Second Look

Mar. 1st, 2012 05:53 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
The life of an EMT (or more actually, EMT-B, with B for Basic) is generally not a glamorous one. We sleep through some quiet shifts (hence the occasional reference that we are Earning Money Sleeping, if we're getting paid) and we get calls on the hour, every hour, for our entire shift on others. When we do get calls, we usually give them oxygen, handle some physical traumas through bandages and splints, and occasionally perform CPR, if it's called for.

That's about it, really — it's part of the reason that medics and more medically trained personnel derisively refer to EMTs as ambulance drivers.

We're not authorized to give medicine or to start IVs, to start; all of that's handled by the paramedics and above. We're there mostly to stabilize and assess, and serve as the medical first line of defense for anyone that might have encountered a medical issue and can't respond to it themselves. Functionally, a lot of the time, we'll show up, assess a patient, and then either drive them to the hospital or stand around awkwardly, waiting for the medics to arrive, with their EKGs and IVs and the things that actually make a medical difference.

Granted, it's not to say that anyone can do it — there is a minimum requirement of at least a hundred classroom hours (and usually more), which is a fairly significant amount. The situations we walk into are often tense for multiple reasons, and there are definitely cases where EMTs make a difference. And, of course, we do actually save lives from time to time, because there are things that the general population can't do (especially under pressure) that we can do, are trained to do, and probably have much more experience in doing.

To be fair, though, CPR doesn't work as often as people might think, given the media's treatment of it as the sort of magic way to bring people back from the dead. But that's probably a story for another time.

One of the biggest ways that we are able to effect change, though, comes from a completely separate — but no less important — responsibility, one that took up an entire chapter in our textbook. You see, in the United States, every single state has a law that designates medical professionals (and many other groups) as having a duty to report child abuse and neglect. As an EMT, we're often the only people that ever even see a child in a case like this, because the abuser will often try and shield them from the medical community — they don't ever take them to the hospital, and we're often called only when the case is fairly severe, and the child legitimately needs some medical care, but even then, the abuser will try and refuse (which they are legally allowed to do, as they are the legal decision-making adult).

But as long as we're called, we're generally able to take a look at the child, and this is where the responsibility comes in. There are some things to look out for, of course, that are fairly obvious — small round burns, from cigarettes, regular patterns, from a hot stove, or a 'glove' like burn, from scalding water. But more discreet are the psychological signs; after being close to hurt children for a while, we get to be pretty good at identifying how they should be reacting and how they shouldn't.

With calls for children, there's always a heightened amount of alertness, a special notice that everyone on the team will casually exchange with each other in a glance or two before we walk in the front door. There's no change on the outside, of course, because anything we do obviously would alert the abuser and that's something that we can't afford, but I could tell you the details of some of the houses I've been in better than my own, even after being there once, for ten minutes. That's what this responsibility means to us.

This is usually where the actual story starts, but unfortunately, that's not something that I can do for this entry; their right to privacy is simply too high for me to say anything, really. After all, these are children, with the rest of their lives ahead of them, and nothing I say should ever go back and haunt them. And of course, in this situation, there is no way to get consent.

All I can say is that my time as an EMT wasn't always glamorous, or even acknowledged by others in the medical community, but I've seen firsthand that it makes a difference. We save lives from time to time, but it never, ever means more than when we can make a correct report, and get a followup from youth services or the police later, and know that we've saved someone from abuse.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Imagine, for a moment, being eight years old and watching your parents — your wise, loving, beautiful parents — defy death again and again and show you what the words skill and courage mean. This is at an age when they're still gods instead of men and women, where they can do no wrong and their word is absolute.

Imagine that this is just another night, mostly. The crowds are there, no more or less than usual, and everyone else does their act and manages to make it by without doing anything spectacularly terrible, though the lion tamer does get a bit testy with his whip and the performers (but not the audience) know that the lion's roar isn't completely for show. But the tamer makes it out of the ring to a smattering of applause, and everything's alright.

Now imagine being eight years old on this night, and sitting in a front row seat, watching your parents do a trick they had done a million times before, and watching as your mother goes up into the jump, flips and twists perfectly, and then comes down into your father's waiting arms.

And then the cable snaps.


What would you feel? Grief, sorrow, the world ending; you would cry and scream and jump over the barrier to your parents, beating the announcer, the owner, the paramedics to their bodies. You would freeze, then, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to fix this broken arrangement of body parts, these shattered pieces of your idols that you know, instinctively, that you can not — never — put back together.

