This is the start of a novel and this is the first draft of the first chapter.
She licked the white sticky cream off her fingers in what she quickly realized was going to be a losing battle. She turned the cone around and tried to capture a second stream melting ice cream before it could reach her fingers, but to no avail. Her partner, Otis Johnson, handed her a napkin. “That’s a losing cause if you haven’t figured it out.” He held up a clear plastic cup with ice cream mixed with chocolate syrup and nuts. “In this heat, this is the only way to go.”
Misty Thompson got up off the green metallic picnic table and walked over to the trash can and dropped the remainder of the cone into the black hole.
“You should have finished that.” Otis dipped the plastic spoon into the cup, scraping up the bottom, trying to capture that last lump of sweetness before getting up to discard the cup. “It looks like you could use another twenty pounds.”
“Well, that’s not very nice.” She told him.
“You’re right, but I’m your field training officer for the next six weeks so you better get used to some brutal honesty. Remember, my job is to teach you how to be a better EMT and I can only do that if I’m honest with you. We’re gonna end up in some bad situations and you’re gonna have to pull your weight, pun intended,” he’d made direct eye contact with her so she understood his truthfulness.
Misty had to admit, she probably could use a few more pounds added to her five foot seven frame. But four years of college, with side jobs along the way, kept her on the constant go eating when she could, which probably not enough.
Otis heard the crackle of the radio first. Misty still hadn’t trained her ear to always be on alert for the metallic voice of the dispatcher or for their bus number to be called. Misty hadn’t heard the term ‘bus’ used to describe the ambulance in any of her college classes. She guessed this is why the first bit of instruction Otis gave her was to forget everything she thought she learned and start paying attention, he was going to teach her how it really was.
Misty felt her pony tail, red and thick, slapping her shoulders as she ran towards the bus. Otis’s may think she was small for the job, but she enjoyed physical exertion and her Dad taught her the importance of staying in shape in a job like this.
She easily beat Otis to the bus and chided him about it when he opened the driver door just a few seconds behind her. The dispatcher’s voice filled the cab as she called their bus number and paused, waiting for the response. Misty picked up the microphone and acknowledged, waiting for the information she knew was coming. When it arrived, she looked at Otis.
“Swann Motel,” Otis confirmed. “Buckle up, your first ride is going to be the real deal.”
Even though the sun was high in the sky, the red rotating lights bounced off the buildings and the siren echoed ahead of them. From the passenger seat, Misty Thompson looked down at her hands, which were shaking. She realized her breathing had also changed, short and rapid. Her college professor told her she would experience this when it was no longer in the safety of training. The adrenaline dump or fight or flight response is what he’d called it. Her adrenal glands were dumping juice into her system to prepare her for what was to come. It felt great! More alive and focused, she decided.
She closed her eyes and focused on her Dad and forced her breathing to slow. She thought back to the time she five years old, one of her first memories really, she was in the back yard, enjoying the sun, frolicking in the lush green grass of their backyard, when she went to retrieve a ball from under the hedgerow that defined the yard. As she reached under the shrub, she felt the sting and pulled back quickly, tears coming fast as the scream escaped her throat. She turned towards the house for help and waited.
The back screen door opened immediately, but it wasn’t her Mom as she expected. It was her Dad rushing towards her, his arms open offering a safe haven. She ran into his arms as he began softly comforting her, first with his embrace, then with his soft soothing words.
A few minutes later, they sat on the steps of the porch as he explained what a bee was. She didn’t understand all that he said, but she understood the part about a stinger. She hoped she never saw a bee again!. She whimpered quietly in anticipation as he prepared to pour something called peroxide onto the sting, though he promised it wouldn’t hurt.
He was right.
He let her pick out her choice of bandaid. She chose Dora the Explorer and after putting it on, she climbed up into his lap. His military uniform felt crisp against her cheek. “When did you get home?” she asked.
“Just now, pumpkin. I missed you today and came looking for you.”
“I’m glad you found me.” She squeezed into him.
“Always.” He squeezed her back.
He smelled like … Dad … even better than waffles, she thought.
