gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

calling 911.

having met at a coffee shop in ottawa, my old buddy mike and i went out onto the patio. he looked better, healthier than last time. he had some sort of heart-related issue, clearly resolved, for now. we sat on those cheap chrome chairs popular outside coffee shops, maybe because they remain shiny in any weather and forever, maybe because they are, in fact, cheap. but they're also damned uncomfortable. my ass began aching before i was half-way through my latte.

in the middle of describing his new girlfriend, a lady i'll almost certainly never meet, all of a sudden mike winced. an elderly lady had missed her step behind me, fell, hit her head on the sidewalk. mike and others rushed to help while i called 911. the dispatcher put me through to the ambulance and i repeated where we were and what had happened. but, the lady on the line clearly wanted more information. of course i tried my best to answer her steady stream of questions, though i felt i'd done my job and i found myself actually getting irritated.

"is she conscious?" "yes." "are you applying pressure to the wound?" "no, i'm on the phone. somebody else is applying pressure." "is there blood?" "yes, of course, it's not pretty." "is she confused?" "well, i don't know, but i am. just a minute. mike. mike, is she confused? apparently a little." "how many metres did she fall?" "what does that even mean? she's a little over five feet tall, i guess, so she fell a little over five feet. i'm not good with metres." "does she know her name?" "mike, ask her name? yeah, apparently it's joyce, only how do we know for sure(?) i mean, if she's confused..." "ok, never mind. we're almost there."

at some point early in the 90s the local hospital in the village of kullu, india, got an ambulance. it was a major newsworthy event up there. in reality, the new ambulance was just a small tinny 'maruti' van with 'ambulance' lettered on the side. there was no life-saving equipment installed and no normal horizontal carcass could even actually fit in all the way. as well, ironically, 'maruti' vans were commonly called death traps, both because they were terribly flimsy and because in hindi 'maru' means 'death.' the hospital itself was to be avoided at all costs, but that's another story.

in the middle of a dark winter monsoon night someone pounded on the door of my hut. apparently, a girl had fallen asleep with her kerosene heater on and would've died from carbon-monoxide poisoning had her neighbour not smelled too much kerosene. the girl was still virtually unconscious when i got down to her room. someone had called for the ambulance, a first for us certainly at the ashram, but i began performing cpr. by the time the van got there, honking its horn incessantly to announce its arrival, the girl was somewhat responsive. nevertheless, we put her in, tucking her legs up so she fit, but then the ambulance wouldn't start. the driver had cut the engine to save petrol and for whatever reason he couldn't get it going again. eventually we ended up pushing the stupid thing all the way down the road to the hospital.

meanwhile, back to the future in ottawa, the big yellow ambulance pulled up in front of the coffee shop, the loud siren and flashing lights announcing its arrival. the medics went about their business quickly, professionally, but the lady paramedic kept shooting glances over at me. i don't know how she knew it had been me on the phone, but she knew.


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