“I feel like I just came alive.”
Those were the first words spoken as our young patient was brought back from dancing perilously close to death from an overdose. These were followed up, somewhat amusingly, by: “Am I in the Matrix?”, and the ensuing confused fury that can often result shortly after being revived in such a manner. I can imagine how scary it is to be woken up surrounded by medics, firefighters and police officers ruining your blissful journey. What an odd role to play, a spectator as you witness an essentially-deceased person be brought back among the living. It is equal parts privilege, heart-wrenching, and fulfilling, and no matter how many years on the job, you appreciate the rare opportunity to be a part of a resurrection of sorts. Who knows where he’ll end up, but this morning, quick thinking on the part of his family and a convergence of the right people in the right place helped to ensure he’ll live another day; hopefully a better day.
What I couldn’t tell the young patient, what he’ll never know, is that I share the same sentiment he felt in that moment. While his was, in his world, literal, mine has been a slow, methodical process of rewiring my soul. A good friend of mine recently told me, as I confessed the fear of facing the future from a totally different perspective than that of the last several years, “buddy, no one comes out unscathed. Not one.” How right she was. From loss are born the scars that define our features as humans. Being forty years old means more than a better-stocked medicine cabinet for all that ails us, it means that the lines and creases and grey hairs were earned in their own ways. From my own brother, “don’t be surprised when you head out to slay dragons and you find yourself in the company of dragons. That’ll happen.”
I helped load the patient up for transport, my eyes searching out the blackened pupils of an addict for signs of a connection. I wanted to say I’m scared, too, buddy but for different reasons. I worry about my children having such an untraditional father and upbringing. I live in fear of missing but two paychecks and having to reside among the very homeless people we serve with a regularity. I want badly to live with the gratitude that this life deserves, for all of its many gifts and cruel twists. I’m not scared of overdosing on a drug, but I know that my own demons will be forever in the shadows of my mind, ready to pounce on any opportunity to paint my perception of reality. I’m scared that this new journey I’m taking will yield mind-boggling questions as I seek the definition of my life and future. I fear my scars, grey hairs and stress lines will be in vain as I try to make a difference in this life for my boys. I nervously hope against hope that the passionate woman will say hi back to me, will look me in the eyes once again.
But each the beginning of each shift, we put on the uniform, climb aboard the fire engines and answer the calls handed our way. We have some tools to help those who need it, and in those moments, when we offer our best to those experiencing their worst, we fulfill that notion that within the face of fear we can put one boot in front of the other and confront those dragons.
Our patient won’t be unscathed, either. That struggle is probably greater than I can fathom, and there was an addition to his own scars this morning. In the face of all of that, he said “I feel like I just came alive.” What a profound, bold and brave statement from someone who will never remember saying it. He’s one of the lucky ones, today.
As am I. Each day I need to remember to treat as a gift, to come alive, as it were. Bruised, scarred and beaten up, we’re still here, and still so lucky to be among one another.