Soul Callus

0600, only a few minutes from shift change. It's been a long night, and we're finally getting around to washing the rig and completing station duties when the call comes in, "Cardiac arrest."

Betty Rubble's demeanor vacillates between excited and pissed off. That first part comes from the natural adrenaline rush that accompanies true emergency calls, where speed and skill really do matter. All rookies get that rush. The second part comes from the realization that we're going to get off shift late, yet again, and we wonder why it's always our truck that gets fucked with the late calls.

That second part, she gets from me.

"It's a 'woke up dead' call," I tell her tiredly, attempting to rein in some of that enthusiasm.

Or perhaps quash it, I can't really tell anymore.

She looks at me questioningly, and I explain. "It's 0600. Somebody just woke up and found their family member dead. Likely as not, they've been dead a while, and all we're going to do is pronounce it."

En route to the scene, the data temrinal flashes new call info, "Law enforcement officers on scene, CPR not in progress."

"See what I mean?" I tell her, pointing to the screen. "Cops aren't even doing CPR. Probably rigored up and everything. All we'll do is gather information and run an asystole strip for the coroner, maybe explain the situation to the family. We'll be done in ten minutes."

And as we pull up to the high rise, I see a body crumpled on the lawn, and crime scene tape being strung around the scene. Officers are staring up at an open fifth floor window, lighter than the others around it because this one is missing its screen. Relief floods me as I realize, "Oh great, it's a suicide. Crime scene – even less paperwork for us."

I say as much to Betty Rubble.

She looks at me questioningly, and I point my flashlight up to the open window. "Somebody took the Nestea plunge out their window. Cops aren't gonna want us in there contaminating their scene. We can clear from this as 'no patient found'. No paperwork at all."

Still, I think it prudent that I examine the body, at least, perhaps check a pulse. I tell Betty Rubble to stay outside the tape to limit scene contamination, and carefully approach the victim. From ten feet away, the misshapen body and livor mortis tell me he's far beyond resuscitation. I check a pulse, feel the coldness of his skin, and back away.

Outside the scene tape, the crew from the backup unit is chatting idly with Betty Rubble. Nearby, a cop's radio crackles, "Door was unlocked, found the suicide note on his bathroom counter."

"Wonder what it said?" muses the medic from our backup crew.

"I dunno," I speculate. "Maybe 'Goodbye, cruel world?' Or perhaps, 'If my calculations are correct, these wings should provide me with just enough lift to…'"

Everyone within earshot dissolves into fits of laughter, and I grin.

And then I look up to see the faces staring down at us from other windows, and my grin fades in a wash of shame.

And I ask myself what sort of example I'm setting for Betty Rubble, and the answer is all the more shaming.

"Come on," I say brusquely, "let's go before we catch another call."

On the way back to the station, I stare out the window and wonder when the hell I lost my humanity, and why I didn't miss it when it left.