There are those who fight crime. There are those who fight fires. There are those who fight death. All of these fighters are brave, important and make a difference in the world. I bet you yourself have been changed by one of these humans who make the world a better place—one of these real-life superheroes.
The lifesaving life is not for everyone. The only first responding I do is when my 5-year-old falls and requires a Band-Aid. I pass out at the sight of blood and get woozy seeing people’s bones out of joint. I am not one to be someone else’s aid in a time of crisis.
I am, however, the wife of a paramedic.
I am the wife of a superhero.
I am so far removed from the scenes the horror that I’m not quite desensitized from it, but still close enough to harbor the pain. I fall silent when we see the empty spot where the “death tree” once stood two miles from our house. The tree they had to cut down from the accident. The tree that once had a four-door sedan wrapped around it at two o’clock in the morning.
I close my eyes and try to imagine it: the street is still smoking from the car spinning out of control. The tree he had to hoist himself onto to get in the car and uncover someone’s blood-soaked, unrecognizable face. The passenger’s lifeless body near the car. The driver and the passenger are someone’s loved ones; someone’s sons, friends, brothers. I imagine my husband closes his eyes then to say a prayer for them. When he opens his eyes, his next task is the unthinkable—moving these two from where they’ve died. The act of moving lifeless bodies alone must slowly eat away at him.
The scene is surreal and I know he still sees it. I know, even if weeks, months, or years have passed he still sees the scene as we drive by. The skid marks on the street are now dulled and I am silent when we see them. I know those scars on the pavement have become part of him.
The spot where the tree once stood now has a three-foot white cross next to it with a name across it—the family’s way to memorialize their loved one who died at my husband’s fingertips. While the memorial signs and flowers help the family grieve, it haunts the paramedic who held them as they took their last breath.
I understand a lot of individuals cannot leave work at the door when they clock out for the night. I’m sure a lawyer reflects on a case he’s lost and a teacher thinks she’s failed her students. But, I can guarantee you, they do not see dead people when they drive their daughters to school. It’s never simple when you deal with death day in and day out; it’s never just a bad night or a bad call, it’s a lifetime of constant reminders. It’s a grief over those who couldn’t be saved.
He comes home each night with someone else’s pain.
It’s a pain that, although he did not inflict it, he also could not heal it. A grandmother, a son, an uncle . . . these people who mean the world to you, also mean the world to him.
Each life he touches becomes a part of him—whether it be his nightmares, his headaches, his bad days, or the glimpse of hope, the joy of reuniting a husband with his wife after a heart attack, the reminder of why he does what he does. My husband takes care of the sickest human beings during their darkest hours.
I imagine his mind is constantly filled with sobbing wives over lost husbands, the bawling parents of losing their adult sons to overdose; the screams, the wails, the cries, the blame. He’s held strangers as they’ve wept over loss, he’s told parents they’ve lost a child. To these family members, he is their hope.
To me, he is invincible.
Sometimes, he doesn’t want to talk about his day. Sometimes, he can’t wait to talk about it. Sometimes, he’s silent. Sometimes, he’s enthusiastic. Often, he is tired.
A medic enters the medical field to save lives, but more often they learn the emergency medical field is more about coping with loss than saving. When he says the word “died” to you, he dies a little inside, too. When a medic is holding your hand, they feel every fragment of what you feel. Squeeze their hand hard and know—you are a part of them now.