'She digs me, I can tell'

Kelly Grayson recounts a huge call in this exclusive book excerpt from 'En Route: A Paramedic's Stories of Life, Death, and Everything in Between,'

"Dispatch to Unit One," the radio crackled, "Priority One call at the Lake Chennault spillway, on the Daleville side. Unconscious person."

Rob Daigle sighed, stuffed his mouth with the last of his French fries, and looked at me. "Unit One responding,"

I grunted in acknowledgment, extricating myself from the cramped booth at McDonald's. "That's a twenty-minute drive!" Rob spluttered angrily, his mouth still full. "We'll have to go all the way around the lake!"

"Maybe not," I replied. I had an idea forming in my head, so I keyed the radio mike once again. "Dispatch, is the patient at the spillway itself?"

"Ten-four, Unit One. The caller advised that a fisherman had collapsed at the spillway."

"It's only six minutes to the Fort Sperry side of the spillway," I suggested to Rob. "We could push the stretcher and the gear across."

"I like it," he grinned, warming to the idea. "We'll have the guy back across the spillway to the rig before the Reagan Station volunteers even get there." With that, we took a hard left turn onto Highway 21 for the brief run to the spillway access road. In less than five minutes, we were there.

Damn, I was a genius! We'd still be fifteen minutes out if we'd gone the long way around.

Rob and I piled the medic bag, oxygen, and cardiac monitor onto the stretcher and ducked under the chain stretched across the walkway at the top of the spillway. In the summer months, the walkway is packed with fishermen, shoulder-to-shoulder with their beer coolers and bait buckets. One hundred yards down the walkway, the flaw in my brilliant plan became apparent.

The walkway was only four feet wide, and our stretcher took up two feet of it. We apologized repeatedly, pushing our way past pissed-off fishermen, knocking over bait buckets and coolers, tangling lines, and generally making asses of ourselves. I looked back and the sea had closed behind us, with most of them still directing angry looks our way as they untangled themselves.

We were going to have to bring the patient back through that gauntlet, too. We were screwed.

"Ohhhhhh, s***," Rob muttered softly, and I looked up to see what had him so spooked.

There she was, about thirty yards ahead, the Immovable Object set to collide soon with our Unstoppable Force. A huge woman was perched on top of a five-gallon bucket. She was so large, she had two smaller women in a satellite orbit around her. I would say they were small, but only in comparison; each of them weighed maybe 250, but she was much bigger. The walkway at the top of the spillway was only four feet wide, and her ass easily took up three feet of that. She looked like a grotesque toadstool, perched there on her bucket. To make matters worse, she was giving us the evil eye, and she didn't show any sign of getting up to make room.

"I don't like this," Rob whispered out the side of his mouth. "You and your brilliant ideas."

"It was your idea, too!" I whispered back. "Just relax. Maybe she's friendly. Just reach out your hand and let her sniff it."

"F*** you!" Rob retorted, edging warily closer. This was like a scene out of a bad Western.

This walkway ain't big enough for the both of us, sister.

"You don't still have the smell of food on your hands, do you?" I warned. "And be brave. They can smell fear."

Rob turned his head and shot me a dirty look as we approached the woman. "Uh, excuse me, ma'am..." he began hesitantly.

"What you want?" the woman demanded, a hostile gleam in her eye. Her satellites took up flanking positions, forming a virtual wall of cellulite.

"We need to squeeze past you nice ladies," Rob blurted.

Great choice of words, partner.

"We have an emergency on the other side of the spillway," I explained politely. "If you ladies could just step aside, we'll be on our way." At that, all three of them glared at me and turned their attention back to their fishing bobbers floating in the current thirty feet below us. If anything, their asses stuck out even farther.

Dropping our cot to its lowest position, Rob and I reluctantly prepared to run the Gauntlet of Goo. Picking our way past the acres of ass in front of us, we managed to lift our stretcher over our heads as we sidestepped through the narrow gap between them and the railing. It was a tight fit, but we weren't forced to lubricate with K-Y to slip through, and we even managed to negotiate the passage without knocking a single floppy straw hat into the water.

The walkway was mercifully clear on the other side, so we were able to set down our burden after fifteen feet or so. Apparently, their combined gravitational pull sucked in any fishermen within fifty yards. We crossed the rest of the walkway at a brisk trot, still looking for our patient, who was supposedly just on the other side.

"Awww, damnit!" Rob whined, pointing. He sounded like he was about to cry. I looked to see what he was pointing at, and immediately felt like crying myself. Our patient was not at the spillway. He was well downstream, at the end of a four-hundred-yard hike through pea gravel six inches deep. With big rocks. And gullies. And driftwood.

Did I mention the f***ing pea gravel?

He was lying supine amid a crowd of onlookers, all of them flashing the gang sign of the International Bystanders Society—one finger pointing at the ground, the other arm waving overhead, beckoning frantically. Some of them were even shouting the IBS secret code phrase, "Hurry the hell up!" By the time Rob and I got to the patient, I wanted to get on the stretcher myself.

Our patient was an old man of maybe seventy, lying on his back with his head propped on his soft-sided tackle box. A bystander was helpfully giving him a big sip of water. He was pale, but still sweating. From the number of empty Coors cans lying around his fishing spot, it was pretty obvious what had happened to him.

