Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Emergency Responder Life

Brittany Courter
Being covered head to toe in blood and vomit to covering a simple scrape for a child with a band aid. Welcome to the life of a volunteer EMT. Some people may never understand how someone can dedicate an average of 40+ hours per week to a volunteer service. The rewarding feeling you get from helping someone in need and ensuring they are properly cared for is enough for most of us. Not every call is serious, not every call is easy, and some days you don’t even go on any calls at all! You never know what you’re going to get, that is for sure. There are a lot of different types of emergency calls you can get paged out to at any hour of the day or night. You might receive a trauma call, a real or completely innocent medical emergency call, the dreaded “repeat offender” call, or you could be asked to do a simple stand-by for an event. 

Trauma emergency calls are the ones that get most volunteers hearts racing as they respond. My very first call as an EMT, myself and 3 other volunteers responded to a one vehicle roll over. Volunteering in a small town you almost always know the unfortunate victims of the accidents you respond to. This one was just that. Imperial EMS unit 99A responds on scene to find a small mocha brown Isuzu SUV laying on its top. Glass, the contents of the back-hatch area, and debris from the vehicle could be seen from what seemed like a mile away. Everyone knew the vehicle in my unit; everyone knew who could potentially be driving this vehicle. 

There she lay in the grass covered in mud, globs of blood, and dripping in foul smelling sweat. Her left upper arm was distorted to resemble a crazy flexible bending straw you see kids use at birthday parties. You couldn’t see any of the features of her face anymore, the windshield kept those. The unequal rise and fall of her chest sent the feeling of urgency for transport through everyone’s mind immediately. She was packaged up carefully like all our training had taught and she was transported as fast as the governed ambulance would allow to the local hospital. Fortunately, our small-town ambulance crew and hospital staff were competent enough to keep her stable for the flight crew to take her off to a bigger facility. She lives to tell the story of her accident today with just a few scars to prove it true. Trauma calls are some of the most nerve racking and adrenaline filled experiences I have ever had in my life. Knowing I was a part of the reason this mother of three is still around is truly rewarding. Stories like this make the time worth giving. 

Then, there are the “repeat offenders” as we like to call them that make you wonder why you ever decided to volunteer your day. “This is what it felt like the last time I died, you guys have to help me!” frequent flyer number one screamed. You could hear these words repeat in your head from the last 2 calls you responded to for her this week alone. Well honey, the 6 empty red bull XL cans and empty handle of McCormick’s vodka is a real tell all sign of why you are “dying” again. 

When you look around her dim lit dollhouse sized space you can see the wrappers from candy bars and travel sized Frito Lay chip bags she has eaten the last month, they’re scattered all over like her whole floor is the trashcan. The ungroomed, horribly mannered puppy is peeing in the corner of the living room. She called the ambulance for herself for cardiac issues. Every time you arrive on scene to have her punch, scratch, and spit in your face for trying to help and secure her to the ambulance stretcher. You called us lady, YOU. This kind of call happens just as often as the ones that actually do need help and saving. Smile, talk to this grown drunken woman like a small child, and take her back to the hospital for the 3rd time this week… that’s all you can do. Self-induced medical “emergencies” at 3 am on a weeknight before you have to go to your actual paying job. Killer. This is just a part of the gig. You can dedicate 3 hours a night at least 2 nights a month to keeping up with training and new medical protocols, just to haul a loony off to the loony bin. 

The next type of call, the real medical emergencies, sometimes those calls can send the EMT into cardiac arrest themselves! “The patient is unresponsive and not breathing” is a statement you hate hearing over the pager at any point. A million things run through your head. Are they still alive? Is anyone administering CPR? Until you are on scene and in front of the patient you never truly know what to expect. You can arrive and find the patient DOA (dead on arrival). Like the welfare check called in by the daughter of the 39-year-old female, she was found literally melting over the space heater she had fallen on when the heart attack stopped her heart and took her life 2 days prior. That’s a smell you will never forget. 

Other medical emergencies you can find the “unresponsive patient” sitting there just perfectly fine wondering what all the fret is about. You train and train for those type of calls but they will never become a norm. Just know when a crew has that statement come across the pager we are hauling our butts to the ambulance as fast as we can and coming for you with the red and blues flashing and sirens blaring. We might rush in your home to simply wake you from a deep sleep your wife couldn’t wake you from, that happened. Poor old man was in the deepest sleep of his life perhaps, he woke to a house full of EMTs preparing to start resuscitation measures on him. Sorry man, your wife thought you were dead. Glad to see you are okay. Load up all your equipment and plod right back out to the ambulance; no transport necessary at this time. That doesn’t always happen though.