When Misty opened her eyes half a mile later her breathing had slowed, and she felt more in control of the anxiety that kept trying to take control of her.
Of course her first run as a new EMT would be a fight for someone’s life. She’d heard all these stories around the den how some guys didn’t even get their first serious call for months after first joining Quick Response Ambulatory Service. That’s what was expected in Trumbull Falls, Ohio. A broken bone here and there, a bump on the head from a fall, and the unavoidable car wrecks that were a staple for their existence, most minor in nature, sprinkled in with the transports of patients from smaller hospitals to larger ones with better, more specialized, care.
It didn’t even make sense to her that her first run would be to a cardiac arrest.
Otis liked to ride with the windows down. She didn’t understand why when air conditioning felt so much better. He was adamant though that when on a run, windows stayed down.
The further down the road they went though, the more she began to understand his reasoning. Even with the speed they were going, she could hear the traffic around them, the acceleration and deceleration of the engines, the occasional honk of a car - noises that could be an early warning for them.
On the down side though was the smell of the exhaust from the diesel truck they caught and passed. Misty felt the queasiness in her stomach begin as she struggled to keep the feeling of vomiting low in her throat.
Misty wasn’t exactly sure where the Swann Inn was, but knew it had to be out on Sam Nunn Boulevard where the rest of the hotels and motels, and most of the restaurants, were located. Trumbull Falls wasn’t a big town, not near as large as Feagin Mills anyway, which was just north of them but still within Kading County. It connected to Interstate 75 allowing transient travelers to provide a large amount of the town’s income as people went north or south.
Otis was weaving in an out of the traffic when he looked over and saw the anxiety on Misty’s face. He understood it and tried to settle her in before arriving. Poor kid, he thought, she had to pull this for her first run …
“You’re ready for this,” he shot her a boost of confidence. She gave him a slight nod and stared back forward.
The dispatcher came over the net with an update. Law enforcement was on scene, CPR was in progress, what was their estimated time of arrival, she wanted to know.
“Tell her two minutes,” Otis told Misty.
Misty felt the acceleration as Otis moved the pedal further towards the floor. As the speed of the ambulance increased, the buildings started to blur and the sounds meshed together becoming nothing to her but white noise.
“Get the hell out of the way!” Otis screamed at the windshield. An inattentive driver in a blue Mustang hung in front of them unable to make a decision as to what to do or where to go. Otis’ anger towards the other driver snapped her out of her reverie. You can do this girl, you got this, became her mantra for the remainder of the ride.
When she saw they turned off Sam Nunn Boulevard onto Valley Drive, she replaced the mantra and started going through her exit procedure preparing herself for the arrival.
The Swann was the third motel in line of the five set on the right side of the Valley Drive, which by design, paralleled I75 . It was a white two story motel in some need of a new coat of paint. In the front of the motel and slightly off center, stood a neon sign of a blue swan floating in a small neon oval, lit, even in the bright light of day. The parking lot was mostly empty.
Otis drove past the black Dodge Charger with the Kading County Sheriff’s Office emblem on the door, blue lights still rotating, when a skinny man in a blue baseball cap ran towards them grabbing their attention. As Otis brought the bus to a stop, the bald man was already in his window telling them they were needed on the second floor hallway.
Misty threw her door open before Otis brought it to its final destination near the middle main entrance and moved into action. The adrenaline hit harder now as she moved towards the back swinging doors! The uncontrolled quiver returned to her limbs and her heartbeat pounded in her ears. For just that second, she felt like she’d entered a dark tunnel as black circles closed in and she thought she may pass out.
She felt the squeeze on her shoulder as Otis spoke slowly and softly, like her Dad would have. “Relax, take a deep breath, you got this.”
Both her and Otis slid the gurney out of the back of the bus. Otis grabbed the defibrillator and threw it on top of the white sheet. Both were in motion, one pushing, one pulling the gurney, following the bald man who’d taken it upon himself to show them the way.
The last report they’d received through dispatch, most likely from the deputy on scene, was the victim was a large white male, in his fifties, unconscious, and not breathing … suspected cardiac episode.
