I had a ’68 VW bug, once. It was savannah beige, a sweet little car with a three-speed transmission and an “automatic stick shift,” which was actually semiautomatic. There was no clutch pedal; to switch gears, you simply touched the floor-mounted gear shift lever. That caused an electrically operated servo to disengage the gears in the transaxle so you could select the one you wanted. It was pretty slick.
I loved that car. Bought it used for $1,695 with a MasterCharge card that came in the mail one day, not long after I signed up for my first job as an “ambulance attendant.” I kept it clean and waxed. Twelve years later, after it took me through EMT school, P school and a B.A., I traded it in for something else.
I’ve often imagined the poor thing melted and squashed into spoons, and lamented that maybe I should have kept ‘er. She’d be worth a small fortune today. But working full-time and going to school, most of us can barely manage one car. And that car’s function has to be daily transportation, not the long-term appreciation of value.
Now, quietly savoring the aroma of this coffee, I find myself processing the loss of another old friend. This one was human, longer-lived and far more valuable than any car. A few Saturdays ago, probably making other plans, he just sort of woke up and took the Big Vacation. And in the brief span of that moment, he was gone.
Sadly, in recent years, we hadn’t talked much or seen each other at all. We both had deadlines to meet: paying taxes, writing articles, publishing books, teaching and tending our careers. I’m sure we both felt beset by the day-to-day busyness of our lives as we postponed some things we always figured would be there in the morning, or the following Monday. Or, the day after that. It’s how life is.
I’m sure I have more friends than anyone, Life-Saver. After all, there’s you. Thousands of you, in towns all over the world. Writing to you every month for these 30-some years has been a source of joy for me. It’s felt like I could tell you anything. We talked about the passing of another old friend named Grady, a border collie who shared my life. We talked about Airway, my negative-minded EMS goat. (All he ever said was Naaa-ah-ah!) We talked about ways to use a nasal cannula as a restraint device for little old ladies, an IV hanger, an irrigator for the eyes and a tether for an O2 wrench. We discussed a hundred safe ways to recognize and cope with violent people. To adapt a Hare Traction Splint for bilateral femur fractures, and use a good Littmann stethescope to tamponade the neck veins for external jugular IVs. (That was the first Tricks installment, in 1980.) A gazillion ways to assess sick people. And a gazillion more, to maintain our balance in a world gone wild.
It seemed you felt you could tell me anything, too, in your phone calls, emails and letters. We discussed the technical problems you were facing, the unenlightened people who seemed bent on making your efforts seem so mundane and meaningless, and the relationships you were struggling so hard to shield from the hazards of your schedule. Sometimes you said I must be out of my mind to suggest some of the goofy ideas I proposed. I hope I always welcomed your feedback, warmly and openly, in the manner of a friend.
Now it’s time for me to move on. There’s another old friend, the one I love most. Time to sit with her in the back yard, fix the gate, smell her beautiful roses and engage in long-postponed conversations. I want to make her my schedule—travel some, savor the thousands of photos we’ve hidden in our basement, and reflect on the journey we’ve shared for 45 years. At long last, I want to be sure she knows that no matter how much I loved being a medic, I always loved her more than anything.
I’m not going anywhere. Someone brighter than I am will produce a column better and much more important than this one. I still like to write, and maybe I’ll get some things published. In case you get to the Denver area, Brighton’s right next to the airport. I’d love to see you, up close and personal.
We can talk about the old days, and you can tell me about this important work of yours.