All names and places have been changed.
The ink on the card that the NREMT had send which read “Paramedic” was barely dry when I acquired the first of what I call “ghosts.” Ghosts are what I call the patients that I have who will always stay with me and that I think of almost every single day. For many reasons this was a day that I would never forget… but it’s one that I wish I could.
It started out easy enough. This was one of my first shifts out of orientation at my service and I had just clocked in. I was met by my partner for the day – Kirsten – with her usual bear hug. “Dude! Congratulations. I can’t believe I get to work with you as your partner now.” I smiled, “Yeah, let’s hope it’s a good day.” While I was checking off the truck we made small talk about where to grab breakfast in a few minutes. Soon I was joined by an EMT student from the community college who was assigned to my truck for her clinical rotation. As Kristen and I are showing her the equipment, the tones drop.
“103, respond to Elm Ridge Apartments, apartment 47. 8 month old female, un-witnessed cardiac arrest. Fire department is en route.”
I look at Kristen and utter the first word that came to my mind: “Shit!”
We respond and hear the crew chief go en route in the sprint. We arrive and as I’m walking up the stairs a firefighter comes running down holding a blanket wrapped… something. “Bring her to the truck.” I open the side door and he places the lifeless little one on the cot. I begin setting up for an IO while Kristen puts the monitor leads on her. To say that I have tunnel vision during this time would be an understatement. I tell the student to begin compressions and I am about to drill the infant’s leg. I start going over the PALS protocols in my mind.
(Thinking): “Ok, let met get this IO going and push some Epi… Fuck, what’s the dose? Gotta get a tube in… Why isn’t she compressing?!”
The crew chief has joined us by this point and can tell that I have total tunnel vision. He looks at me and taps me on my shoulder. “Stop. Take a good look and look at what’s going on.” I regain some of my composure and take a look.
Quickly, I realize the gravity of the situation. She’s cold. She has rigor. She’s dead.
Fighting back tears, I key up the radio and call for the coroner. PD has arrived by this point and have begun talking to the parents. I jump out to deliver the bad news. This is news that no one should ever have to hear, and damn sure should not have to deliver. I ask them their names and their daughter’s name and begin talking to them as gently as I possibly can. “Kimberly has been without a heartbeat and any breathing for quite some time. I’m so very sorry but there is nothing we can do for her. She’s gone.”
Needless to say, they become quite upset and I comfort them as best as I can, all the while trying to fight my own grief and hold back my own tears. These people have just lost their treasure, their gift from God, their little girl. And here I am, an uninvited and – at this point – seemingly unwelcome spectator to the initial stages of their grief. I feel utterly powerless. I am unable to even attempt to do what I have trained for over a year to do because there is simply no point. It was too late.
I was too late.
Eventually we transport Kimberly to the morgue. Mercifully, the rest of the shift was mostly uneventful, a true gift from God if you ask me. Later that night after I talked to my wife, I went to a secluded spot at the station and sobbed. The weight of this call was squarely on my shoulders and I needed to let it go.
To this day, there’s rarely a day that I don’t think of Kimberly. For months I would regularly see her lifeless face whenever I closed my eyes. This eventually passed, but the memory of this event has left me a little more broken than I was previously.
Kimberly: My first ghost.