07 May 2009

Life and Death in the Men's Bathroom

On Tuesday, my supervisor walked into my office while I was meeting someone and asked me to follow her out into the hall.

"There is someone dying in the men's bathroom," she said, "I thought you might like to know."

There have been a number of dramatic death imitations in the past year (Robert slumped to the floor after repeatedly calling me a son of a bitch when I told him that we would not call 9-1-1 for him because there was nothing at all wrong with him (luckily, we have a previous paramedic on staff). He eventually got up and took the stairs out... "You sonofabitch!").
Because of this, I wasn't sure right away whether or not the situation was of an actual death.

You would think that I would be able to tell by my surroundings, right? By the behaviour of others on the floor, or the mood, or the feeling in the room, hushed whispers, somber faces, etc. etc.

But I couldn't. In fact, all of the surrounding evidence pointed to another theatrical display of false symptoms. Men were still going in and out of the bathroom, washing their hands, and glancing over the shoulder at the gentleman on the floor, in cardiac arrest. Another came around the corner to check and see if he was naked or not. He was not. It was a fully-clothed Joe, face blue, not responding, with a crack pipe to his left and a roach clip around his neck.

We kicked everyone off the floor, thinking that this might be the best way to preserve Joe's dignity and privacy since none of our verbal reprimands seemed to help. Some refused to leave "My laundry is done drying" and some complained "How will I do my chore?" They finally retreated as the paramedics arrived.

The only other times I have witnessed possibly the last minutes of someone's life were at the beach when I was in my younger teens, and a man drowned in Lake Michigan. I watched as they dragged his body from the water, and I swear the entire beach was still. I had always thought that the frailty of humanity was a significant to others as it was to me.

But living in the streets must be different, though I can't describe it, because things happen. People come, and people go, and people overdose, and others are jumped, and there's too much danger everywhere to be shocked by death. You have to live, instead.

As the staff prayed for Joe, we heard him revived by the Narcon he was given by the medics. They carried him out to the ambulance as we, as a staff, felt relief. I have to wonder whether or not Joe was also relieved.

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