Sydney Baumann. That's my real name. Nobody here except the Human Resources broad at dispatch knows that. They all call me Twitch. My eye didn't do that before I started here. I developed a facial tic from all the bottled up stress. The upper portion of the Orbicularis oculi muscle twitches like a little hummingbird wing when I get stressed or tired. I went to school to learn that one.

It hasn't really stopped in months. Its a tiny metronome beating like a telltale heart, counting out the days I'm shaving off my life expectancy. You ever see a cop or a nurse drink? They drink with a determination to erase the holes they see in the society's accepted version of reality. They drink to forget the winos who they see freeze to death and the drug addicted babies shaking in their cribs. They watch everybody else dance around with blinders on and it wears on them. We play the middlemen. Cops find them and nurses fix them, but we deliver them. Paramedics get one chance to fix it or fuck it, the ultimate application of the American love of the car.

I have to think really hard to find the one thing I like about my job. I sort of fell into it after dropping out of Med. school. The funds dried up after Dad got busted by the IRS, but I was strangely glad when he called. It just wasn't for me. I couldn't get my ego swelled up enough to play God. I dropped down to the paramedics course at the community college downtown and had my ticket 6 months later. It was a whirlwind of drinking and cramming and sleep blurred lectures. When the certificate came in the mail to my tiny dark apartment, I felt happy but hollow. I had a job that afternoon. The thing I like about this job is that I don't have to try very hard.

Seems I was way overqualified. It slowly leaked in to my head that this profession is a catch basin for all sorts of loose ends. The cowboy ex-jocks, the sadists, the bitter closet lesbians, the carefree journeyman hippies, the thrill seeker freaks, the C grade saviors and the A grade washouts all end up here. It's an ant trap for good intentions, and you can see all the way to Hell on a clear day.

Pop quiz! What is the paramedic's key responsibility? Stabilize and run. That's it. We live on a firecracker's schedule. Off or on. Stopped or running full speed. There is no gray, only a flurry of white or a panorama of black. And don't waste the meds.

So, I've seen stuff. Real stuff. Nothing gets cleaned up for the 11'o clock news before I get there. You know when you see the white sheets on the bodies at the side of the road? I drink my coffee while sitting on a box of them in every day. The one we went out with tonight is half full. 8 bodies till it's empty. We keep garbage bags for the little pieces. We have to pick those up too.

My first shift was so quiet I wondered why I went to school at all. At 4:38am, everything changed. I remember because it was that time in the morning when your body gets cold, a circadian rhythm slowdown that reminds you that all the normals are asleep and you are out in an ambulance waiting for bad things to happen. I looked at my watch for the millionth time that night when the radio spoke. Gas main explosion. Multiple causalities. You go and get them.

When I realized the finger I was bending to pick up was moving like an angry red and pink worm, it was 4:45am.

When I broke the tip of the IV needle off inside the burnt construction guy's arm, it was 5:01am.

When I puked up my guts in the hospital ambulance bay because the adrenaline was making my scalp dance, it was 5:10am.

The first time my eye twitched was that afternoon, when I woke up. The time didn't really matter any more.

That was a long time ago. Months, years, it all runs together. Tonight, I'm riding the bus with George. Everyone thinks he's a sadist, like the ones who whip their partners to get off. He makes me nervous when he gets glassy eyed, like he is straining to keep his fingers out of wounds before he packs them with gauze. I always make him drive. Slow night saw us drive around in circles until lunch at midnight. A mirror world clock, complete with Mr. Spock goatee. I ate the finest shit a teenager could grill for minimum wage and we both fell asleep in empty parking lot behind the burger place. I was supposed to be listening to the radio.

Half hour later, when we didn't check in, we get a wake up call from a cop rapping on the windows with his nightstick. You can't lose a running ambulance. They got us wired up to satellites like little model trains.

Dispatch doesn't mention it, but we are going to get something now for sure. No rest for the wicked. Just don't be a kid. I hate kids.

The call comes. Black male. Choking. 7 years old.


continued in Kid Eternity

In which the mountains are old and I am the ghost on the battlements - Kid Eternity - Do svidanya, Rodina! - Standin' in a pool of cop blood with a shotgun you can't stop - Street Meat - Johnny Cash with His Hot and Blue Guitar

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