So you simply scream, loud, piercing screams, on your knees in front of them, silent in the middle of the big tent, where hundreds of people watch, horrified, for what they came here to see. Not exactly, of course — they expected that the tricks would be pulled off more or less — but the main draw of the circus, of the juggling of flames and swallowing of swords and balancing of people, is in the chance of an accident. No one will admit to hoping for one, but everyone slows down at the scene of an accident and rubbernecks their way across, thanking God that they weren't the people involved.

Now they freeze; now they know they've drawn too close, and they find out that they didn't ever want to see what broken bodies look like, didn't want to know the intense queasiness that's caused by seeing arms which bend in the wrong direction and bones that stick out where they shouldn't.

But they can't look away, and all you feel are their eyes, their eyes all on you as your parents hold the audience spellbound for the last time ever.


But that's only half the story; it's the part that involves pain and tears and blacking out and being catatonic for the next few days.

There's another half, and it starts a few days before, when you're playing around the outskirts of the tents that are set up and you hear voices coming from near the back gate. Looters sometimes come through here, and you want to make sure that everything's fine, so you head that way, with the righteous knowledge that you are helping the circus speeding you along.

That is, until you come around a corner and see the owner of the circus, Uncle Zeppa you call him, cowering before two well-dressed men towering over him. One of them lashes out with a kick and drops Uncle Zeppa to the ground, clutching his stomach, and you almost, almost call out.


But you don't, because you've learned, in your time at the circus, that saying things isn't always the best thing to do, so you say nothing. You just listen to the men, as they say that they want the Boss's money or something bad will happen, and the way they say Boss, you know that he is someone powerful.

But you don't say anything, you simply hide, and you think that you'll tell your parents about it. But by the time you get back to your trailer, you don't; they're practicing one of their acts, and it just isn't a big deal, and you'd create problems.

No one likes those who create problems, Uncle Zeppa says.


This is the other side of the story, the crushing, soul-destroying weight of guilt, the knowledge that you could've saved your parents, that you, you killed them, in a way. You could've done something, anything, and told someone, anyone, of what you had heard and seen. But now — now it's too late, now there's nothing you can do, and all you have left of your parents are the pictures and the memories and the dreams, and only the pictures aren't broken.

You change that, pretty quickly.

Now they're all broken.

Too bad it doesn't make anything better.


But there's one thing that saves you from despair and self-destruction, one path out of the twin chasms of grief and guilt that threaten to swallow you whole. You see, there's one other person in the world that knows what happened, one person that was there in the audience with you, one person who comes to you a week after and says that he knows.

He knows.

He's been following the gangsters' activities for some time, and he didn't catch that meeting and couldn't stop what happened but he has a plan for how to stop them and bring them down. He has a path out of the darkness, a single, winding, twisting path that you see as a single line, but you're pretty good at keeping your balance by now, aren't you?

What do you do? You join him, of course. You accept his offer to take you in — though not as a father, just as a legal guardian, and you accept that he has a plan for everything. Literally everything, you realize one day to your fascination, and as you keep poking around, you find out who he really is.

You know you've made it when you start going to sleep later and waking up later to keep track of him on his nightly journeys, when Alfred wakes you up in the morning with your usual breakfast, and when he finally, one day, calls on you to join him in his fight against crime.

"Robin," he says, "I need you with me."

And slowly, day by day, you keep your balance and don't fall into despair or self-hatred, and you make it out, until you're on solid ground again, or what feels like it. Day by day, you put on your mask and your costume and you roam the nights, fighting by his side, to avenge your parents, to avenge all the children in the world who have had their parents taken away from them. To prevent that from ever happening again.
talonkarrde: (Default)
This is an unfinished story, about a man who will never read these words.

It is a man who didn't have a home, a car, a job, or any one of the comforts that we enjoy and discard carelessly on a day to day basis, a man who walked and slept with the clothes on his back and a guitar in his hands. 

His name was John — or at least, that's what he claimed it was — and he had been busking — or panhandling, or flat out begging — for a few years now. He was dirty, and unkempt, and looked just like you'd expect him to look, just as you'd expect someone who had been out on the streets for months and not have easy access to a shower to look. His clothes were tattered, though at least they covered everything they should, and his beard was disgusting and matted and tangled.

And, of course, the smell, the same smell that hangs around your trash can and you can never get rid of, the same smell that you learn to associate with spoiled milk and rancid meat and decay. That was his smell.

