Sometimes we did things different back in those days.
| Saving Melvin
Although our town is not very large we seem to have a disproportionate number of alcoholics who have come to call Riverton their home. In spite of their numbers, and because our town is small, the Police officers get to know most of the “Frequent Flyers” on a personal basis simply because we deal with each and every one of them on a regular basis.
Being an alcoholic street person, by any form of measurement, is a pretty tough life. Being an alcoholic street person in a small town in the middle of Wyoming with its severe winters and hot summers can be especially harsh and challenging. And such was the lot that had befallen Melvin by the time he was in his mid twenties.
Melvin was pretty much an alright guy as our regulars went. Usually he was okay when he was in his cups and he would come along peacefully, but sometimes you might catch him in a bad mood or when he felt like he wasn’t quite drunk enough to go to jail just yet. When that happened you were going to have a fight on your hands and so you always had to be on your toes when you dealt with him.
My first scuffle with Melvin occurred about two o’clock one frosty, February morning when I found him passed out and curled up in the alley behind Barquin's Bar. It was about ten degrees below zero and to my way of thinking it just wasn’t a very good idea to be sleeping outside wearing only Levis, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt. When I woke Melvin up to explain this to him I immediately found out that he was definitely not a morning person and the fight was on. In the end I persevered and got him to jail where we managed to thaw him out. The next morning he was apologetic about it all, as he often was when he sobered up after he had screwed up. As for me I had no trouble accepting his apology – it was all in a days’ work...
But the main reason that my memory of Melvin still stands out after all of these years centers around the night that he had his accident. I will elaborate:
It had been one of those warm august evenings. There was a fading red smudge slashed by thin ribbons of graying clouds in the western sky where the sun had gone down about an hour before, leaving it's heat behind to hang like a warm blanket over our little town. The local kids were out dragging Main, the boys flirting with the girls and the girls flirting right back as they revved their engines and honked at each other in the time honored fashion of the typical small American town.
I have no idea how much Melvin had had to drink that night but it’s probably safe to say that it was plenty. According to the witness’s that we interviewed later he had been staggering down the sidewalk in front of the Acme Theater when he had apparently taken it upon himself to cut across Main Street.
Now Melvin had never been very keen on traffic or pedestrian safety and that night was no exception. Forsaking the safety that was offered by the traffic light a half block up, he stepped out into the west bound traffic lanes from between two parked cars and immediately tripped over his own feet. He then fell full length into the street where a west bound red Ford Pinto piloted by a high school junior promptly ran squarely over his head.
And that’s where I come in.
We were running three one man cars that night and when we got the radio call of a vehicle versus pedestrian accident with injuries we all lit ‘em up and ran hot to the scene. As luck would have it I was the first to arrive on what proved to be a chaotic situation.
The kid that had run over Melvin was out of his car and understandably hysterical as several of his buddies were unsuccessfully trying to calm him down. There were a couple people kneeling by Melvin but I immediately noticed that none of them seemed to be doing anything.
As in all such situations an officers’ first priority is to tend to the injured and so, leaving the screaming kid for my backup officers to deal with, I went to Melvin.
To say that he was a mess would have been an understatement. If the car had been anything bigger than a little Ford Pinto it probably would have crushed his skull and killed him instantly. As it was the tire had slid off of his head and stripped off most of his scalp flipping it over and leaving it lying in a flap on the warm pavement next to his ear. As Melvin lay there he seemed to be oblivious to his situation and called out to me by name and immediately struck up an irrelevant conversation as I knelt by his side.
It probably only took me a few seconds to assess his situation before I started first aid. Not quite knowing what else to do I carefully lifted Melvin’s scalp up off of the pavement and slapped it back over his head where it belonged and then held it in place as I waited for the ambulance. This seemed to staunch the flow of blood and for the life of me I really couldn’t think of anything else to do.
The ambulance arrived within a few minutes and the two attendants hopped out and headed over to us with all of their EMT stuff. As I started to move away to give them room to work one of them stopped me in my tracks with a curt command.
“Don’t let go of him!” he barked, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and keep the pressure on while we check him out.”
I was getting paid by the hour and I had already messed up my uniform shirt and so it didn’t make any difference to me. So I did my best to hold Melvin’s head together like one of the King’s men from Humpty Dumpty while they did their EMT thing.
After a few minutes of poking and prodding they gave me the news.
“We need you to hang on to him for us while we transport him to the hospital.” I was told.
I was just a bit confused by this request. After all, they didn’t break up bar fights, I did. I didn’t haul people in the ambulance - they did. They had their job and I had mine.