Another type of medical emergency call you might find yourself a part of is the patient that actually needs resuscitated. A middle-aged man who suffered a MI (heart attack) while outside working on the yard on a piping hot summer day was very lucky a vehicle passing by called it in. The driver just happened to be at the right place at the right time to watch him hit the ground and not get back up. EMS arrived on scene in time to start administering CPR, open and maintain his airway, and get transport to the hospital initiated to save his life. No brain damage or serious repercussions to follow. When your crew does resuscitate someone successfully, you feel like a true hero. 

Another type of call you can find an EMT apart of is a simple stand-by for a local event. Some Friday nights in the fall you could be found dedicating a few hours of your time to being on stand-by for the local high school football teams home game. You never know when one of those crazy teens is going to get knocked in the head just right and wind up needing transport to the ER. Honestly, in all my high school football game standby time I never actually had an incident occur that involved transport. Half the ice pack and ace bandage wrap supplies might get used during the night, but who really wants to see a kid get seriously hurt anyways? A gnarly grass burn needing cleaned and bandaged or a simple sprained wrist needing wrapped and iced. Being a ‘grade A’ first aid specialist is really all the stand-by events might entail. Just make sure to bring your school spirit along with you and enjoy the game! 

No matter how big or small the call may be or how disgusting the scene or situation. First responders are there to help and dedicate whatever time necessary to ensure whoever they are there to help is okay. You could leave a scene feeling like a superhero or just with another funny or crazily awkward story to tell. In the end, all the hours and time dedicated to volunteering for an EMS service is most definitely worth it. Just ask some of the people who are still here today because of them!

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Inconvenience Store

Sunnie Stephens

“Is they-uh any way I could... possibly... ya know... borrow a gallon or two of gas from ya guys?”

 I stared blankly at this man, trying to understand what exactly he was asking of me. First, I realize I have never seen him come through here before. He must be a traveler, visiting from out of state and just passing through. He stood there patiently, dark filth smeared all over his arms and face, black grime packed underneath every fingernail, and hair that could only be associated with someone who had just been electrically shocked, little tufts jutting out of every angle of his head.
Outside, the backseat of his Ford Taurus was filled to the roof with clothing and… furniture? This man must’ve had one hell of a day. His clothes matched the rest of him, very worn out and soiled. Although his appearance wasn’t up to par, his face still had a friendly aspect to it, like an old-family friend that hasn’t seen you since you were just a toddler. This gave me a sense of comfort. He didn’t seem creepy and harassing like other ancient men that come by this gas station. One of our regular creeps even had the guts to smack my ass with a plastic bag while my back was turned.

 His question once again rang throughout my head. He needs gas? He isn’t holding out any money for me to take… So he’s gotta be asking for free gas. Never had I expected to be put in a situation in which a beggar will actually come into Ag Valley and ask for gas. How do I even react in a situation like this? He seems to recognize these thoughts that are silently running a thousand miles an hour..

 “I don’t have no money right now. I need to make it a couple mo-ah miles east. I will make up for it tomorr-ah. I can prah-mise ya that.”

 I see one of my co-workers, Kaitlyn, who I can always rant about grouchy customers, standing behind him, cleaning aisles on the other side of the c-store. She seems to have overheard what this man has asked of me. Her heavily freckled face begins to scrunch up, lips bunched out of her face and eyes squinting, making a sour face about the situation. This is the gesture she normally gives me when shit hits the fan. What should I do? Cindy, my supervisor, would kill me if she sees a couple of dollars missing from the register. Hell, she flips when 50 cents comes up missing. She seems to be one of those types that have to have everything done in their specific way, but only with small things, such as the register or the food we serve. From that look on Kaitlyn’s face, I know she wants to have nothing to do with this man and his requests, not that she would offer to help anyway.
I wrack my brain on what I could do to help this man. I can’t let him to drive away with unpaid gas. No one else in line is offering to cover the five dollars he needs to pay for the gas. If I tell him that I can’t help him, he will hang around the store for the rest of the day, continuing to guilt trip me until I close the c-store and head home for the night. If I lend him money, how do I know that he will pay me back. I have never met, much less actually seen, this man before; based off his appearance, I wouldn’t doubt he is living out of his little junked Ford. He did mention he would pay us back by tomorrow, though. Paying for his gas seems to be the only logical solution, but the only thing I could base my decision off of was his word. My hands drift to my back pocket, and a realization hits me. I didn’t bring my wallet to work today; I don’t have any money on me. “Well, shit.”

I begin looking around the register for alternate ways to cover the cost of a gallon of gas. Our styrofoam cup the employees use for extra change is almost completely empty. Kaitlyn must’ve used it to buy herself a Gatorade. Damn girl. The money is supposed to be used for customer, not the employees.

Then my eyes catch on our employee charges sheet. I could let this man pull money out of my next paycheck in order to pay for the gas he needs. As I walk him through the process of charging my account, I begin to realize that there is no way I am getting this money back. He most likely lives out of his car, he can’t keep a clean appearance, and he may not even have a job. From what I’ve seen, I lose all hope in getting my hard-earned five bucks back.

