“What’s the worst thing you’ve seen?” Did you cringe when you read that? Hell, I cringed by reflex when I typed it. Like most of you, I withdraw every time I hear the question. A random guy asked me that, again, on the way to lunch the other day. See, I have to wear a flight suit as my uniform. Not because it makes me look badass…it kinda does. No, I wear it because if the aircraft I’m riding in happens to crash into the ground, that Nomex will hopefully buy me a few seconds to get out before my skin melts from the fire. And as with any uniform in our business, I have found that wearing that one is an open invitation for chuckleheads to come up and ask that question.
Well I’ve decided that, one day, maybe I’ll answer your question, sir.Â You ask it with a little smile on your face because you think the question is clever. Oh, I neverÂ openlyÂ express frustration or anger, you have no idea what you ask. But that’s what I’m feeling every time.
Why would you want me to relive my worst moments? If I truly have deep, dark memories, why would you pain me with recalling those? I know… you didn’t think about that, did you? You just thought about yourself, your clever question, and maybe the gross story you would get to tell others later that day.
The funny thing is, you think the bad stuff is the blood and guts. The broken bones and crushed bodies. But you’re wrong. That stuff may not be pleasant but you get used to it. I can be covered head to toe in blood and vomit and simultaneously think about what I want for lunch.
In this job you get used to the gore pretty quickly. If you don’t you’re probably not going to last very long. Oh, but I do have my “worst things.” And I assure you they’re much worse than some broken bones. My worst things are broken families and crushed souls. If you experience my worst things they wouldn’t just gross you out, they would shake you. In fact some things that I have rattling around in my skull would wreck you.
- My “worst things” include a seven-year-old girl watching me code her dad. She evidently had gone to wake him up and he wouldn’t get up. We found him very dead, in asystole. But he was young so we fought the good fight for awhile. During everything, she had snuck around the corner to see us. I looked up at her. She was too scared to cry. I see that face clearly, many years later. Imagine being in her shoes. Her dad, her hero…
- My “worst things” involve watching a wife sob, the deepest, most painful tears I’ve ever seen as a told her that her husband of 60 years was dead. 60 years of love, laughter, family, memories….done. He had just got a clean bill of health from his doc the day before. They were leaving on a trip to see family in Canada the next week. Her best friend, her companion in life since high school was gone…suddenly.
- My “worst things” are a husband holding his dead wife’s hand in the mangled car they sat in. He had watched her take her last breath while waiting for first responders to arrive. A semi had swerved into their lane. They were taking the long way home to enjoy a pretty sunset. That route wasn’t even one they would ever normally travel.
- My “worst things” definitely include too many dead, lifeless kids in their parents arms, as I walk in the door. Parents screaming in anguish because they didn’t know what to do. Their babies needed help and there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it but cry out. They looked to us as miracle workers. That we could walk in a lay our hands on their kid and bring them back. Imagine being in my shoes and knowing that you couldn’t. Knowing that my efforts wouldn’t…couldn’t be enough.
Those are just a few, good sir. There are plenty more of those “worst things” in there. You want demons? You want stories? You want too many pained faces and sobs in your memories? Stick a few of those in your brain and let them bounce around for awhile. Blood and guts…you waste my time.
I’ll take the blood any day man. I’ll trade all of my “worst things” in for some good ole’ gore. If you really want some messed up stuff to share with your buddies, pull up a chair, I’ve got stuff way better than you can ever imagine.
So pardon me if I just flash a fake smile and skirt around your inconsiderate question. It’s not because I’m rude. I’m just hungry…and the cafeteria has a nacho bar today. I’d really love to engage you about my job sometime. About all the good things I get to do for people. About all of the victories my coworkers and I have in stomping out death and disease. We do a damn lot of good.
So ask me about that next time around. I’ll make time for you then. But I’m going to pass on your question for now. It’s better for both of us. And like I said…nachos. -Derrick