his partner. Oh yeah, right...like *I* had a damn thing to do with Sandburg surviving.
Anyway, Iíve changed my mind about the Bill. I hope it passes. I donít want to be the one who decides when someone is past saving. Even if Donaldson says he would have made the same decision I did. There had to be brain activity or something going on!
Either that or...
God, I wish Dad was here. Iíd like to tell him.
Today I witnessed a miracle.