Word Count: 46,000
The sample I am providing is the opening chapter of the novel. It is from the perspective of Dean. He is the paramedic and first responder to the crash that the novel revolves around. The sample chapter is about 6,000 words long.
They told me I can’t be such an aggressive driver. That was the one stipulation when they hired me. I agreed to it, wondering if I would be able to make good on such a promise. It’s one thing to tell yourself to calm down. You loosen your grip on the steering wheel. You take extra time focusing on breathing in and out. Before you know it, you look down and the speedometer is no longer spiking. Without the tension in your body, there will be no tension in your leg. Your foot will lift off the pedal ever so slightly and your chances of getting into an ironic accident diminish.
How do you lose that tension when you can see the blood soaking through the shirt of the man in the back? I try to take an extra breath. It works for a moment. Then I look at the blood again, forget to take a breath, and my fingers tighten around the steering wheel once again. My muscles are so tense with fear that my speedometer reaches new heights rather than leveling out. Sometimes I even remember that my job depends on slowing down. That knowledge is even less effective. How can I focus on my career path when a man is dying in the back?
The sirens don’t help the matter. I feel my blood pumping with their repetitive squeal. They put me in a zone where there is nothing but me and the road in front of me. Apparently my attachment and adaptation to the siren is unique. Eric tells me he hardly hears it anymore. I’m pretty sure he’s lying. Then again, I don’t know what it’s like to fish about in an open bullet wound, looking for fragments. I want to know but I’m haven’t reached that part of the EMT training. I can’t wait until I do. I want to be the one sitting in the back, actually helping someone cling to life. I want them to give me a driver so I don’t have to be the one who focuses on the road and the morons who don’t know how to get out of the way. Unfortunately, that’s at least a year away. Until then, I’m stuck behind the wheel, making the light ahead of me magically turn green.
It’s the Ninth of August. One of the first things you learn on the job are the patterns. It’s the beginning of a new month. The man in the back doesn’t know it yet, but he fits perfectly into this pattern. There’s always one poor soul who doesn’t get the check he thought he was supposed to get on the first of the month. That usually plays out for a few days. Within the first week of any given month, there will almost always be an amateur robbery by a man who barely knows how to handle a gun. The bullet hole in this 7-11 cashier’s shoulder shows how bad of a shot our out-of-luck robber was. Unfortunately, he tore apart a major artery and this man is bleeding more than a body can handle. There is no such thing as chaos. If it looks chaotic, it just means you haven’t found the pattern yet.
Surprise. Surprise. Our working class hero has flatlined. There’s another fascinating pattern to put in your pamphlet. Any time I get within five blocks of the intended hospital, the man spewing up blood flatlines. That brings us back to my inability to slow down. Would you be able to slow down if ten seconds could mean the difference of life and death for the man in the back? That’s an easy question for me. It’s not about the job—it’s about the life. I’m told I won’t make a good doctor if I hold tight to that mentality. I guess I won’t be a doctor because I’m not the one holding tight to that mentality. It’s holding on to me.
I always get nervous when I pull into the ER lane. The same question always flashes through my mind: Did I do something wrong? It’s the same thought process you’ll find with any worker who doesn’t have a constant supervisor. I let my guard down when I’m alone. The top button of my uniform comes undone. The material doesn’t stay organized. When I realize a supervisor is within range, I become instantly aware of everything I’m doing wrong. This time? Well…I hate to admit it. We were in such a hurry that I forgot to strap on my seatbelt.
Who gives a shit? If anything, it allows me to park and run around to the back of the ambulance that much faster. I throw open the doors to a miraculous beep-beep-beep. It’s impossible to not have a selfish edge after a few months on this job. Hearing the pings of life on that machine put me at ease for all the wrong reasons. This is handoff. He’s alive when he gets to the hospital. That’s all I care about. I don’t want to know what happens once he passes through those doors. All I care about is that I don’t have a dead man in the backseat. Not for his sake, but for mine. I have a harder time sleeping when someone dies on my watch.
