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Partner

There have been a select few people who have stuck like glue through the somewhat turbulent stretches of my life. The more experience I have, the more I realize how rare and valuable that is. My wish for each of you, dear readers, is that you would have a friend like my fire partner, Michael.

A partner in Fire and EMS is such a multifaceted thing. You have to be able to trust them with your life, whether you like them or not. They can be your best friend, or your biggest annoyance, and sometimes you just hope for tolerable. Michael and I met at the fire station as I was finding my way as a new recruit, and him a seasoned member. He was always helpful and courteous, and before long we were pulling the same shift together. From the start he was the kind of partner who knew what I wanted without having to say it. That’s the best kind of partner to have. He was always willing to jump right into whatever crazy ideas I had to improve the department or the care we gave, even when that meant spending hours on a Sunday at the station to complete my projects.

I got to be the first person he ever poked with a needle, and he willingly sacrificed chest hair to my ekg patches so I could practice. He patiently taught me how to drive the giant water tank on wheels, and we spent many evenings scrubbing station toilets and floors together. He poked fun at me having to climb the giant tires to see into the engine compartment of our trucks, and he understood my desperate need to have a label maker always at hand. Whatever we were doing, we were the perfect team.

Unfortunately it wasn’t terribly long into our partnership that my disease really started hindering my ability to perform. I was eternally grateful for him picking up the slack for me where I needed it, but eventually I had to admit I couldn’t continue. This is where he showed his true loyalty. Instead of bidding me goodbye, he was visiting bedside when I was long days in the hospital, frequenting my house to love on me and my family, and was always a text or a phone call away when myself or my family members needed it. I learned this was the kind of guy who would literally give you the shirt off his back, no questions asked.

He and his wife Katie rose up to meet my family and I numerous times in our last months in Colorado. Taking the kids when we needed it, bringing us meals, picking up groceries, helping drive me to appointments when Mark had to travel. There was never a time they said no.

Relocating to Ohio didn’t change my partnership with Michael. Within weeks he was on a plane to come see us in our new home, and he continues to do so on a regular basis; having guy bonding time with my husband, standing in as help for my family when work takes my man away, and loving and caring for us in every way he can think of.

If he’s not cooking up our favorite tacos, he’s looking for things to fix or improve around our abode. He has cleaned up my messes, picked me off the floor, and sat in silence with me when that’s all I needed. He reaches out to meet my wingman where he’s at, offering love and camaraderie to the man who carries our family. He plays with my children, helps them with their math, and isn’t afraid to keep them in line when they need it. He will long be a trusted figure they know they can run to.

We giggle at how he can come up with a solution to most things we are clueless to fix, smirk at how the owners of our local hardware store recognize his face, and we make fun of him for nerding out over things we fail to understand.

Michael has loved my family through days of joyous celebrations, as well as walked with us through heavy and disheartening days, and that’s what makes him different than most. He has never backed away. He is a safe haven for any one of us, and it’s the most comforting thing to know you have a friend that you can trust like that. I know that in the weeks and years ahead he will continue to be a soft landing place and strong anchor for each person in my family, and regardless of what I’m capable of, he will always be called my partner.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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Gone

My heart hurts tonight. This afternoon I went through my paramedic jump bag to get it ready to pass on to my partner. That hurt. 13 years worth of remnants of a life that thrilled and fulfilled me. Perhaps I’m a little bit angry this time to have to leave it all the behind. I’m so deeply thankful for this time I have now, but I do miss working as a medic terribly, and I haven’t quite learned to reconcile that yet.

My signature green scissors… my brightest helmet light… the fun bandaids I always made sure I had so no one would have to get a boring one. Unused gloves and sheets of paper waiting… for the next call that won’t be coming.

Look at this I found. It’s so ridiculous, but you must know.

I was running on a very intoxicated transient man one night, and as we neared the hospital I reached across him to grab the phone we used to call report ahead. It had one of those old school curly cords. Well as I stretched the cord to reach my ear the receiver snapped out of my hand and smacked my poor patient right in the middle of his forehead. It hit him hard enough to split the skin, and blood trickled down toward his eyebrows. I was mortified. I stammered apologies as I tried to get him cleaned up. He assured me there was nothing to worry about; that I was doing a great job and he was just fine and not to worry. I was impressed he was taking it so well, and rummaging for a bandaid. It just happened that pink Hello Kitty bandaids were all I had left. Oh my goodness this was getting worse! At this point he was still encouraging me and swearing he had no cares in the world. I marched into the emergency department that night in a hot blush, wheeling my drunk, homeless victim with a pink girlie bandaid right in the middle of his forehead. By this time he was telling everyone what good care I had taken of him, and asking me to marry him. I was so embarrassed to tell the hospital staff what happened, but he was just the most gracious man, beaming up at me with that goofy bandaid. I definitely needed his grace that night. I have always wondered though what he thought the next morning when he woke up with that pink Hello Kitty bandaid on his head.