Passing through the lobby, the gurney created a rhythmic sound as the wheels passed over the gaps in the gray tile. It was clean and populated with enough furniture to look business-like, but never used. They whisked past a small computer desk with a laptop on it, then the wooden rack containing all the attractions within a one hundred mile radius seemingly required in every hotel. A man with brown hair in a horrible comb-over was reading the daily national news from a television mounted high in the corner of the lobby. Misty saw an older Indian man, greying at the temples, behind the counter talking on the phone. As they passed through, he pointed his index finger upwards, not missing a beat in his phone conversation.
NY baseball cap guy beat them to the elevator and already had the up button illuminated for them. The bell chimed and Misty exhaled a deep breath as the sliding silver doors opened, allowing them entry and pushing her forward to what lie ahead.
Otis positioned himself in the elevator to lead them out. She studied him for a moment as they took the twenty-second ride up. Otis was a black man in his upper forties who obviously hit the gym everyday. She could tell by the way the hem on his short sleeves hugged his arms expanding the fabric to its limits. His grip on the metal frame brought whiteness in his knuckles. She realized even experience didn’t stave off the anticipation of the upcoming battle for a persons life.
Misty caught herself in the reflection of the silver box still humming upwards. The reflection she saw did not look like the confidence she hoped to convey. She reached up and smoothed the hair back on the sides of her head, then snugged the rubber band holding her ponytail in place. One more final deep breath, much like a fighter waiting for the starting bell. When the bell sounded, the sliding doors moved in slow motion.
Otis pulled her out of her temporary paralysis simply by pulling the gurney forward. In an instant, the apprehension, nerves, and hesitation melted away and her training took over. She believed, a lifetime with her Dad, four years of college and her EMT training prepared her for this.
It wasn’t near the carnage or chaos she expected. Three or four people stood blocking the hallway, standing still, just watching as people did at tragedies. “Excuse me folks.” Otis gave warning when they were still several feet away so their momentum would not be interrupted.
The last room number Misty passed on the second floor was 212. As the lookie-loos moved to clear their way, Misty got her first view of the scene. What the dispatcher described as a large man, immediately turned in to a very, very large man. He was on his back, though she doubted he fell that way; his bald head had beads of sweat populating it; his eyes half closed and focused on nothing; his jowls sagged down towards the floor, and his mouth hung open unnaturally. The red and white plaid shirt he wore clashed with the deep maroon carpeting with squiggly gold lines running through. It had been ripped open exposing his bare girth.
Misty abandoned the gurney and rushed the final steps to the side of the bald man. Yes, this was her first day and her first case, but she knew this man was in some serious trouble.
Curiosity came when she saw a puddle of water pooled in the hollow between the two pectoral muscles of the man’s chest, by definition anyway, the reality was they were man-boobs. She’d never seen that in any of her training for cardiac issues that she could recall.
Another drop collected in the pool with a small splash announcing its arrival. She reversed its path to the end of the deputies nose where another drop was ready to make its plunge.
The deputy was bathed in sweat. In her head she quickly did the math … he’d been the only one performing CPR from the time he’d arrived, to the time they got on scene, almost ten minutes. His sandy-blonde hair was soaked and matted to his head. His breathing was rapid and shallow, panting, as his body struggled to keep oxygen in his system allowing him to go on.
He didn’t have much room to work, and so he did the best thing he could do. He’d straddled the big man so both knees were on the sides. His upper body over the center chest, arms extended and locked, as he called out his compressions … “One, and two and three and …”
He didn’t seem to know they were there. His focus completely on his job as he fought hard for the man’s life. She wanted to watch just a moment longer, but when his gray; blue eyes finally met hers, she knew he needed help as well.
During her training, they had to do CPR alone for three minutes to pass that particular exam. At the one minute mark, she thought she’d run a mile. At the three minute mark, she knew she’d run a marathon. And she wasn’t wearing a bullet proof vest, or all that heavy gear that the deputy wore around his waist, that could only make what he was doing a hundred times harder.