I used to hate that I am capable of such selfishness. I live with it now. It’s part of the job. If a zero-death shift means I can get a full night sleep tonight, then that’s what I’m going to aim for. It doesn’t hurt anybody. In fact, it means I will work even harder to keep them alive. What could be wrong with that? He’s stable as we roll him out of the ambulance and in through the double doors. I hear Eric spewing off the man’s vitals to the handoff woman. I let the numbers fade from my mind without registering them. I don’t want to calculate whether or not the man will live. It’s the same reason I refuse to look the 7-11 clerk in the eyes. With the handoff complete, he is not longer of my concern.
Eric and I make our way out of the ER and back towards the ambulance. My breaths are heavy. I’m used to it, but it’s a constant annoyance. I’ve never been in particularly good shape. I run out of the ambulance and carry a full grown man on little more than adrenaline. It works, so I don’t complain. It’s just annoying that I have to catch my breath for a minute or two after every handoff. It’s become routine. I lay in the back of the ambulance while Eric smokes a cigarette. It’s the only time during his shift that he smokes. He says it’s a good way to regulate how much he smokes in a day. During the busier days, when he downs a pack or two in a twelve-hour shift, I doubt it does any good at regulating his intake.
I considered taking up smoking to deal with the stress of this job. That consideration lasted about an hour. I’m lying in the back of an ambulance catching my breath. Smoking would make me useless. Instead, I lay here staring at the ceiling of the ambulance. Once I catch my breath, I sit up and watch Eric finish off his cigarette. The life in his eyes is gone. Each shift starts with a lively smile for Eric. By the end of the night I have to stop myself from wondering if he’ll off himself before our next shift. Some days I question why I want his job. I get my answer when I look in the mirror each night. My eyes are as dead as his. The only difference is that I lack the ability to recharge before each shift. This job has built up on me for more than a year. It’s almost as if I’m waiting for the moment when I can’t handle it anymore.
Eric stomps out his cigarette and climbs into the passenger seat. Each crew is given a central zone where they park and wait for a call to come in from their area. For the past two weeks, our central zone has been in the parking lot of Sherbet Park. The parking lot sits over a steep hill that levels out into a lake. At night you can see the moon bounce off the surface of the lake. I hope they don’t change our location anytime soon. This place has allowed me to relax in-between runs in a way no other place has.
Eric tells me he hopes the hour ends without another fucking call. He fumbles with his phone and puts his feet up on the dash. There’s less than an hour left in this twelve. This time is always the moment of truth. Some nights end quietly. Others get calls with only minutes to go. We have to take it. Sometimes that means we’re on the clock for up to another hour of Hell. Damn, I sound like a complete asshole. It’s strange how one of the most selfless jobs around will turn you into one of the most selfish people around.
I’ve learned to enjoy the peace and quiet that two people can share. Eric has not. When there’s nothing else to talk about, Eric prods where he has no business. I never used to mind. Then, two weeks ago, I found out that my girlfriend of six months—Stacy—had been cheating on me. I didn’t sleep that night. I went into work the next day—happy for the opportunity to get out of the house. Eric is skilled at getting people to say what they never want to admit. I told him everything. Every shift since then, without fail, he asks me if I’ve broken it off with Stacy yet. I used to enjoy the silence just for the sake of silence. Now silence is but a prelude to a question I don’t what to answer.
It started about four years ago. I realized that no matter what choices I made in my life, it didn’t matter. Each decision I made—with good intentions or bad—would always turn out for the worst. When I realized that, I let my mind turn off. It’s been four years. With few failures, I have put zero effort into making any honest decision. My life has turned into a movie. I watch and wait to see what happens around me—leaving no impact on my own story. It’s just as effective as making decisions. Everything still goes wrong—only now I don’t stress over it.
Eric pushes me for an answer. I look over at him. He’s got two years on me. He’s got a wife back home that he adores and a baby girl he would literally kill for. I don’t know how to answer his question. I don’t know how to tell him why I can’t answer his question. All I want to ask him is how he found something worthwhile. I want to ask him how he got a girl to fall in love with him and not run. I want to ask him how to make the first steps away from the melancholy of just floating by. I want to talk to him about so much but my mouth never opens. That part of me has already accepted its fate. There’s no point in taunting it with false hope.
