"TRIAGE"

image

That afternoon an old man collapsed on the stairs outside his brownstone. He lived in a neighborhood dubbed “Little Estonia,” where the streets intertwined and often failed to appear on GPS devices. Before losing consciousness he dug his phone from his sweatpants pocket and dialed 911, requesting help at 260 Ruby Street. An ambulance was sent.

*****

Arthur Rambam only drove the ambulances. Except for a nearly expired first aid certificate, he had no medical qualification and was strongly discouraged from handling the bodies. His one responsibility was to get the vehicle and crew to the victim.

He said: “All I’m saying is, is if you teleport us back to the Renaissance…”

“Artie.”

“…put us each on a Jet Ski with a shotgun, a rifle, maybe one guy gets a bazooka…”

“Shut up, you’ll miss the turn.”

“…me and a dozen of my VFW buds, armed, on Jet Skis, could take out the entire Spanish Armada, lickety-split.”

“You missed it, Artie. Turn around,” said the paramedic from the passenger’s seat, a hand smushing half his face.

The men could’ve simply asked the dispatcher for specific directions to 260 Ruby Street, where an old man lay clutching his heart, but the paramedic wouldn’t allow it. If he asked for help, the higher-ups would view it as a sign of inadequacy. He had to find the address himself.

Throughout five years on the job he had encountered endless scenes of pain, gore, loss, dismay. Naturally, he picked up an ugly drinking habit. Soon his work performance plunged and he found himself perpetually on the brink of being fired. If they didn’t find this old man at 260 Ruby, he’d most certainly lose his job.

Inside the glove compartment the paramedic found a city map. He unfolded it until it obstructed his half of the windshield. Now if only Rambam would shut up.

But Rambam would not shut up.

When the paramedic turned to punch Rambam’s arm, the map fluttered, blocking the driver’s side of the windshield. Rambam hit the brakes but the ambulance struck something before coming to a complete halt.On the pavement, right below the ambulance bumper, an unconscious old man rested alongside the groceries he had been carrying. Rambam sat very upright at the wheel whispering “oh god” over and over as the paramedic got out to examine the victim.

It wasn’t until the backdoors slammed shut that Rambam moved again. His head jerked around to see the old man on a stretcher, wires and tubes sprouting from his motionless body. The paramedic climbed back into the passenger’s seat and signaled “Go” with two fingers pointed forward.

“H-hey,” Rambam stammered. “This ain’t the guy. We can’t-“

“Is this man not banged up? Is there not blood coming down his face? Does he not need medical help?” The paramedic flicked on the siren. “He’ll do, Artie.”

Rambam’s eyes got soggy. He turned the key, “Yeah, okay. He’ll do.”

At the hospital the old man came to. He couldn’t remember calling 911 or how he lost consciousness. Mild memory loss, they called it. While bandaging the head the doctor discovered a lump on the back of the patient’s neck. A medical staff assembled and removed the mass, which could’ve posed minor problems to the spine had it grown large enough. Hours later the old man returned home good as new.

The doctor praised the ambulance crew’s grace under such duress. To celebrate, the two colleagues decided to grab drinks. At the bar, Rambam prattled on about hypothetically winning the Battle of Hastings with only one M18 Hellcat and ten well-placed landmines. The paramedic said little but listened with a smile. He drank just one beer the entire night, sipping slowly and enjoying flavors he had never before noticed.