They went on to explain, “We’re afraid that if you let go of him the bleeding will start back up and he’ll go into shock.”
“Shock? I ain’t shocked! Go ahead and plug me in. Ha, ha, ha!" Melvin babbled from where he lay on the pavement.
“What about my car?” I replied lamely, ignoring Melvin’s mirth. “I can’t just leave it sitting here in the middle of the street with it's lights flashing.”
“We already checked with Bob (my partner) and he said he’d get it up to the hospital for you. It’ll be there when you're ready to leave later on.”
It was pretty obvious that there wasn’t going to be any way out of taking a ride with Melvin to the hospital and so I finally nodded in agreement and then held on while they loaded him onto the gurney and trussed him up for the ride to the hospital.
A few minutes later, when we arrived at the hospital I remained at Melvin’s side, holding everything together as they wheeled him into the ER.
Once we were under the bright lights Melvin really seemed to come to life as he began singing “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” at the top of his lungs, pausing only momentarily to proposition the nurse, who politely refused his invitation.
After she was finished with her assessment she left and Doctor K... made his entrance. Now before I go any further I need to say a little about the Doc.
Doctor K... was the real deal. He had been a MASH doctor in Korea and really knew his stuff in the ER. In addition to that he had a sense of humor that meshed quite nicely with all of the emergency response people. The nurses, EMT’s, cops, firefighters, you name it, we all thought the world of the guy. Not only because he was good but because he was one of us.
“Ah, let’s see what we have here,” he said as he set himself down on a stainless steel wheeled stool and drifted over to Melvin’s side.
“How much have you had to drink tonight, Melvin?” he asked.
“Lots and lots and lots! Ha, ha, ha, ha!” Melvin boomed back.
“How do you feel? Where does it hurt?”
“My ass!” Melvin yelled, “I have this big pain in my ass! Ha, ha, ha, ha!”
“I don’t think we’re going to need any anesthetic tonight Melvin. You seem to be doing quite well with the massive dose of general anesthetic that you’ve already administered to yourself.”
“Whatever you say Doc! Ha, ha, ha, ha.”
“You can let go of him now.” he said, nodding to me. “But don’t go too far, I still might need you here.”
Slowly I released the pressure and lifted my hands away from the bloody mess that was Melvin’s scalp. My fingers had been starting to cramp and I was glad to give them a rest.
That was when Melvin noticed the cigarette with it’s long ash dangling from Doc’s lips.
“Hey, I want a cigarette! Can you give me a cigarette?”
“You can’t smoke in the ER.” Doc came back.
“Because of all the oxygen. If you try to smoke in here you’ll blow us all up.”
“But you’re smoking!” Melvin said, noticing the obvious, “How come you’re smoking?”
“Because I’m the Doctor.”
“Oh, okay.” Melvin replied.
With a deft movement the Doc flipped the scalp back off of his head to expose the clean pinkish white bone of his skull. Hardly missing a beat Melvin continued to sing and chatter happily as Doc began his work.
As it turned out my presence was indeed needed to hold Melvin down as Doc did his thing. There were several times when he tried to sit up on the gurney so as to be better able to engage us in conversation and a little gentle restraint here and there became necessary.
The entire procedure took about an hour and a half as Doc first cleaned out and sterilized the area and then started stitching everything back together.
About two thirds of the way through all of this Doc had some encouraging words for Melvin.
“Yeah, Melvin,” he said, “When I get you put back together we’re going to have you looking like a movie star.”
“A movie Star? Me? No, shit!” Melvin seemed quite happy with the news.
With a smile that seemed to light up the ER even brighter the Doc looked back over his shoulder at me and in his best Boris Karloff voice growled “Frankenstein!”
I will have to admit that that one statement ranks right up in the top of the funniest lines I have ever heard. Yeah, Doc K... was a good guy alright.
Altogether it took about two hundred and forty stitches to tack Melvin back together again but in the end he got finally got the job done.
Melvin’s accident was a good thirty years ago and to this day if you didn’t know it had happened you wouldn’t be able to tell. When the light hits him just right all you can see is a tiny thin white scar that runs from his hairline down the middle of his forehead where it makes a ninety degree right turn and disappears into his eyebrow. Yeah, Doc K... really knew his stuff!
As a bit of a by the way:
Melvin is still out on the street which in itself is a pretty good testimony of his toughness. But as time goes on and he gets older he's gotten grumpier and seems to like to fight with the officers more and more. One of the benefits for me however is that to this day Melvin firmly believes that I saved his life that night and so whenever I show up, he’ll stop fighting the other officers and start yelling my name at the top of his lungs. In response I will start yelling his name and together we will go merrily off to jail.