Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Friday Morning

It’s Friday morning. That’s not nearly as succinct or accurate a description as it sounds. My Friday is not your Friday. Not necessarily. My forty-hour week is crammed into three days, the last of which is Friday, regardless of what calendar day it falls on. It’s also not necessarily morning. When you work nights whatever time you crawl out of bed, brain wobbling in the confused orange glow of mid-afternoon, that’s morning.

I take a shower, make some coffee and call my wife. Say what you will but I am quite simply lost at sea when she doesn’t answer. That isn’t to say I’m incapable of running the house in her absence. I’m the cook, the housekeeper, the gardener, shopper, unskilled laborer and arbiter of neighborhood disputes. I simply don’t care to start my day without first talking to her. Which is strange because when I call, her day is almost over. It’s after five and she’s worn down from solving petty disagreements, stomaching excuses and weathering an unending storm of accusations. In short, from straining under the burden managers the world over must carry. She’s tired from a long day and I’m fresh out of bed and ready to start mine. On days I work we are truly two ships passing in the night.

And it’s not just her. By the time I hop into my car the world is finished for the day, evidenced by the steadily increasing stream of cars heading in the opposite direction. They’re all going home for an evening of whatever it is they do and I’m still thinking about what to eat for breakfast. If nothing else, shift work teaches you the world is a window through which no two people will share the same view.

Of course, things are different on Monday. When you come in on Monday you’ve been gone from the place, washed it from your skin and returning is a shock to the system. On Monday the smell hits your nose like a jab and instantly triggers memories in a moment not at all unlike walking through the halls on the first day of school. By Friday that’s all gone and the smell is a part of you, your body coiled and ready to spring when the dispatch comes in. There is also, on Monday, a cleanliness. It’s in your boots, your clothes, your hands. Everything has been laundered and polished and left to rest. By Friday there will be dirt, mud, clay, flecks of blood, the grime of homeless shelters and back alleys, unswept dust from decrepit houses and the slight stickiness of the river of bodily fluids you have passed through in nursing homes, bathrooms and in the crowded din of countless trauma bays. You’ll scrub these stains. Wipe them off, hose them off, remove them from sight and yet they linger on. Imperceptible, perhaps, but present. And so when Friday is over and you’re done for the week, the stains follow you home only to be removed by the sandblaster that is time spent away from the siren.

By now my day is in full-swing. My partner and I are perfectly synched from spending two long shifts shoulder-to-shoulder wrestling drunks and carrying the large, naked and infirmed from their houses. We check-off the truck, fire up the engine and put ourselves in-service. The sky is slowly going dark blue and streetlights begin to flicker on. Somewhere out there our first patient of the night does not yet know they need an ambulance.

And maybe they don’t. Sometimes they call seeking advice, reassurance or even a quiet alternative to the city bus they typically ride. None of this may be proper in the strictest sense of when you should summon the service of an emergency ambulance but they are realities of the modern 911 system those of us who comprise it accept as fact.

At a gas station in a dangerous part of town I buy a bottle of water and am invited to cut in front of the long line of men waiting to buy lotto tickets. Outside my partner has the windows down and our radio works and the moon is slowly beginning to overtake the sun. It’s the perfect start to the night and, at the moment, all is quiet.

That won’t last. Tonight we will run non-stop. We will be spit at, argued with, vomited on and threatened. We will work the nightmare call we all know is out there yet never mention for fear of summoning it from the muck. Tonight we will sweat, our hearts pounding as our efforts fail and everything goes quickly to shit. Someone will die as we walk through the door and the family will blame our slow response. All hell will break loose in the ambulance and nothing will go according to plan and when we arrive at the hospital a doctor will shake his head, having no idea what we went through to achieve even the modest degree of order he has inherited. Later we will sit in the ambulance plagued with doubt, wondering how things could’ve gone better, wondering what our peers will say and what they might’ve done differently.

But right now we don’t know any of that. Right now all is good, the sky dark and peaceful. Right now it’s Friday morning.

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