I ask him what he thought of the game last night. He looks at me—disappointed. He gives it a minute before he starts talking about the game. I didn’t even watch the game, but somehow I left the impression that I had. It’s easy not to talk when there’s no one around to force you. Deflection just becomes second nature after awhile. Even when I do want to talk, I still deflect. I built a wall to protect myself and failed to realize that I didn’t have the key to get out.
The conversation has fizzled out. Eric has given up on me. I would give up on me too. I close my eyes and think of what is waiting for me back home. Stacy has been a difficult relationship to manage since the beginning. The best times we’ve had were in the few days after she admitted that she was cheating. For the first time I felt like she was the one chasing me. It’s a good feeling to be chased. She wanted me back and would do anything for me. When the chase ended—about a week ago—things didn’t return to normal. I can see it in her actions. I can hear it in her words. I took her back after she cheated on me. I know damn well that she wouldn’t do the same if I cheated. Somehow I turned into the pathetic one in this game. I start to wonder why I want the shift to end. Sure, my body may be tired. But I do not want to go back home.
The call comes in four minutes before our shift is up. I say a silent thank you and turn on the engine. I grab the microphone and listen to the address. My heart drops as quickly as it elated. It’s a car accident, which would have taken up at least a good hour. But it’s outside our area. They must have called the wrong unit number. I call to tell them that. Before I finish, they come back over explaining the other crew is already in transit to the hospital and cannot stop by to check it out. I push the vehicle into reverse, give them the affirmative, and turn the lights on. The accident is a good 15 minute drive even with the siren blaring. Most of the crashes we tend to aren’t severe. That means I’ve got at least another 40 minutes away from home.
Hopefully she’ll be asleep when I get back. Lately she’s been waiting up for me. She always asks me why I’m coming home later than I said I would. I know what she’s doing. She’s picking a fight. She’s angry that I didn’t get mad at her for sleeping with that guy from her yoga class. It’s selfish of her, yes, but I actually understand. I’m not angry at her. At first I thought it had something to do with the whole not making decisions. I was wrong. I just don’t care. I know I’m not in love with her. There honestly is little reason for me to be with her. I still won’t break up with her, though. Years of experience tell me that my intuition is always wrong.
Eric is staring at me. I can tell but I make sure not to let him know that. What does he want me to say? Why does he expect so much out of me when he won’t give me an ounce of insight? I sigh, staring at the dark road ahead. We’re out of the city now, heading north. He doesn’t give me insight because I turn him down every time he offers it up. How pathetic am I? I get angry at people for not reading my mind. Even if they could, I’d probably get angry at them for reading me like a book. There’s no way out of it. I’m trapped within my own walls. There’s no way to escape. I made sure of that…back when I made sure no one could get in.
The road curves to the East. We’re only a few blocks off of the crash now. It can’t be too bad. I don’t see many headlights so it’s not likely they are blocking the traffic. Eric mumbles something under his breath. He keeps looking at the clock. We should have been off 15 minutes ago. I may not be annoyed. He most certainly is. Luckily, he’s good at his job. It doesn’t matter what’s on his mind now. When we get to the scene, he enters a trance that does not end until his cigarette is lit outside the hospital. I think I am the only person who sees these two sides of him. It’s fascinating to see the transformation.
The crash illuminates as I take the final turn in the road. Three cars have pulled off to the side of the road and have their brights shining. They light up the accident and throw a brick into my stomach. We pause for a second or two after the severity of the crash becomes clear. Then, all at once, all of our training falls into place. I’m on the radio calling for backup and the Jaws of Life. The moment I slow down the ambulance, Eric is out of the vehicle with a bag of essentials. I throw the vehicle into park and follow in tow.
There are four men around the two cars. Eric runs up to them and asks them what they know. I come up behind him and assess the damage. The front car is an older Mustang. The back half of the car is completely destroyed. The driver must have some pretty nasty whiplash, but they are probably okay. If anyone was in the back of the car, they’re probably still stuck there. My eyes shift to the people Eric is talking to. They all look perfectly alright. They couldn’t have been in the crash. I look back at the parked cars. Bingo. There are two women waving air over who I can only assume is the driver of the front car…who is now unconscious.