It wasn't much of a first impression.

But then he'd open his mouth and sing a tune, and you'd forget about all of that, because he was good. Not that good, mind you, not good enough to make a living from it and sit in a fancy nightclub, crooning out the blues or covers of the hits, but good enough that you noticed, good enough that you'd take out the one earphone you had in to listen to him instead.

I must have walked past him ten, fifteen times in the station over the course of a few months without making eye contact, or smiling, or doing anything that acknowledged his existence. It's generally better that way, because then you don't have to say no to them directly when they ask you for change — though he never did, even when he was taking a break between songs and could've asked those who were just listening to spare some money.

But this night in particular, he was singing Hotel California, and doing a good job, too. I had nowhere to be in a hurry, so I stopped, leaned up against a wall, and simply stared at nothing in particular while he sang and strummed along. He was pretty good at the guitar, too, and I hummed along in my head, listening as the notes of the closing refrain drifted towards the ceiling.

He was smiling, and I felt obligated, after that, to give him something for his time. After all, he had just performed, and it felt like he was due something, so I stepped forward to give him a five. Not that much to me, but something that made that song worthwhile for him — might even mean his meal tonight, I figured, or at least a beer.

He thanked me and then asked me if I had anywhere to be. I honestly didn't, and I said so, and he asked if I'd mind listening to one of his original songs. Shrugging — and mentally preparing myself for the class of people who are better at copying than they are at creating — I said it'd be fine, and he launched into it.

This isn't a fairy tale: the song wasn't the most glorious thing I had ever heard, nor was it a sad, thoughtful reflection on the state of the world, or a rant about being left behind by society.  It was simply a small ditty about who he was, with a few good turns of phrase about his hometown (Portland) and a few jokes about current events in there. It couldn't have won a Grammy, even in a world where Taylor Swift does, but at the same time, it wasn't bad, and I enjoyed it.

That's where it started, I guess; I ended up asking him how he had gotten to San Francisco, and the entire story came out. He had lived in Portland for most of his life, and then had gone to college on his parents' money, going to a Univeristy of California school. He had stayed with it for four years, despite not being too interested in what he was doing, and ended up graduating, albeit with a somewhat low GPA.

His major? Computer science.


I'm pretty sure he saw the surprise in my eyes when he said it. He half-smiled, and shrugged, and said that coding was something that he was good at, just... not quite good enough, he finished, with the pause in the middle. He had held a few temp jobs, but they all ended up falling through, and finally decided to strike out instead of leeching off his parents, and after a few more temp positions, ended up where he was, wandering the city and playing for the money to get his next meal.

And for the life of me, all I could think about is how, if things had been slightly different, I could be in his spot — albeit, I suppose, with less talent in the vocal performance department. And the guitar-playing department. And probably the 'actually being able to live off the streets' skills department. In fact, I don't think I could make it half as well as he was.

I asked him — as I'm sure anyone who had ever heard his story before asked — whether he was still looking for jobs now, but he smiled that self-deprecating smile again and indicated his current state. "Not exactly what they look for," he said, and I could only agree. 

"Still..." I tried, and he pre-empted me, and assured me that he was still trying. In fact, he said, he was heading back to Portland soon, to follow up on a few leads his high school friends had there. He said that I had caught him at the perfect time, since he was due to leave next week, and that if he didn't show up there again, it meant that he had found a place to work. I gave him everything I had that night — only about $25 — and wished him the best — if he did come back, I said, I'd buy him a meal, at the least, while he caught me up on his travels.


It's been a month since then, and I haven't seen him back yet. I hope I don't, but if I do, I'll absolutely honor my word. Beyond that — well, this isn't a morality tale, and there are no easily taught lessons, I don't think. All I know is that I still think about how dumb luck can be the difference between a career and (at least) a few years on the streets. What if the job market was better? What if he tried a bit harder? What if his parents knew different people?

We always do the best we can with the cards that we're dealt, I suppose, and can only hope the cards aren't too bad.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Some of the best times in my life — and most certainly my writing career — from this competition, and so to have the privilege of entering it again is one that I can't pass up. I look forward to reading more and writing more, and I will wax no more poetic here, for I'm sure there's going to be more than enough of that in the weeks ahead. I might even post early, one of these days, just to break the pattern.

So to you, and you, and especially you — my name's Sean, and I'm rejoining The Real Livejournal Idol today. Let's see what worlds we can create, shall we?


talonkarrde: (Default)

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