"What happened, sir?" I asked him, kneeling beside him and checking his radial pulse.

"Got plumb dizzy," he answered, "then I woke up with all these people standing over me." His pulse was rapid but strong.

"How long have you been out here?" Rob asked as he wrapped a blood pressure cuff around the man's arm.

"All morning," the man replied. "Caught a few good catfish, too. It's hotter'n hell, but I been drinking plenty of fluids."

I held up one of the empty Coors cans. "These fluids?" I asked, grinning.

He grinned back. "Hell, yeah, son! That's the real reason I fish. Gives me an excuse to drink beer!" This earned a chuckle from the crowd.

"That's as good a reason as any," I laughed, "but the problem is, alcohol dehydrates you faster. Plus, it's ninety-four degrees out, and you've been out here for five hours and drank what...a six-pack? That isn't enough to keep you hydrated, even if you were drinking water."

"I was about to go on a beer run in a few minutes," the old man explained. "I ran out, but the fishin' was too good to leave." The crowd chuckled collectively.

I was pretty certain this was a garden-variety case of heat exhaustion, but I asked him all the standard history questions anyway. He was a reasonably healthy old man, his only medical history an enlarged prostate and an allergy to, as he put it, "bitchy wimmen." He was an entertaining old codger, but we had to get him out of the heat soon, so we cut the comedy routine short and eased him into a sitting position.

Immediately, he turned a pasty white and nearly passed out. His head lolled around drunkenly, and his eyes lost focus. When he came around, he was looking into the faces of two concerned Emergency Medical Technicians, one of whom had noticed that his pulse rate jumped more than twenty points when we sat him up.

"He's orthostatic, Rob," I observed. "Let's get some fluids started and get him on the stretcher. Cardiac monitor, too." I looked back up at the spillway in dread. If anything, it was packed with even more fishermen now, and the Cellulite Sisters were still perched there on the rail like gargoyles looking for a meal.

"Hey, folks," I said to the crowd in general, "why don't y'all try to flag down a boat for us?"

Immediately, they hustled en masse to the shoreline and started flashing the IBS gang sign at the boats anchored below the spillway. I'd have flagged one down myself, or had Rob do it, but neither of us had the knack. It's a lot like a tourist vainly trying to hail a taxi in New York City—only the locals really know how.

Presently, an expensive bass boat pulled up to the shore. The captain jumped to the ground and swaggered over. He was a fiftyish man in an advanced stage of midlife crisis. He had all the signs—expensive boat, hair graying at the temples, beer gut, bottle tan, mirrored sunglasses, and enough gold chains to make up a Mr. T starter kit. His first mate looked to be all of twenty-five, and she had some rather spectacular pectoral ornamentation, no doubt paid for by our new friend.

 I'd just bet that if she fell out of the boat, there was no way she'd drown. But I'd damned sure try to help her.

"Y'all need some help?" Pimp Daddy asked brusquely.

"Yes, sir." I nodded seriously. "We have a very sick man here, and we'd like to use your boat to take him back across the spillway. Could you do that for us?" "All three of you, plus your gear?" he asked dubiously. "I suppose I could carry that much weight. Better still, why don't I just stay ashore and let my fiancée drive you across?"

The girl flashed a winning smile. I smiled. The clouds parted and a shaft of heavenly light bathed us in a comforting glow. Angels sang.

Thank you, Lord. Your blessings never cease.

"Would you?" I gushed. "Thank you so much!"

Without further ado, Rob and I loaded our patient onto the casting deck of the boat and piled our gear aboard, and the girl slowly backed us out into the current. I was just about to start an IV on the old man when our savior arrived, so I took the opportunity to finish my task as we bounced across the waves. The girl smiled appreciatively at my obvious skill.

She digs me. I can tell.

All too soon, the trip was over and the boat was beached on the opposite shore, a bare fifty feet from our rig. We unloaded our patient and our gear, and I shook the girl's hand before she left. "Thanks for the assistance," I told her. "We're grateful."

"My pleasure," she breathed seductively, winking at me as she backed the boat off the beach. Her voice was every bit as sexy as the rest of her.

Come back, gorgeous! I never even got your name! We'll take Pimp Daddy's money and run away together!

On the way to the hospital, I gave our patient nearly a liter of Ringer's lactate solution. His pulse and blood pressure remained unchanged, but he was talkative and alert. He told me his name was Grady, and we chatted about the best places to fish along Bayou Chennault. He knew a few good spots I hadn't tried, and, even better, they were all easily accessible by ambulance, and within our coverage zone.

"That gal drivin' the boat sure was a looker," he observed, his eyes twinkling. "She'd be worth taking a Viagra for!"

"Yeah, she was pretty hot," I agreed. "She's too young for you, though."

"You see the way she was lookin' at me? She's partial to older men." Grady winked. "I can tell."

 I chuckled and shook my head, disconnecting the cardiac monitor leads and oxygen as Rob pulled into the ambulance bay at Fort Sperry. Later, after we'd given report and handed Grady off to the ER staff, Rob looked smugly at me as we headed back to the station.

"You see the way that girl winked at me before she left?" He smirked. "She dug me. I could tell."


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