t was Thanksgiving when it happened to us. Holidays are holidays. You want to see a busy E.R., visit one on the Fourth of July or Easter. Festivities spell injuries. Fireworks blow up in hands; people choke on white-chocolate eggs.
Thanksgiving night we’ve dubbed as Code-3 Black Thursday. We call it Lights-and-Sirens X-giving. People overeat to the point that their hearts burst. They argue with uncles to the point that their cerebrovascular everythings burst. They Elvis Presley themselves to death. Elvis “stimulated his vagus nerve by pushing so hard attempting to go to the bathroom that he died.” Or at least that’s what my EMT instructor said back in the day. It’s the same death as Martin Luther, king of the 95 Theses, who also apparently died pooping.
Thanksgiving is filled with toilet deaths.
This was 2002. North Detroit, the opposite setting of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
It was post-911. Death was in the air, rigor mortis in the oxygen, postmortem lividity in the nitrogen.
They sent me on a code 3 to south Flint.
It was so north it wasn’t Detroit, so south it wasn’t Flint. We were in the ugly tangle of trees and road between the two murder capitals. This was for a gunshot victim who was having a heart attack. He actually had a heart attack because he was yelling so furiously at his brother who then shot him before the Thanksgiving meal. The patient wasn’t speaking at the time, but on-scene an aunt told us that the patient’s biggest concern was that he was going to miss the food. He was going to miss the food . . . and possibly all food for the rest of his life. Unless we could get him to Flint asap.
The city’s actually called Flint. Etymologically, the name comes from the type of rock that gives off sparks when you strike it. The same effect you get when shooting at a rock. And I’ve shot at rocks before. I’m from Michigan. Or, as we call it, Militia-men. It’s a gun state. But every state in America is a gun state, except maybe Hawaii. America’s even shaped like a big fat gun. Florida’s the trigger. The big fat trigger.
I grew in the U.P. of Michigan, which also looks like an obese gun, with Menominee County as the trigger.
What’s critical about you knowing I’m from the U.P. is that I grew up in constant blizzards. We had a blizzard on my birthday once. And my birthday is in late May. We’ve had snow in June. So I’m good at driving on ice, which is what we were driving on.
I grew up in Christmas, Michigan. It’s a town that really has nothing in it except gambling. Because, of course, Jesus played craps.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, only trying to save somebody’s freaking life. Or at least drive them as fast as possible to a bad Flint hospital with a doctor who makes so much per year that she actually owns a rainbow color-changing lighted showerhead, a Harry Potter wand television remote control, and the complete First Folio replica of Shakespeare translated into Klingon. The problem is I got hit by another ambulance.
This is a true story.
I got hit from behind, which makes no sense. Unless you realize that Michigan EMTs are paid minimum wage and have only gone through two or three months of “school” where the instructors tend to give you all of the answers before you take the test. So it’s a miracle that ambulances aren’t slamming into fast food-style banks and gargoyle libraries and jail-like schools on a daily basis.
They were also going code 3, but they decided they would break the law while doing it, not realizing, of course, that there are laws for ambulance driving. The cops later would tell me that they estimated the ambulance to be going eighty miles per hour, carrying a person with low blood pressure who was asleep, but they were suddenly woken by metal hitting metal.
The ambulance behind me managed to flip upside down, so that the patient—who was locked into her gurney—found that she was hanging from the ceiling, having been strapped in like Hannibal Lecter.
But this isn’t about them; this is about us.
I kept driving to the hospital.
What else was I going to do? Stay there waiting for the police to come and have my patient die?
I called 911.
It’s not an easy call to make, being an ambulance driver and calling 911 and then telling 911 that you want EMTs to come save the lives of some EMTs. It took a lot of convincing on my part.
The brilliant part is that when they hit me, it sort of pushed me even faster to where we were going in the first place. It was like a hurricane gust of wind saying, “Get there even quicker, you minimum-wage bastard.” So I did.
Here’s what’s even more interesting. The accident actually caused our patient to slip out of defib. Being hit by ten thousand pounds tends to shock you out of whatever state you were previously in.
I know I crapped myself. I rouletted myself. I pokered myself. I mean, we were going sixty miles per hour, but I didn’t have the luck of seeing it coming. Not like them. Although they also swerved last moment, which helped to make them rollover. Sometimes it’s better not to know what’s coming.
Which reminds me. We forgot to call the E.R. to tell them we were coming. You’re supposed to file an en-route report where you give all of the patient’s vital signs, but we were so out of sorts from the crash that we forgot, so when we pulled in with our back all bashed up, the nurses just stood there shaking their heads.
I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a medal or get fired from the whole experience. What happened was what usually happens in this life. Nothing. I had a few coworkers ask me about the incident, but they did the EMT thing where they tried to look bored even when I told them the most shocking of details.
It would end there but I made the mistake of telling a comedian friend of mine about everything that happened. We used to do open mics in Chicago when I was in high school. We’d drive to Illinois and do the ones that weren’t at bars. Chicago has so many open mics that you can find them in Laundromats and coffee shops and rehab centers. Not kidding.
That would have been fine, but it was on Christmas Eve when I was watching some Youtube videos of stand up that I came across my friend performing at a fairly famous Los Angeles club and his set was unfunny for the most part, about finding out his wife had an arson felony in her background and about going skydiving with a prostitute. Maybe it would have been funnier if I didn’t know the non-fiction of both of those events, the humiliation his wife felt and the way the prostitute’s boobs blinded her when she was free-falling at a hundred twenty miles per hour. The audience wasn’t laughing either. My friend was dying on Christmas, in the comedy way. But then he started to tell my story. My story. As if he was the ambulance driver. When he’s never even had a job in his life other than comedy, because his father is a big-time Grand Rapids ophthalmologist who paid for all of his improv courses and set him up in a Burbank apartment with a goddamn garden. It’s hard to listen to your life being told for laughs on Christmas Eve when you’re alone in your parents’ basement and can’t afford to buy anyone presents. I listened to him batter the microphone to represent the ambulance smacking into the back of his ambulance and it was like PTSD kicked in. The laughs were huge, but I thought I was going to swallow my own tongue. It felt like I was on fire. I actually, for the first time in my entire life, considered suicide. It was too embarrassing to live through this again in front of six thousand Youtube viewers. I felt used, as if his fame was based on stealing my horrors. But—and this is true—I didn’t kill myself because it was Christmas. I mean, it was actually Christmas Eve, but it was only an hour until Christmas and I knew I couldn’t kill myself in less than an hour and then Christmas would be here and I wasn’t going to become a holiday statistic.
Then I fell asleep and when I woke up Santa had come and I got a freaking brand new PC, which almost made me faint; it made me realize there was a God. Fainting and realizing there’s a God go hand-in-hand, like prayer. And I was glad the patients both lived and my friend was becoming a celebrity and maybe I was going to have a few good things in my future too. So when my family started singing Christmas carols like they always do in front of the anorexic used-every-year fake grey Christmas tree, I actually for the first time ever joined in with them and it felt like I was blowing halos in the air with my words, like I was changing into someone almost good too.