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Thursday, July 7, 2011


When I was an EMT, sometimes, I would have accidents in the ambulance. And I don't mean that I would pee myself. The patients did that frequently enough, and they were always kind enough to do it on the stretcher, which was easily disinfected.

What I mean, of course, is that, when piloting the ambulance, sometimes I would hit things. They were always inanimate things, and I only did it three times in a year-and-a-half of employment. I don't know if that's a lot or a little, as compared to the average American emergency medical technician, but, for a guy who'd never previously driven anything larger than a Dodge Caravan and who had received a bogus Emergency Vehicle Operator's Certificate without ever having driven an actual ambulance, I think three minor accidents in seventeen months isn't bad.

The first accident I had was while pulling into a Sunoco gas station. It was the end of an eight hour shift that, due to a long-distance transport, had turned into a ten hour shift. I was exhausted, and I lovingly kissed a concrete barrier with the side of the truck. Actually, you could say that I Frenched it more than kissed it. The body damage on 251 was, you know, noticeable. And I had to take pictures of it with a little throw-away camera and fill out an accident report, replete with diagrams and the police were called. The officer took a look at the barrier and at the truck and drove away.

"You don't want this reported and put on your license anyway," he said to me. He was right. How did he know?

The second accident I had was while transporting a terminally ill patient to her luxurious home in my old neighborhood so she could die surrounded by her family and her collection of vases. I was extremely flustered because I knew the address, had been down the street hundreds of times growing up, but, for some reason, I could not find her house. And gently, almost imperceptibly, the ambulance drifted over to the right as I peered out of the driver's side window squinting for the right house number when there was a BOOM!

"Oh, fuck," I groaned softly, but loud enough, apparently, for my partner in the back to hear.

"You okay," he said, "just keep drivin', man."

I had swiped a big, white moving truck with the large, black plastic side-view mirror on the passenger side of the ambulance. An hour later, after we'd finally found the lady's house, we pulled into a vacant lot and I inspected the damage I had done to the rearview mirror. There was a large, undeniable white scuff all over the black plastic backing of the mirror.

"Well," I sighed, "there goes this week's paycheck." I picked up the radio mic.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa-- what are you doing?" my partner, an enormous African-American with a gap between his two front teeth the size of a block of cheese, asked.

"I damaged the truck, so I've got to let them know."

"Hold on, hold on, hold on," he said to me. He ran his fingers over his eight trouser pockets, and then across the breast pockets of his uniform shirt. He smiled and he un-Velcro'd his right breast pocket and pulled out a Sharpie marker.

"I keep this on me for emergencies, just like this," he said. He undid the cap and carefully colored over the white scuff mark until it was completely concealed. Even I had to admit it was a pretty good job. Undetectable from three-or-so feet.

"Wow," I said.

"No shit wow," he affirmed, replacing the cap on the marker, which he then presented to me. "Here," he said, grinning, "you're gonna need this. And let me tell you something-- you're gonna have a tough fuckin' time in this world if you let shit like this get you down, you know what I'm sayin'?"

I smiled dejectedly as I accepted the marker. I did know what he was saying.

Not only am I afflicted with an unquenchable desire to announce the wrongs I commit to the world, but I care so desperately about what people think of me, and wouldn't it be nice, I often think, if I didn't care so much. About that. About anything. About everything. And then I think-- but, if I didn't: who would I be?

Who would I be if I took a drink? Who would I be if I were sometimes late for things? Who would I be if I weren't as self-deprecating or as embarrassed or as uptight?

Would I be me?

When I was in college, and for a year afterwards, I worked at an optical store with an 80+-year-old guy named Jim. Jim came into work every day wearing the same shit he'd had on since Nixon was popular, and he was racist and homophobic and old fashioned and cantankerous, and he called women "Cupcake" and "Dolly" and he didn't know what types of glasses we carried or how much lenses cost, and he frequently made mistakes when cutting jobs, but I loved him. Jim was quaint and Catholic and he detested profanity, though he used it sometimes, and he had lots of catchphrases, but my favorite one was, "You know, I gotta tell you that, at my age, somebody doesn't like me or somethin' I think or say: I really don't shiv-a-git."

And every time I find myself freaking out about what someone else thinks of me, I try my best to remember my old friend Jim, and how he seemed to have mastered the ancient art of shiv-a-git-ness. It's an attitude that I seem only able to admire from a considerable distance, and I was reminded of that when I last crashed an ambulance as an EMT in 2007. We had just moved into a new base and I hadn't quite figured out the dimensions of the truck as compared to the new garage and, when bringing 402 out of the ambulance bay for the start of our shift, I ran the entire driver's side against the edge of the garage door opening, ripping off shards of the garage bay and damaging the right side of the roof of the ambulance. Four of my coworkers, and my partner, were watching and applauded. It was our first day at the new base.

"Hey, somebody's gotta have the first accident," my partner said as he climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door, "I'm glad it was you."

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