I go over to the women. They tell me what happened as I check for a pulse. It’s there. They tell me that they’ve been keeping a close eye on the vitals. I spend a few minutes checking up on their work. They were right. There is nothing to worry about. I tell them to stay here and to come get me if anything goes wrong. I show them how to properly take a pulse. I know it’s not exactly the right thing to do. Eric can’t be in two places at once so I am supposed to take on the easier case. This one, however, is too easy. When the backup ambulance gets here, I’ll explain the situation.
The true crisis lies with Eric. We are lucky in only one aspect—there were no passengers in either car. With the driver of the Mustang doing fine, we have only one person to truly worry about. The back car is an old yellow Volkswagen Bug. The entire front half of it is crushed. Somewhere in the mash of steel, oil, and blood is the driver—pinned. The other ambulance will be here in just a few minutes. It’s bringing the Jaws of Life. With the help of the four men, we start clearing away the excess steel with the few tools we have. The Jaws work well, but they still need a clear path to get to the driver.
A line of cars is starting to form behind my ambulance. It’ll only be a matter of time before someone throws their car into park and comes to investigate. The last thing we need is an audience. There’s nothing I can do about that. We’ll have a team of medics and cops here in just a few minutes. I try to stop thinking about it while I pull the side mirror off the car. A faint sound stops me in my tracks. I yell for the other guys to shut up. They comply, wondering why. Eric knows why immediately. Trapped in the steel, we have not yet seen our driver. The fact that we have not yet heard our driver means it’s likely that we’re looking for a corpse.
The silence is eerie. All I hear is the distant rumble of about a dozen cars. One of the guys is antsy to get back to work. He asks me what I heard. I shush him. From within the steel, a weak groan emerges. I look over at Eric for just a second or two. We’ve worked together long enough to know what each other is saying without words. His eyes are as clear as day: we are going to save this one. The six of us rip into overdrive. We tear as much of the steel free as we can. I get one of the bigger guys to help me take the back door off its hinges. The other guys realize what we’re doing and follow suit.
We all stop for a split second when the shrill sound of a distant siren pierces the calm air. I run off to flag him down. The other five don’t hesitate to keep working. I don’t realize until I’m back at our ambulance that my hands and arms are insanely sore and bleeding in multiple places. The other five guys don’t realize how badly their hands are going to hurt. I hope Eric is good enough to take care of the driver on the way back to the hospital. I wouldn’t trust a patient in any other hands.
I get the ambulance to stop just before the women helping the driver who fainted. They jump out of the ambulance asking for updates. I tell them that we are going to start working the Jaws on the person stuck in the demolished Volkswagen. They open up the back of their ambulance and pull out the Jaws. The three of us carry it over to the crash. The new paramedics start trying to help us ready the car for the Jaws. They don’t realize there are already too many people and they’re just getting in the way. Eric nods at me. I know exactly what he means. I take the two paramedics aside. I point over to the women that they parked near. All I have to say is that there was something strange about the vitals. It’s not true, but they take off and Eric and I are left alone to do the work we know we can do.
Off in the distance we hear more sirens coming. This section of the road is going to be closed off like a crime scene. It could be a crime scene for all I know. These types of collisions don’t usually happen unless there’s a stop sign, light, or curve in the road. We are in the middle of nowhere on a straightaway. I don’t know what made the Mustang stop so quickly, nor why the Volkswagen was following so closely. That’s up for the authorities to figure out. My job is to make sure this doesn’t change from crime scene to a murder scene.
Eric cuts away at the back of the car first. He wants to remove the roof so that we can try to come in from above. I go to the driver’s side of the car to figure out what part will be easiest to remove after the roof is gone. My hands are already numb. I push that from my mind. It doesn’t matter if I get cut up a bit. I can deal with the scars if we end up saving a life. I try moving small parts of metal around on the inside of the car. I move them slowly and carefully. I need to figure out what we’re moving without making whatever injuries the driver has even worse.
