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Walk It Off

The umpire yelling ˙Time!Ó hadn't even been heard on the infield before a small group of players had gathered around their fallen comrade. ˙Player down on field number 12,Ó our radio crackled.

Figures,I thought, as the snack-bar server handed me my first standby meal of the day. (Note to self: Never smother your dog with chili cheese, as it makes for awkward ingestion while en route to your patient.)

On our arrival, sideline parents, fans, players and a wandering Irish Setter all pointed in perfect synchronized precision toward the patientƒjust in case we couldn't distinguish the healthy, upright players from the kid lying on the grass writhing in pain.

Surveying the scene for potential hazards, I noticed oneƒstanding halfway between us and the wounded warrior. ˙Coach at 12 o'clock, partner,Ó I whispered. There he stood with his legs slightly straddled and his hands on his hips like a gunfighter at high noon, except that one of those hands held a clipboard and not a gun.

˙It's just a sprain,Ó the coach with gleaming shades said, while simultaneously taking a wedged pencil from between his ear and temporal skull to place it between his teeth. ˙Shake it off, Billy!Ó the brim-lowered baseball-capped man growled, while tilting his head toward his hurt player, but never actually taking his eyes off us.

Undaunted, we moved toward our objective. Within five yards of making patient contact, I was already reaching for my splinting and bandaging gear, as it was visually clear this kid wasn't going to walk it off.

˙He needs to walk it off. Just put some duct tape on it,Ó I heard the coach say over my shoulder.Hmmmmm,I thought.The coach has clearly entered the first stage of the grieving processƒdenial.

˙It's not bruised. It's a tattoo of a rainbow he had put on his ankle by a drunken man, huh, Billy?Ó Noting our incredulous de-meanor, he then rapidly advanced to the second stageƒanger.˙Hey, stop coddling him. He's not a wimp. This isn't co-ed slow pitch, dammit! We play hard ball in this league. You just want to make money by taking him to the hospital.Ó

As the coach proceeded to throw down his clipboard, I began to administer an IV and some narcs. Bewildered and at a loss from our indifference, the coach entered stage threeƒfear.˙We'll lose the tournament if you take him out. If Billy can't play, he'll be traded to another elementary school. I'll never get my team picture in our sponsor's Subway store window. Arrrrrgh!Ó

Desperate, the coach now entered the fourth stageƒbargaining.To convince us of his genuine sincerity, he removed his mirrored shades to reveal his impression of Bambi's eyes and said, ˙By the looks of your paramedic shirt you must have really enjoyed that last chili dog. Let me buy you another two, three or 45. Just let Billy play here for another 15 minutes, unless we go into extra innings, or at least until his leg falls off, and then I promise I'll strap him to the hood of my car and take him to the hospital. That will free you guys up to take care of spectators who are freaking out when foul balls fly out into the parking lot and break their windshields. Just please don't take him (sniff).Ó

As the pneumatic cot raised itself from the grassy field to be wheeled off, we knew the sports fans had already reached the final stage of the grieving processƒacceptanceƒjudging by the applause that followed the injured player off the field. The more serious the perceived injury, the louder the clapping. (I've always found this to be a very strange ritual. Applause is defined in the dictionary as ˙publicly expressed approval.Ó)

Now, I don't want to be accused of making coach persona-based generalizations, but I've noticed the more critically important the game, the more blurred a coach's vision appears to become in relation to the medical well-being of their players. They can see a mistake an umpire makes a mile away, but they can't see a tibia sticking out of a player's sock or a swollen leg reminiscent of the Pillsbury Doughboy forgetting to take his Lasix.

Until next time, play ball! Ú er, I mean, be safe.

Steve Berry has been a paramedic for the past 20 years in the Colorado Springs area. He's the author of the EMS cartoon book seriesI'm Notan Ambulance Driver. Visit his Web site atwww.iamnotanambulancedriver.com to purchase his books.

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