Otis handed her a plastic breathing device as she moved to the side of the man’s head. “… And nine … and ten,” she heard the deputy say. With that, she squeezed the large green bulb forcing life into the man’s lungs. The deputy recognized what she was doing and paused allowing the lungs to fill, then deflate.
Their eyes met again as he waited for the second artificial breath to pass. A professional understanding passed between them as she saw relief wash over his face now that they were on scene to help. The look passed in a flash and was replaced with the determination to continue the battle. But she knew he was spent.
With confidence now, Misty moved to the side of the deputy and gave him a gentle nudge. He gave no argument and rolled off like a cowboy dismounting his horse. Because of her size, Misty was able to stay on the side of the bald man in the cramped hallway. She began her first set of compressions focusing on the depth of each compression as she counted them out.
A moment later, the elevator bell chimed and she heard the door slide open announcing the arrival of additional help, she hoped. Two fireman, one younger and one older, began jogging towards them. Each wore their fire pants and rubber boots, but only t-shirts under the suspenders holding it all together. “What can we do” the younger fireman asked?
“Ten more seconds and I’m ready with the defib.” Otis told them all. He was already placing the adhesive patches to deliver the shock in hopes of restarting the heart. Misty finished her round of chest compressions and checked for a pulse before giving Otis the go-ahead nod.
“Clear.” Otis issued the warning.
Misty backed off, hands visible so Otis could see she wasn’t engaged.
The electric jolt didn’t bring the massive man off the carpet, but Misty saw the movement of the chest and knew the voltage was delivered. Without waiting, she began her compressions. The younger fireman positioned himself above the man’s head and readied himself with the oxygen mask. As she reached her top number, she paused as he squeezed out the breaths.
Her back already started to ache from the position she was in. She concentrated on slowing her breathing fighting the tunnel vision that tried to come. She could see the cop was up now, standing several feet away talking with people who’d gathered in the hall, writing something in a small notebook. On the other side, the young fireman kneeled close, watching her work, waiting for her to tire and ready to take over when needed.
“Stand-by!” Otis called for the second time. “Clear.”
While Otis was positioning the paddles, making sure they were over the areas to do the most good, Misty thought she could hear children, but from where? The sounds of laughter and taunting of each other and the fun of the chase around the beds and through the room seeped out of the doorway in front of her. Room 214. How strange, she thought, that a man fights for his life and behind a closed door, not two feet away, with no knowledge or understanding of what was happening … children play, innocently and happily. Her dad said it many times, it was the way of the world.
“C’mon buddy!” Misty yelled as she backed off for the second time.
Otis delivered the last attempt with the defib. Seeing no change, he yelled, “We gotta go!”
Misty would later marvel at the orchestrated movements of everyone on scene. The older firemen was already moving the gurney as close as they could get it, the cop made sure everyone was moved well enough away before making himself available for the heavy lifting, and Otis quickly put their equipment away and readied the back board. The younger fireman, seeing her begin to struggle, had switched with her and was giving the compressions until the rest of the team was ready.
With the backboard in place, the five of them gave each other a look of hope that they would be able to get the man off the floor, especially since by-standers were still watching their every effort. Misty encouraged the troops by telling them they only had to come up enough to get him on the gurney, which was on its lowest setting. The problem was the hallway was not wide enough to get the gurney next to them. On this one, they would have to lift him far enough off the ground and carry him over the gurney until they could set him onto it.
Otis counted out and on three they all lifted together and was able to get the man safely onto the gurney.
Time now became the enemy! In the elevator, Otis kept the compressions up as best he could from the side of the gurney as they rushed the man out of the motel and into the sunlight. Misty saw no change in him, still they fought on.
The fireman caught up with them and helped them push the patient into and secure him in the back of the bus. Otis told Misty to drive, which honestly, she was grateful for. She thought she was ready for an incident like this, and felt she’d done okay, but she wouldn’t find out until Otis went over the event with her later as part of the training.
She was exhilarated, but at the same time … what? … Deflated maybe? She turned the key in the ignition and dropped the lever into drive. Reaching down and hitting the switches, the lights and siren came to life as she steered towards Trumbull Falls General Hospital.