I miss getting to connect with people like that. I miss the rawness and the realness and everyone just trying to do their best for one another. I’m honored to pass my bag on, even though it’s hard. I know it will be in good hands, and it will see to caring for many more people who need compassion and a helping hand. I’m glad to see it have life once again, though maybe for a nostalgic moment it made me miss who I was.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!

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Red Footie Pajamas

I distinctly remember my first time visiting the childrens’ unit at Cedar Springs Hospital. I was new to the city as an EMT, and while I had run my fair share of adult psychiatric calls, this was my first child.  Actually, in my naivety, I didn’t even know there was such thing as a psych unit for kids up to that point.

There I was, walking into the building for a boy under the age of 6 with an arm injury… thinking he must have been the son of someone who happened to be visiting.  I’m certain there was an audible squeak of my boots stopping abruptly against the hard floor as I turned the corner to find the entire wing of the building occupied by children of various ages. A staff member began rattling off the details of how he fallen out of bed, and my mind was searching for the inexplicable reason that he had been sleeping in a tasteless wooden bed in a duplicated room with hard sterile floors instead of tucked into the shelter of his parents’ hugs and kisses in his own familiar bedroom.  I was silently trying to piece together this mystery when another staff member ushered my patient into the hallway; a dark-haired little guy, hardly taller than my hips, padding silently in red footie pajamas.

That night I learned one of those hard life-truths that you don’t learn little by little; one of those truths that smack you in the face like the concrete-sting of a belly flop into icy water.  Though I lost that bit of innocence on that call I still had many questions bouncing around between my mind and the soul that stared out at me from those young brown eyes.

It wasn’t long before running psych calls for youngsters wasn’t unusual for me.  I ran the frantic 9 year old who pleaded with his grandma to give him one more chance after tearing apart the whole house.  I ran the 15 year old cutter who had run away from home, and the 13 year old boy who successfully took his own life.  I saw a new world of confusion and pain and I struggled to understand it.  There were those who were vocal about their opinions; it was easy to assume that a lack of parenting or responsibility had created this brokenness, or that these were just bratty children needing firmer discipline.  While I was never one to say it out loud, I suppose in some ways I thought the same thing.  I wondered if the guardians were just tired of dealing with the hard work of parenting, and wanted to pass the adversity off to someone else.  I wondered if these kids felt so invisible that their gashes and outlandish displays of defiance were the only means left to spark some flames of attention from the people they craved it from.  While I refrained from joining in the open toxic banter of judgement, I still pondered these questions because some things you just can’t understand until you’ve tasted them more personally.

Fast forward several years to my own boy standing at the dawning of teen-hood.  Two parents who loved him unconditionally, a stable home in which all his needs were met, a routine of discipline and appropriate freedom, and yet his soul was changing, darkness clouding his once crystal blue eyes. Despite all the good things in his life my young boy had experienced tragedy that he was never meant to have to bear.  His normal had been ripped and shaken by such affliction over a short amount of time his soul halted in shock from the uprooting of all he knew to be true and safe.  So began this terrible and frightening battle of his entire being trying to reconcile things that his young soul was not created to understand.  He learned to build impenetrable walls to guard his bleeding wounds from further pain.  He forced himself to not feel so that he would never again know the devastation of a hurting heart.

Somewhere between watching his destruction from an utterly helpless distance, and screaming helpless tears into starlight night after night I came to understand the full story of that boy in the red footie pajamas.

It’s not for anyone to judge why these kids are the way they are, because the truth in all of them is that at some point they experienced a hurt that was more than they knew what to do with.  There are insecurities and scars and genetic dispositions, and I guarantee you not one of these kids suddenly woke up one day with a desire to be angry or dangerous or out of control or truthfully, an outcast. There is a world of hurting young people who need not our judgement and our assumptions, but our understanding and our unbiased desire to reach out to them and help fill those gaps and holes that created their unbalance to begin with.  What would the world look like if all the adults stepped up to give the attention and meet the needs that these kids so desperately need met?

It is with greatest sincerity that I say thank you to the adults that have stepped in, or even been forced in, to stand in the gap for my son.  I get it, I do.  I know that your 25th patient contact of the day is exhausting.  I know that you came in not feeling well to begin with, or with your own trouble going on, and yet you still showed up to give of yourself to help my boy, and so many others, with his healing.  I know that in the big scheme of things, the little issues these kids are making monstrous seems so outrageously ridiculous that’s it’s tempting to give a shoulder-shake of reality.  I know that after a long day, 2am was not the time you felt most compassionate when you had to get up and deal with a new admission, or a meltdown,  or a half-hearted suicide attempt for attention, or an all-out brawl.  I know that there are a lot of days you wonder why you chose this, or you think about moving on.  I know that it may seem thankless and pointless some days, and that you may question whether you are even making a difference.  The truth is you are some of the bravest, most selfless, most compassionate people to walk this earth.  This world does need you, and you are making differences, even if they are tiny baby ant steps.  In our universe, those ant steps are huge.

So thank you for what you do day in and day out; for the sacrifices you make and the things you endure so that every story has a chance at a happy ending, and that every hurting young heart that crosses your threshold knows that someone fought for them, even the boy in the red footie pajamas.

Please leave me a comment, it lets me know you’re listening!