“Who is it?”
The door opened slowly, deliberately, and in the doorway was a well-kept lady in her seventies.
“Who is it?” she asked again, this time with urgency.
And yet, with humility.
She was looking directly at me. I was wearing my neon orange vest, and in my hand, a bright red EMT bag.
“Uh, I’m with EMS,” I answered somewhat confused.
“Oh, thank you for coming so quickly; please do come inside.”
“Is there anyone else?” she asked, looking squarely at the ambulance driver standing behind me.
She was blind.
We entered, suddenly less important, less proud.
She beckoned me to the back of the house. “It’s my husband, David. His chest has been bothering him all day and I’m worried it’s his heart.”
David was sitting in an armchair, his hands clutching his chest. Hearing footsteps, he directed his face toward me and asked, “Who’s there?”
He was blind.
“I’m Shmeel and I am with the emergency services. What seems to be the problem, sir?”
“I’m having some chest pain but I’m sure it’s nothing. I told Michal not to call for an ambulance but she worries about me. I hate to bother you boys.”
Why is it that the people who actually need an ambulance tend to apologize for the inconvenience, whilst others with inconsequential ailments will yell at us for not moving quick enough?
Perhaps it’s because real illness makes us feel vulnerable and unpretentious.
Perhaps it’s because we suddenly realize, no matter how important and busy and significant we were a moment ago, suddenly, like a flash of lightning, we know the truth. The truth that we are but flesh and blood: mortal and limited. Millionaire chief executive and penniless homeless-man, suddenly understand that they were never actually in control, at all.
But David didn’t need the forewarning of illness. He was humble from birth.
“It’s no bother at all, Sir. We’re here to help. Why don’t you tell me exactly how you feel?”
He described his symptoms as his wife stood next to him, touching his shoulder reassuringly. She interjected every so often with facts he had forgotten. It was moving to see how completely devoted they were to each other.
I took his vitals and a complete medical history. He wasn’t pale, diaphoretic, dizzy, nauseous, nor having any trouble breathing. He did have a very distinct pain in his chest though, and I feared he might be having some form of asymptomatic myocardial infarction – in laymen’s terms, a heart attack without the usual signs or symptoms. We needed to get him to the hospital. Fast.
I shared my hunch with the ambulance driver, and he concurred.
He dialed Control, “G’day, this is Ambulance #80 requesting ALS backup for a possible MI.”
“Ambulance #80 be advised that the only Natan available is in a different city, 20 minute ETA, do you still want them?”
(It was a particularly busy time, and there were no local ALS units available.)
“Negative, I’ll transport myself.”
The reasoning was simple. The BLS ambulance, with Lights and Sirens, would almost certainly get to the hospital before the Natan had even entered the city. It was the right thing to do.
“Are there any family members we can notify so you won’t be alone in the hospital?” I asked Michal, as my colleagues eased David into the ambulance chair.
“No. It’s just me and David. We have each other, thank G-d. I don’t know what I would do if something were to happen to him.” She whispered.
I rarely get a lump in my throat.
We readied the patient for transport and wheeled him to the door amidst a constant stream of thanks and appreciation. The elevator was out of service and so we carried him down manually, for the lack of a better word. The men did the heavy lifting and the two female members of the team, assisted Michal down the stairs.
“Thank you so much – I’m so sorry – I hope it’s not too much of a bother,” said husband and wife, in a harmony of humble gratitude.
I got to the bottom of the stairs tired yet inspired, by these people who, challenged with obvious and difficult handicaps, had nonetheless made the utmost of their lives. They seemed genuinely happy with their lot and were leading a productive and fruitful existence despite the hurdles they faced. Or perhaps because of the hurdles they faced.
They managed to whisper one more ‘thank you’ as I closed the ambulance door.
“Thank YOU,” I wanted to say.
Thank you so very much.
Postscript: “The most special people I know are those who have encountered adversity, confronted hardship, endured pain, withstood misfortune, and have dug their way out of the mire. These individuals have an immense appreciation for life and living, and an abundance of simple faith and hope. Their suffering has not brought them down, but instead lifted them up to an existence of humility, gratitude and compassion. Virtue isn’t born of happenstance; it is acquired through sincere application.”