I reassure myself that I am doing a good thing for this man; I am completing a good deed for the day. After the transaction is finished, he leaves and quickly fills his car. During this situation, tons of customers had lined up after the grungy man, and I am too busy to notice him drive off. Once the line shortens, Kaitlyn walks up to me with the audacity to say, “ I hope you realize you’re never getting that money back.”

As I begin work the next day, I find out that Cindy had noticed that I only pulled five bucks out of my paycheck for some gas. She was making snide remarks to all my coworkers. “God, how stingy can a person be?”

She finally confronted me about it. “So, I just have to ask: why did you only put five dollars in gas? And from your next paycheck as well? That’s a lot of paperwork for such a small amount of money.”

 She was a short, self-conceited fireball who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her sporadic curly hair provided a perfect example of her unorganized personality. She looked at me with a snide smile plastered across her face. When I told her the reasoning behind the five dollars, I physically saw the pert melt off her face. “I can’t believe I have someone that generous working for my company.” This comment helped fuel my beliefs that I did something good for someone. I didn’t expect him to pay me back, based on the circumstances, and I didn’t necessarily feel the need for him to pay me back anymore.

The day passed on slowly, as any work day does. No one mentioned a man coming in, and leaving money behind. Slowly my thoughts drifted towards my coworkers. They were the type of people that would steal the money that was left for someone else. I mean, the man never even asked for my name; anyone could’ve said the money was for themselves. Knowing Kaitlyn, she would take that five to spend on whatever the hell she pleases, even though she was there for the whole event. She’s the type that would do anything for her own benefit, but rat out anyone else for doing the same thing.

About a week had passed before anyone brought up the situation again. I walked into Ag Valley, and before I could even clock in, my eyes drifted towards a sticky note with something else attached to it. “Oh great,” I thought, “Someone left a huge order to make before the kitchen closes.”  I continued to clock in and prep the kitchen before even looking at what was written. Once I felt prepared to start my shift, I took a closer look at the sticky note and noticed a five dollar bill was attached to it.

The words on it filled my heart with the same warmth as watching someone with stage fright finally show off their skills: “Sunnie - a guy left this for you, said he owed you for gas :)”

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Artwork by Kenzie Kollars

 Cabin in the Woods (watercolor)

 PrettyMuch (graphite)

Purple Rain (acrylic)

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Power of Water

ReAnna Pierce

Vibrations pulse through my hand, my grip begins to sweat making my grip on the royal purple hair dryer more difficult. The warmth from the forced air grazes my legs as I kneel on the soft gunmetal gray standard hotel carpet. My back is propped against the cherry varnished wood of the king-sized sleigh bed. The tired feeling begins to overwhelm my wrist as it frantically tries to aid the small cell phone that lay in pieces on the plush, ivory towel; the device may be beyond resurrection.

I feel the weight shift in the floor next to me notice a presence standing over me, I look up reluctantly…

“I’m so sorry dad.”

“What in the.. ahhhh, damn it ReAnna!!”

“I think if it sits out for a bit and dries it will still work.”

“No!! It won’t its fucked!!! This was my only way for work, for grandpa, everyone… Damn It!!!”
I feel the shame flush my cheeks and my eyes begin to melt. Disappointment in his voice sent a grappling hook through my heart. 

Watery bloodshot swirled his eyes, limbs look to be made of gelatin, the childish way that he protrudes his bottom lip, and compromised balance. He stumbled as he knelt down and picked up the separated pieces of his phone.  I repositioned myself away from him and decided to brace myself against the matching bed set side table; drawer handles stung as I pressed my lower back against them. My father’s condition was unsettling, never had I witnessed him this upset while being this hammered.

My father glares at his hands, eyes wide and bloodshot, his naturally shaped eyebrows firmly pressed against each other; creating a triangular lump above his nose, lips wound tight against his face, they open to reveal his yellowed smoke-stained teeth clenched tightly. His hands ball around the remains and he hurls one piece in my direction. It bounces from the mattress then behind the embellished headboard. The left-handed piece closely follows, and it manages to contact the furnished piece behind me, just above my right ear. If I hadn’t flinched…  Feelings of shock and fear flood my body with adrenaline and I scurry into the bathroom only a few feet away from me. In all one motion I shove the door and fumble with the brass knob till it locks.  The beige tile is cold as I crawl to the furthest corner of the master bath, when I reach the hard surface of the wall and counter I slink my body to the floor, my head barely misses the toilet stool, and I curl myself into the tightest ball. The fragrance of the often-laundered bath mat, bleach, and toilet bowl freshener graze my nose, my bare skin stings with each breath and sob as it unsticks from the shiny tile. 

