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Searching for hope

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EMS Advocacy Article

January 09, 2013


Behind the Patient: Street Portraits
by Michael Morse

Searching for hope

Trying to make sense of it all

By Michael Morse

We used to get in my dad's '62 Ford, sit in the driveway and drive to Florida. The trip would take 10 hours or so. If we were lucky, and quick, we could swipe the keys and turn the car on, and listen to the AM radio during our travels.

I must have listened to The Night Chicago Died, Indian Reservation and Joy to the World a million times. And a million other songs as well. When I hear a song I haven't heard in decades, every word pops into my head, like I just heard it yesterday. I swear there is a record changer in my brain putting those little plastic discs in the big hole in the 45-rpm singles. 

I would stack them 10 high and let them fall onto the turntable one at a time, the crackle of scratches coming through the hi-fi a mesmerizing intro to the music to follow. The record would drop, the little arm would move to the perfect position, and then slowly lower itself onto the plastic. All ears would tune in, dead air just waiting for the needle to make contact, the anticipation so sweet. A little pop when the needle makes contact, then it would slide into a groove, and the music would start, and everything else could be forgotten.

I miss the sound of scratches on vinyl. Hated them when it was all I had, and it seemed everybody else's records were perfectly cared for. They would hold the album cover like it was the holy bible, carefully pull the disc from the white jacket, holding just the edges of course, gently blow on the surface and gingerly place the prize onto the turntable. A record changer? Never! Not for them.

Me? I'd find a pile of albums in the corner somewhere, wonder what the heck I did with the cover, put it on and ignore the skips.

A couple of kids sat in the front seat of an abandoned car in the driveway of a run down triple-decker. The 8-year-old girl was dirty, clothes worn out, no shoes, long, blond hair flying everywhere. Her passenger was about nine, leaning back in the seat ghetto style. When I stepped out of the rescue, they stepped out of their car, and followed us in.

Ten kids were inside; some sleeping on bare mattresses that littered the floor, some on a couch, watching cable TV on a 42" flat-screen that dominated the room. Milk crates served as seats, cigarettes burned in two different ashtrays, themselves overflowing with butts.

"He's upstairs," said the matriarch, forty pounds overweight, greasy long hair, dirty gray hoodie and black stretch pants. Her feet were filthy.

"Are all these yours?" I asked, amazed. She was only about 35 herself.

"I take care of them."

"Really."

Upstairs, a nineteen-year-old guy lay on another filthy bare mattress, A Tupac poster above him, cigarettes burning, a pale, tattooed 17-year-old girl lying on top of him. Gangsta Rap blared from a speaker of unknown origin. Back in the day you would need a roomful of equipment to get this kind of sound, now, I couldn't even find the source in a ten by ten room, with nothing but a mattress, two teenagers and a Tupac poster.

Mother Hen yelled from the bottom of the stairs.

"You gotta go, you ain't stayin here!"

"F@#$ you, I didn't do nothin!" from our patient.

"You took them f@#$in pills again! I told you not to take them f@#$in pills!"

The smaller children watched us, silently, a little bored. Three or four of them attached themselves to my legs. I instinctively put my arms on their shoulders, or patted their heads.

"We were sent here for an overdose. Anybody overdosed?" I asked.

"He took some Benydryl," said the girl laying on the alleged overdose. "It gets him high."

Benydryl Boy looked at me, and then fell asleep.

"How many did he take?"

"Just two."

"Two?"

"Two."

"I f@#$in told him not to take any!" said Mother Teresa at the bottom of the stairs.

Where to start, I wondered as we retreated from the den of iniquity. Do I call The Department of Children, Youth and Families and report the situation? Do I take the little ones home with me, and hope that they are not too far gone?  Do I try and talk some sense into the lady who lets this debacle go on under her roof? Or do I drive away, like I always do, and take another run, and find something worse.

The little ones followed us back down the stairs. Some found their way back onto their mattresses, some went outside to play in the busy street, two went back to their car, and closed the door.

I hope they make it to Florida.

We would leave the car, bored with our game, and go inside. Sometimes there would be sandwiches, or some cookies, or something. Our rooms were clean, our clothes relatively new and cared for, our environment safe. We would put on some records, or watch the Creature Double Feature, and wait for our lives to get started. Even with a good home, and good parents, it's been a difficult road, for all of us.

The kids in the Triple Decker in Providence don't have a chance.

About the author

Michael Morse is a rescue captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of Rescuing Providence and Responding. He has worked on engine, ladder and rescue companies during his 21-year career. His current assignment is Rescue Company 5. Michael blogs at RescuingProvidence.com.

Comments
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Nancy K. Boyle Nancy K. Boyle Thursday, January 10, 2013 7:19:40 PM Doesn't Rhode Island have a mandated reporting law for all persons? In NY we would be required to report the situation to the office of Children and Family Services.
Friday, January 11, 2013 7:43:23 AM Hi Nancy, we have mandatory reporting, but these cases are so plentiful, and the neglect just a smidgeon above abuse keeping DCYF (Dept of Children Youth and Family) unable to act.
Nancy K. Boyle Nancy K. Boyle Friday, January 11, 2013 1:53:18 PM Very sad... But I would report it anyway!