None of the metal is giving way. I run my hand under the biggest piece that has collapsed inward. Finally, I find a part that is loose. I move my hand around its edges. No. That definitely is not a piece of loose metal. I wrap my fingers around the loose material and squeeze ever so slightly. A groan crows from deep within the wreckage. My heart stops. It’s not some loose material. It’s a palm. I let my hand do the searching. Eventually I am able to wrap my hand around the driver’s hand. I hear another groan. I squeeze slightly in reassurance. The hand is limp.
My heart is racing. There is a life within the wreckage. I grow excited with the knowledge that the driver is still alive. I grow frightened knowing the fragile life is now in my hand. From out of the corner of my eye, I see a flashing of red lights. It takes a few seconds for me to realize that I am still on the job and need to focus. I pull my eyes away from the wreckage. Eric has undone the back of the car. There are now two ambulances, a fire truck, and three police cars blocking the road going either way. The firefighters have relieved Eric of the Jaws and have taken it over. They are working their way around the passenger side of the car. That is routine. They have to be most careful when they are near the driver’s side.
Eric comes over looking concerned. I’m bent over awkwardly with my hand shoved in the wreckage. I tell him that I have a grip on the driver. He smiles weakly. He tells me to keep holding on. Thank God. If he told me I needed to let go, I don’t know if I would be capable. He tells me he’s going back to the ambulance to prepare for the ride back. There is going to be a lot of blood lost. He’s going to call ahead to hospital to make sure they have blood ready—we’ll test for blood type on the drive back. He runs off and leaves me with the firefighters. That’s the first time I realize the guys and women who were here before us have been escorted off to the side of the road. They could help immensely. Unfortunately, so much is surrounded in accountability now that they have to be pushed aside.
The firefighters work their way around the front of the car. One of them comes around and tells me I have to move. I explain the situation. He knows just as well as I do that the emotional state of a trauma victim is extremely important. If I let go, I’m afraid of what will happen. It doesn’t matter. I have to move or I will be in danger of being torn up by the Jaws. I give one final squeeze. I don’t hear a groan this time. I try not to think about it. The sound of the Jaws must just be drowning it out. I let go of the hand and take a few steps back.
They start cutting the final pieces away. Eric comes over to join me. He tells me I’m trembling. I had no idea. I look down at my hand to see if it’s true. My trembling stops immediately. It was the hand that I was holding on with. Blood. I don’t know anything about this person. I don’t know where they live. I don’t know if they are old or young. I don’t know if they are male or female. I don’t have a name. Yet the sight of that much blood on my hand makes me want to cry. For the first time all night, I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to save this person. I look up at Eric. His eyes are worried. He has the same doubts I have.
I ask Eric if they’re sending AirVac. He shakes his head grimly without looking at me. He tells me that it’s already being used on the other side of town. We’re going to have to speed through town once we get the driver out. Four firefighters count to three and lift the roof of the mangled car up and off. The sound of the metal scrapping against metal sends Goosebumps across my body. I want to join them after they get it off but I know I would only get in the way. I watch in worry beside Eric. All we can do now is wait.
This is the hardest part. Eric and I realized that the moment we pulled up. It’s never too difficult to remove the roof off a car. The hardest part is always removing the metal around the victim without hurting them any further. It takes time. That’s the problem. This victim is already bleeding quite heavily. That much I can tell from the blood caking to my hand. Time is the one thing that could spell death for our driver. I want to tell the firefighters to hurry. I restrain myself. They know how important this is.
I hate when it happens this way. It’s a horrible idea to start caring for someone when they are on the brink of death. I’ve done it too often. I thought I had this under control. Judging by the way my heart leapt when I felt the flesh within the rubble, I was wrong. On the other hand, it proves that I am still human. How morbid is that? I have to put myself through Hell in order to prove that I’m not a heartless healer like House—not that I’m much of a healer. I just wish there was some way to go about helping people without the immense sense of hopelessness that accompanies it when you inevitably fail.
I won’t fail tonight. That’s my last conscious thought before the firefighters are able to pull off a large piece of mangled metal. The sight beneath changes everything. There is so much blood that the features of the driver are impossible to pin down. The metal pierced the body of the driver in multiple places—mangling certain parts of the upper body. I just want to just look away. How can we save somebody who is already a second away from death? I try to focus. The chest, covered with blood, expands and contracts without much weakness.
