I don’t believe in ghosts, or aparitions, or supernatural beings, and I certainly don’t fancy myself a modern-day Frank Pierce, but I can’t forget these people.*

Don was a middle-aged, middle-class guy with a normal job and a normal family living in a normal house. He was having a heart attack, and had been for quite some time. He told me in the ambulance that he was going to die, and later begged me not to let him die. I told him, and his wife before we left the house, that I would take good care of him.

The next time Don’s wife saw me, I was doing chest compressions on her husband. A few days later, I saw her as I slipped into the back of the church during his funeral, but I didn’t have the courage to approach the new widow.

Julio was a precocious young boy, with the horrible diagnosis of an inoperable malignant growth in his brain. I never saw him as a playful child, but only after it was too late. His Lightning McQueen pajamas are something I will remember until my last day. I can still hear his mother’s wails of grief when I walk past that room, a room I have been in many times since.

I can’t help but cry a little bit inside when I see my own son, who is now Julio’s age, wearing those same pajamas, smiling, playing with his Lego blocks, and healthy.

Cheryl was simply getting a quick tennis game in before going home to get ready for a Junior League function. Her tennis shoes, skirt, and visor all matched, a shade of green rarely seen in nature. Her body wanted to continue playing, but her heart soon played its last beat. It happened right in front of us, we knew it was going to happen, and we were prepared. But we still failed. I know nothing else could have been done, but I also know that mine was the last face she saw.

I saw a man who was obviously her husband hurrying into the hospital while I was sitting in the ambulance, looking concerned. I reached for the door handle and briefly thought of approaching him, but once again couldn’t muster the courage.

De’Andre was much too young to make such adult decisions. Instead of choosing a movie to take a pretty girl to, he chose a life of crime, and decided to run with gangsters. Rival gangsters don’t care if you don’t have a driver’s license, and they don’t care if you have a family. De’Andre was too young, and too immature, and paid for his choices.

He cried for his momma on the way to the hospital.

I’ve talked about these people, and others, with the nice lady with the soft couch. Sometimes it helps, but mostly it’s futile. I don’t think that nice lady can understand, and I don’t think I can make her understand.

*you know these aren’t real names by now, right?


  1. Flash Larry says:

    I agree with you that almost no one who has not done this job and faced the tragedies that we see up close and personal can ever really say or do anything that will be very useful.

    Even physicians usually are more distant from the deaths of their patients since they occur in hospital ER’s or ICU’s or ambulances during times when they are not there.

    We see so many, so up close, and so personal.

    I have my own memories. They will not go away with talking about them.

  2. Everyone who is in this field for any length of time has their own ghosts. That is unless he or she is an unfeeling creature.

    Compassion is why we get into this line of work and it’s why there are ghosts that will never leave us. As with your experience mostly we are people who are in their last moments of life. Often we are the ones that are with them when they die and I like to think that it’s a comfort to them that they didn’t die alone. Or maybe it’s a comfort to us. I’m not sure and I don’t think I’ll ever really know.

    My former agency has a full time stress counselor that is an experienced provider. Which is the only kind of person that can understand what we go through. All others are poseurs at best.

  3. 🙁
    (you accept hugs, right?)
    …………………….do not forget them. At least, don’t TRY to forget.
    Because they are human, & they deserve to be remembered.
    Because YOU are human, & you also will deserve to be remembered.
    Eventually it won’t hurt so much.

    I’ve only been on a few runs but one was my first death. I still recall the cries of the new widow.
    It still makes me sad; but I let it remind me to pray for her. Memories have a purpose.

    my brother-in-law was an EMT-I before he quit. All he would tell me was,
    “It’s just hard when someone begs you, ‘Help me!!!’ and you can’t. ”

    some things only a hug can help.


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