Book Excerpt: An EMT's temptation to steal from a patient

An excerpt from an action-packed dark comedy that takes readers on a tour through the world of EMS

"Diamond in the Rough" is the second novel from paramedic Peter Canning. EMS students and veteran paramedics are sure to find Canning's novels just as gripping as his must read, auto-biographical accounts of working as a paramedic which he wrote about in "Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine" and its sequel "Rescue 471: A Paramedic's Stories." This excerpt is from chapter 10 and contains graphic language about a deceased patient.

By Peter Canning

The first time I thought about stealing, we were called for a welfare check in an elderly housing complex. Neighbors hadn’t seen the man for a few days and his small mailbox in the front foyer of the apartment complex was overflowing with circulars. The supervisor was summoned to let us and a police officer in, while all down the corridor, old ladies stood at their half-open doors, watching us.

We found him in the bedroom naked on his bed. He was an old dude. I guessed around seventy. He had his hand around his dick, rigored into place.

"Coming and going at the same time," Tom said.

After that, Tom ran his six-second strip of flat line for documentation.

The officer was looking at a set of Polaroids on the bed stand: a skinny woman with bad teeth in various poses and some shots just of her beaver. He and Tom were having a good chuckle over them.

I put a sheet over the man.

"We got a name on him?" Tom asked the officer, who shook his head.

"I’ll check," I said.

I had already gone over to the refrigerator to see if he had a vial of life — information that listed his name, insurance numbers and all his meds that we often looked for when we responded, but the only thing on the refrigerator was another Polaroid of the same skanky woman holding a little girl in her arms. I opened the refrigerator to see if the vial was inside, but the refrigerator was bare except for a carton of milk, a carton of eggs and a carton of orange juice. Nothing else. I opened a cabinet and found ten unopened boxes of Fruity Pebbles cereal, ten or more neatly stacked cans of beef stew, five neatly arranged boxes of pancake mix. Four unopened bottles of maple syrup. Tom and the officer were still looking at the Polaroids and talking about sex.

I opened a dresser drawer — all neatly folded white underwear. The next drawer was all neatly folded socks. It was getting creepy. Just then I saw a white legal-size mailing envelope under the socks. I pulled it out. There were thousands of dollars in it, maybe thirty neatly folded one hundred dollar bills. These weren’t crisp bills, they were old, but they had been carefully unwrinkled. I got the impression they had been put in one at a time.

I thought about how easy it would be to just put it in my pocket, but at the time stealing hadn’t seemed to me like a thing someone would do on a job like mine.

I saw another envelope then, and in it was a letter.

Dear Angie.

I am sorry I have not been able to be a father to you. You mother will not let me see you. I watch you in the playground some afternoons. I hope you grow up to be a lawyer.

Your loving Dad.

In the envelope there was a picture of him as a younger man — maybe in his fifties in an ill-fitting business suit.

I don’t know what possessed me, but I took the letter and put it in the manila envelope with the money. I sealed the envelope up and wrote "Angie College Fund" on the outside and underneath that wrote "lawyer" and "courthouse" and underscored it three times. I left it on top of the dresser.

I don’t know if that accomplished anything. I just hoped somehow the girl would get the letter and the money and not the skank mom or anyone else who happened on it. Maybe it would get in the hands of someone who knew how to find her and how to set up a fund and let her know the man loved her. But I had a sinking feeling it would end up in someone else’s pocket, and then I wished for a moment that I had pocketed it and gone looking for the girl myself, but I saw the difficulties in that and in explaining how I came to hold her money. Best just follow the rules.

I heard Tom say, "He’s got an ID in his wallet." He took it out and wrote down the information. Neither of them had even noticed what I had been doing.

When we walked out of the room, the ladies in the hall were still watching. I asked the one across the hall if she knew him.

"He keeps to himself," she said.

"That’s right," the woman at the next door said. "He don’t say nothing to anyone."

"Does his young daughter ever come by?"

"He have a daughter? That old man? He have a daughter?"

And all the ladies started cackling and saying, "My lord."

Tom was looking at me like he couldn’t understand what I was talking about.

"He’s all right?" she asked.

"All right? He’s dead," Tom said.

The ladies all went silent, hands on their hearts.

"Stone cold," Tom said, and walked on down the hall.

"I’m sorry," I said to none of them in particular.


Reprinted from "Diamond in the Rough" by Peter Canning
Dystel and Goderich
Copyright @ 2016 by Peter Canning.
Available on Amazon.

About the author
Peter Canning has been a full-time paramedic in the Greater Hartford area since January of 1995. His first book "Paramedic: On the Front Lines of Medicine" details his journey from speechwriter for the Governor of Connecticut to caregiver on the city streets. "Rescue 471: A Paramedic's Stories" is the sequel. He is also the author of the EMS novels, "Mortal Men: Paramedics on the Streets of Hartford" and his latest, "Diamond in the Rough." He writes the blog Street Watch: Notes of a Paramedic.

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