I look over at Eric. We’re on the same wavelength. The driver can still breathe with power. That means most of the vital organs are still functioning. The only clock we will be fighting is the loss of blood. Considering how much blood is covering the body, that is still a hell of a clock to fight. Regardless, Eric and I have our goal. The firefighters are working faster at pulling away the rest of the metal. They are thinking the same way we are. It doesn’t matter what they do now. It’s a fight against blood loss at this point.
I grab the stretcher and wait beside Eric next to the car as they pull the final parts of metal pinning the driver. Eric straps on a neck brace then enlists one of the other paramedics to help lift the driver into the stretcher. I hold up the back. Eric holds the head. I shiver feeling the skin of this person again. Now that I see the driver, I realize that not much has changed. I still can’t see what color hair the driver has considering it’s drenched in blood. I still can’t tell height because the driver is twisted in an awkward manner. I still can’t even tell if it is a man or a woman because of all the wounds and blood. This person is still a stranger to me—yet the chest moving up and down is enough for me to want to help.
We lift the driver into the stretcher. There is another groan, but it’s weaker this time. The other paramedic and Eric lift the stretcher and head towards the back of the ambulance. I turn around, ready to enter my zone. I race towards the driver’s seat and start the engine. It only takes a few seconds to hear the bang-bang on the back doors. I put the machine into reverse and maneuver my way around the emergency vehicles.
The road is empty as I turn my emergency lights on. The other side of the road has probably 50 cars waiting for the mess to clear up. I wonder how long they will wait until they realize the road is closed and they have to find another way. All of them stare at me as I race past them. To some of them, I’m the signal that the crash up ahead was bad. To the rest of them, I’m the signal that the path might clear up in the next few minutes. They are part of the reason I lose faith in humanity some days. The beating heart in the back of the ambulance is the reason I always find that faith eventually.
Athletes always talk about being ‘in the zone.’ I never thought much of it until I saw the movie “The Social Network.” They kept referring to the programmers being ‘plugged in.’ It wasn’t until then that I realized most professions has some fashion of ‘the zone.’ After the first few months of this job slipped under my belt, I found my zone. I don’t need to use it on every run. In fact there are some nights that I don’t have to use it at all. Tonight is not one of those nights. This feeling of floating on air is stronger than it has ever been. I am not going to let this fragile life fall out from beneath me. I don’t understand why I feel so strongly about this. That’s not something to worry about now. I can start to wonder when the driver is safe.
In the back, Eric is working with the other medic to stop the bleeding. There is bleeding from multiple places. They spend of the majority of the drive trying to fix the major problems. By the time I reach the outskirts of the city, I overhear that they have most of it under control. I want to breathe a sigh of relief but I don’t. My job is not done until the handoff is complete. I continue to take the corners a little harder than I should. When I look down, my knuckles are white. I don’t care. I’m not going to screw this one up.
We’re five blocks out. As always, my stress level peaks and my hearts pounds in my chest. I hear Eric say they have a good deal of the minor cuts under control. The driver is hardly breathing anymore. I don’t focus on this. I know the severity. The driver has already lost a lot of blood. We’re three blocks out when the dramatic beep-beep-beep comes to a halt. The sounds of a flatline is horrifying in a way you cannot understand unless you’ve experienced it. It doesn’t mean there’s a battle between life and death. The fact that they’re hooked up to the monitor signifies that. A flatline signifies that death has found an opening in the ranks of life and is charging headstrong.
It’s followed with the inevitable screech of the charging paddles and Eric yelling ‘clear.’ Most people have hope even when the first shock doesn’t work. I am not as hopeful. I’ve seen this too often. If your heart won’t start after one shock, what will multiple shocks do? He tries it again. And again. I try not to think about it. I failed. Eric charges the machine for the fifth time as I pull up to the ER doors. I get out of the driver’s seat and slowly make my way around the back. When I open the doors, I see Eric holding the paddles and breathing heavily. He’s covered in blood. He puts the paddles aside. He declared the time of death as he digs around in his pockets. Without a word, he pulls out two cigarettes and hands one to me.