“What’s up, Little One?”
“Mom…*pant* There’s an ammalance… *pant* Outside!” She never gets tired of seeing the trucks. She and her brother would visit once a shift when I worked at the little Mom and Pop place that had a station less than a mile away from the house. She probably didn’t realize that the
ammalance ambulance that she was drooling over was one that I worked out of for almost two years. One that she’s explored more than once. It didn’t matter to her… She’s attracted to the lights. Kinda like her mom.
What she (and my son) did notice was that the ambulance was sitting in the driveway of our elderly neighbor who we happen to be very friendly with. When Jon and I had visited the house while it was for sale some six years ago the young couple who had it listed sold us quite literally because of the neighborhood and the people who lived there. I remember meeting Gigi that same day. She and her husband had greeted us with hand shakes. By the time we climbed back into the car some 45 minutes later, we had already exchanged phone numbers. We knew they were good people. When we would leave the house for any period of time we felt safe knowing that Gigi and Ted would be watching, they always watched out for us. Always. With time they became surrogate grandparents. They both offered advice on everything from how to replace a toilet rendered useless by a simple toy phone to why we REALLY needed to watch our garage to how to install a hot water spigot on the side of the house.
Ted passed just under six months ago. I did my best to keep my kiddos from knowing about it, and honestly, I’m not sure why that is. I guess I was stuck in the “shield-them-from-the-bad-stuff” mode. But Gigi had been in fantastic health considering her age. The woman worked out more than I did for Christ’s sake and she was at least 70. (My apologies, she was 74. Found that out tonight. I started writing this over a week ago.)
I was watching the crew climb out when I realized that I knew one of them. A medic I’ve known for a few years, but who has been working in the area as long or longer than just about anyone else I know. One of the good ones. One that I would trust with my kids. That seems to be how we judge each other in EMS. “Would you trust them with your kids or family?” If the answer is yes, you know they’re one of the good ones.
I hoped Gigi was going in for PT or to see an ortho doc, or for a podiatrist appointment, or for something… I don’t know, benign. I had only once seen an ambulance in front of that house (another post for another time), and it wasn’t even for her. I knew she had a few setbacks in the last couple of years, two falls actually, but nothing that would imagine that leave her in the care of… Them. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.
“They” do the hospice runs. Say what you will about them, but “they” are an amazing group of people. They have a tough job. They may not be doing emergency runs on every shift, but it’s still an emotionally trying job when you primarily transport those who are within sometimes minutes of dying and most of the time are within mere days of leaving us. We’re trained on how to help folks. There’s very little training on how to allow someone to die with dignity and as pain free as possible.
Terminal illnesses… They’re a bitch.
I didn’t know she had one. Had no idea. I’m embarrassed as hell to admit that.
Two months ago she and I had a 45 minute conversation in her front yard about her garden, for crying out loud. In the back of my head, I just… I don’t know. I’m pissed at myself for not paying closer attention. How did I not know?
Had I watched I would have noticed the weight loss. I would have noticed the home health care nurses showing up. I would have realized that she just wasn’t outside as much. She wasn’t in her front yard clipping flowers and fretting over whether or not she had watered enough. I would have known. I’m sure of it. I couldn’t have done a damn thing about it, but I would have been aware. I could have helped her family. I would have been more than just someone who lived on her street. Hindsight, I guess.
I watched through the window as the crew loaded her up, and only walked across the street when I saw her son struggling with the lock on front door. He wasn’t himself, he was a big guy who was the epitamy of strength and composure. Today he was shaky. I was nervous to approach him, I know the way that I feel as a provider when the neighbors come out and become involved while we’re on a run, but I did it anyway. I ran barefoot across the street skipping over the puddles that three days of rain had left and whispered in his ear.
”Brett,hey… I know these folks. They’re good people. They’ll take good care of her. I promise. ”
“I can’t remember how to lock the damn door!” His voice was trembling and there were tears running down his cheeks. He looked like he had been crying for quite awhile. His eyes were blood shot and tired.
Immediately I realized that Gigi wasn’t going to a podiatrist appointment. My heart sank.
“Breathe. Okay? It’s okay. She’s in good hands. Where are they taking her?”
I mentally crossed my fingers. Please don’t say Hospice. Please don’t say Hospice. Please don’t say Ho–”
“Hospice. Just for a night. She’ll be back tomorrow.”
I told him what I could without sugar coating it. “Brett, those people are angels, she’ll be taken care of and treated like the queen she is. If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
He swallowed hard, nodded, and climbed in the back of the squad.
The doors closed and I retreated back to the house. I haven’t seen him since. (I’ve seen the son a few times… Mowing the lawn and taking care of Gigi’s flowers.)
I haven’t seen Gigi.
My little ones had questions, and I answered them as honestly as I could.
“People get sick. People die. Sometimes they’re young, sometimes they’re older. It just… It happens. And there’s not a thing we can do about that. We can be sad about that, of course we should be a little sad! Of course we miss them! But we shouldn’t be sad for too long.
Gigi is going to die. And I don’t know if it’s going to be next week or a year from now, but she is going to die. We’re all going to die some day. Don’t be afraid for her, she’s done everything she’s wanted to do. She has beautiful babies, just like I do… And those babies have babies. She has so many people who love her.
But her body is sick. Think about how you feel when you’re really sick. Can you imagine being so sick for so long that every part of your body hurt really badly? Every second of every single day? And nothing could make it better?”
My daughter was on the verge of tears. “Mom, can’t you take care of her? That’s your job!”
I was fighting back tears myself, I knew I was going to be losing a friend, one of my people, soon. “Baby, I wish I could. I can help fix a few things, but no one can make her better now. We can just make her feel better. We can try to take her pain away. I promise you that she isn’t scared, so there’s no reason for you to be afraid for her. Do you understand?”
“I just don’t want her to hurt. They’re going to fix her hurts, right?”
“Yes, baby, they’re going to fix her hurts. They’re going to let her get some sleep.”
The boy wanted to an excuse to go play on the computer. He’s eleven. I can’t fault him for wanting to find the nearest exit at this point.
SWR and I talked a bit longer, we shed a few more tears, but in the end I think she gets it. Well, she may not get it, but she’s okay with it. She’s okay with at the age of six, that which I could not grasp until I was 34. (In the interest of being completely honest, I was 34plus 3-ish months. As in… Not that long ago.)
She’s dead… Gone. Passed on. It was a several days later when a neighbor came over to tell me. I knew it was coming, well, for a week and a few days, give or take, but it doesn’t make it sting anyless. I went to the showing. I talked to their kids. I met their grandchildren. I looked at pictures of them both, together, happy. Ted in is Army uniform, and Gigi looking as beautiful as ever. That picture had to be at least 50 years old.
And I smiled.
They’re together. At last. I can be happy with that.
But Christ almighty, do I hate cancer.