I needed perspective. And perspective, it was given.
Last night I ran my iPod through a wash cycle at the firehouse. Much to my amazement and indignation, iPods don’t usually make the trip through the cycles of a washing machine very gracefully. The fury, slow to build at first, began to boil over within minutes. Stupidity, lack of attention to detail, general idiocy and a keen sense of self loathing all began to manifest until I began to seriously consider smashing my head into the station’s bench vise to atone for my sins. It didn’t help when I called home to confess my deeds of neglect and The Wife was not surprised in the least. She threw out terms like “typical” and “we can’t have anything nice” and punctuated her distaste with long exasperated sighs. I briefly considered sleeping in front of the rear axle of Engine 2, so that when they made the inevitable medical call in the middle of the night, purgatory through pain could be complete.
The ride home on my motorcycle this morning was a good chance to re-hash my wanton neglect. A rageful melancholy was consuming me, right up until a rogue grasshopper clocked me in the jaw (which, in case you’re wondering, feels as though you’re being slapped in the face with a condor). This was a jarring experience, to say the least, and reminded me of a call we made last night.
We’d just returned from a Public Education event on the south side of town. It was the first annual Epically Awesome Barbecue event at local hotspot The Metropolitan Grill with a portion of proceeds going to the police and fire departments as well as the Breast Cancer Foundation of The Ozarks, to name a few. It seemed to be well-attended, a good mingling with people who generally stick to that side of town. We were grateful to be included in the whole affair. But a common statement/question was thrown out there several times: “I bet you guys get to see alllll kinds of weird/strange/terrible stuff. What’s that like?” And, on our side of town? There’s never a shortage of crazy adventure.
Thirty minutes after leaving our friendly and comfortable south side hosts, we were responding to two assault victims in our own north side district. One patient was only three years older than I am, yet the result of a lifetime of bad choices, bad drugs, bad men revealed a woman broken and battered, toothless and disheveled. She and a girlfriend were moving stuff out of her house and an ongoing argument with her man led up to him attacking one of them with a brick and breaking a shovel handle over the back of the other. No one deserves abuse, but those that would harm women and children are especially vile and don’t deserve any grace from my perspective. These people, those that we serve on this side of town, they’re the ones who’ve hit the bottom. It’s not my responsibility how they got there, but it is our job to help them when they need us. Through her toothless ranting and screeching and most-likely inevitable return to that situation was a broken person beside that broken shovel handle. Weeping and wailing with soiled pants and a busted elbow, she was crying for help.
But life is not a cartoon, nor a rom-com movie with Julia Roberts and a happy ending; it’s not even a story of redemption, at least not for her. She’s hurt, she’s pissed that she’s pissed herself, she’s mad at the cops for not catching the guy right away (which they did within the hour) and she’s mad at us for not understanding her mushmouthed screaming. I cannot invest emotionally in each patient because to do that would equal a complete draining of any feeling I had left. We can offer her care and a moment of comfort and safety, a brief respite from the hellacious world of her own making. She was most likely high as a kite when we saw her (who can endure a shovel snapping across your back and still have the energy to carry on like that while sober?) and there’s a better than fair chance she’ll move back in with her abuser when released from the hospital.It’s a tragic and vicious cycle, and all we can do is respond to the worst of the situations and work towards making them a little better. A broken shovel, a broken iPod and a broken woman. Truly there are problems much greater than the extravagance of portable music on demand.
I’m pretty sure she’d be happy just to have a washing machine, much less a piece of electronics that, for some reason, cannot survive a spin cycle.
So, as I collected smashed grasshopper parts off my cheek and turned onto the road home, ready to face the exasperated jury of my wife and sons, the importance of an iPod and its demise came into a little better perspective.
I hope she finds the courage to change her situation.
And I hope The Wife doesn’t kill me out of frustration.