The white door begins to shudder as my father rattles it with his fists. My entire body tightens, and I scream. 

“Dad Please Stop!!!!”

“ReAnna quite being such a drama queen and get your ass out here!!!”

“HELL NO!!!”

“Get out here ReAnna Lee, we need to go.”

Go? Go where? I thought. 

“I’m not going anywhere with you!!”

“Yes you are, lets go!”

His voice is so distorted by the door and by his drunk fury, I am just frozen by shock… Who was this? This wasn’t my daddy, it couldn’t be. The thought of him breaking down the door and dragging me out like a Freddy Krueger film frightens me enough to leave the safety of the latrine. Luckily my father is in the common area arguing with his roommates, and I have some privacy to change out of my bathing suit. I choose a pair of blue silk pajama pants decorated with cows jumping over moons and a teal colored tank top. I finish dressing and my father stammers back into our bedroom.

“Come on,” he says.

“Where are we going?”

“Away from these losers.” 

As we pass through the apartment I hear the screaming of the drunk couple we had been residing with. Women’s clothing litters the common area and hallway, the girlfriend of my father’s roommate had been a crazed lunatic while she was ‘looking after’ me. Crashing sounds of furniture into walls and shattering glass come from their bedroom. 

“You rotten bitch!!!” exclaims the man.

“Screw you!!! I hate you!!” the woman screams.

I make haste past their chaotic threshold and out the front door behind my father. 

I take my place beside him in the small sleek elevator, and he decides to use the reflection to make a few adjustments. Using both hands to even out the waves of his hair, soft and sleek riddled with shades of grey, silver, and a few remains of black. His complexion is ageless, a milk chocolate color, salt and pepper stubble frames his chin and a full clean mustache covers his upper lip. As I observe his refection I am haunted by the memory of the anger that he displayed only moments ago, I choose to avert my attention to refrain from breaking into tears again. He manages to “collect himself” when the elevator reaches the ground level of the complex.

An unspoken agreement had been made to not speak to one another. Although, my curiosity became aroused when we left the grounds on foot and begin down the street towards the tall skyscrapers. 

Where in the world is he taking me? Roars from the nearby freeway break our silence slightly, the sound of my flip flops trying to keep up. My body begins to feel fatigued and I feel reluctant to be walking around after midnight in the business district of Dallas. The lack of human activity is unsettling, mysterious dark alleyways, random shreds of paper that blow past with the warm breeze. Street lights are scarce and make it difficult to see, I grew up fearing that someone would come up and snatch me, this seemed to be the ideal place to do it.  

We walk for about five blocks before I notice signs of life, I began to hear the loud voices of other intoxicated people, the glow of blue, green, and pink neon lights that finally broke the darkness, scents of rancid beer and urine, a large sign above the entrance ‘Longhorns’. A BAR!!! I was in disbelief as I followed him through the entrance, other occupants were to inebriate to notice my presence, but one person took notice of my presence. Behind the bar; the beautiful bartender met my gaze, her eyebrows rose in surprise, then shot a quiver full of arrows at my father. Her hair was a golden blonde, perfectly supported breasts, almond shaped emerald eyes, and the small embroidered name ‘Crystal’ on her shirt. My father quickly defended my presence by explaining the uncomfortable situation with the roommates.

“I don’t want my daughter to be around all of that shit.”

She decides to accommodate my father with a beer and allows me to stay.

My father proceeded to flirted with the attractive bartender as I sat on the sticky barstool, arms folded over the lacquered wooden bar top and cradled my weary head. My father felt the need to get my attention and point out that he had donated one of his pieces to the collage of western themed decor. Hung high from the vaulted wood slated ceiling was a jean vest that I recognized, my father had airbrushed a steer’s skull on the back. He was always using his art to attract women. Finally, I asked to go outside and get some air. He was to enthralled in conversation with the woman to question my well-being.  

The cast-iron chairs sat next to the small cobble stone framed stream, surrounding buildings cast shadows like glass giants, but they allowed the moon to dance with the water while it waited for the sun. The cool seat was welcomed after being so hot all day, and the moments of silence that I shared with the darkness allowed me to reflect on the events of the day. I was exhausted, emotionally tormented, heartbroken, and perplexed by all that had happened. To think that this all started with a phone call to my mother…. 

“I’m staying with my dad!”

“What!!! No, you are not!!” My mother stated.

“I’m sixteen, I am old enough to choose who I live with!”

“Fine ReAnna! Never call here again. You are dead to me.”

My mind began to torture me, … What have I done?... I wished that I could call her; but I knew that she wouldn’t answer… This is what I wanted; freedom, privilege, responsibility, reality, pain, fear, the “real world” … The first smack from reality, my father wasn’t a superhero, my mother shared no resemblance with a wicked witch, and I sure as hell was no princess. 

“Time to grow the FUCK UP!!” I said to myself.