Every time I take the 7 North bus we pass the intersection of Bruin and Evergreen. The bus announces it. Every time I hear it, even with my headphones on, I still hear it …
“Bruin and Evergreen….”
And I remember.
I’m haunted. This place, this town…Everett and Seattle… haunts. I haunt. (Newspaper article after accident). “Bruin and Evergreen, MCI (multi-casualty incident) with entrapment,” I remember the fire radio announce, scratchy and muffled. I wasn’t sitting on a bus when it was announced that day, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my ambulance. It was October 30th, 2012, a dreary fall day in the city. My partner Ben and I were at the end of a twelve-hour shift. The ambulance had seen it’s share of action that day and we were exhausted, sitting quietly as we drove down Evergreen, just a few miles away from quarters.
I looked up at Ben as soon as I had heard the address go over the radio. “Did she say Bruin and Evergreen?”
We were at Bruin and Evergreen.
And then it happened. It unfolded. I remember seeing the accident. I remember the people flagging us down. You don’t think in those moments, you react and do as you have been trained to do. I grabbed the EMS bag and checked the safety of the scene while simultaneously giving a report on the handheld fire radio as I ran toward the crumpled sedan. It had crossed the center line into oncoming traffic. The driver of the van was conscious, her white hair saturated in blood from a laceration. A driver of another car was attending to her and helping to control the bleeding.
Standing at the driver’s side of the sedan was a young man, no older than myself, and he was pacing back and forth with his hands on his head, clearly in shock. I’ll never forget the look on his face, absolute terror. “Is he breathing? IS HE BREATHING?!!” He was screaming. He was pointing inside the sedan.
I couldn’t enter through the crumpled passenger side so I crawled in through the driver’s side. I put my head inside the car…And something strange happened. For a split moment, in the blink of an eye, I lived my worst nightmare. My eyes went from the steering wheel to the cracked windshield to….a little boy. I hadn’t expected to see a little boy. For a moment I saw my little boy. For a moment I saw my stepson, and my gut hollowed and my breath got caught in my throat. I saw him for only a flash. In the blink of an eye. As I checked for his little pulse I could hear his father in anguish. I looked up to see him and as quickly as the dread had hit me, it fled. This was not my nightmare. This was someone else’s.
Ben eeked through the broken window and maintained the airway while I did compressions. The metal had eaten his little body, and we weren’t going to be able to extricate. With one hand I did compressions and the other I held his hand. I spoke to him. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but I’m here to help you and I really want you to be able to hear me. You aren’t alone right now, your dad is right outside, we want you to breathe…buddy, please breathe for me.” I wanted his eyes to blink. They were half opened, rolled back. He looked so much like my stepson, my little man. “Please, please, please, please….” I think I was praying. I wanted him to come back SO BADLY. I thought, “God if ever you are going to allow me to witness a miracle in this job, please let this be it!”
“IS HE OK?” His father is shouting over my shoulder. Over and over and over. “IS HE DEAD! PLEASE HELP HIM, PLEASE HELP HIM!”
We were alone on-scene for almost fifteen minutes before fire showed up. I remember someone tapping my shoulder, “Do you need a break?” I was so grateful to see his face. We traded places and after they tried awhile longer they pronounced the seven-year-old boy dead while my partner and I had to physically hold back the sobbing father. The police had secured the area and they wouldn’t allow him to see his little boy. “Please let me see my son!” He screamed. I remember having to put all my weight against him to hold him back. I JUST WANTED TO HUG HIM.
I remember being in a daze after we got back to quarters. We had to speak to our supervisors. They gave us the next day off. I later found out they sent that entire fire department team home after the call as well…substitutes came and replaced them for the remainder of their shift. Everyone had this overwhelming need to go home and hug their child. It was the only call in more than I can think to count over a ten-year career that we actually held a debriefing. I couldn’t stop wondering what Halloween costume he was supposed to wear the next day.
I went back to my apartment and sat against my door without going inside, staring at the lights of the cabana, somewhat overwhelmed. I texted my stepson…I told him how much I loved him.
I could never quite separate myself from this call…it will still make me cry. It was the call that broke my badass…I stopped being able to separate myself from my patients. It was time to step away from my life of lights and sirens…
“Bruin and Evergreen” The bus says.
I take a deep breath. Haunted. There are ghosts everywhere. Beautiful memories. Tragic ones…just ghosts…