No One Dies in the Ambulance

The truck hit him at exactly forty-nine miles per hour.

One moment, Blake Owens was stepping off the sidewalk, crossing the street and the next he was on his back and did not know where he was.

The impact itself was never understood by him as his concussed brain failed to record the event. A flash of headlights was the only clear image he could conjure. Blake first thought, when he could again think, was that he’d tripped and maybe twisted his ankle. But his chest hurt. And his head. That didn’t make sense.

When he opened his eyes again, he was looking at a metal bar attached to the ceiling. A bag of water hung from it, swaying like in an ocean current. A dangling plastic tube ran from it to him, hitting him in the face.

“Sorry, about that,” a woman said, sliding the bag further down the bar, moving the plastic tubing from his face. She was a flurry of activity, moving around him and opening doors and cabinets he couldn’t see. Her unruly blonde hair was tied back and she wore no make-up and to Blake she looked like an angel.

Another woman, with long fingers and hazel eyes, sat next to him on his other side, scrunched in the small seat between the cabinets. She was holding his hand.

“What . . .” He wanted to ask ‘what happened’ but it felt like his mouth and throat were coated in sand. “Water?” he managed.

“Sorry, no.” the angel said. She was wearing a uniform, a white button down shirt with a silver badge on it and black cargo pants. “Hey, what’s your name?”

“Blake. Owens.”

“Do you know what day it is, Blake?” She shined a penlight in his eyes.

“Of course, it’s . . . ” He thought it was Saturday but that didn’t seem right.

“How about what month?”

“It’s September.”

“If I were to give you six quarters how much is that?”

Blake thought for a moment, trying to ignore the throbbing in his head. “Buck fifty.”

“Can you feel this?”


“How about this?”

“I don’t know what you’re doing.” He tried moving but he was strapped down to the bed.

“Okay.” She nodded looking disappointed. He did not understand why. “Blake, do you know what happened to you?”

He didn’t.

“Blake? Hey, stay with me. You were hit by a truck. It seems to have been going fast. We think it ran over you. You’re in an ambulance. We’re taking you to a trauma center. C’mon, open your eyes.”

“Am I going to die?”

“No one dies in the ambulance,” she smiled down at him and for a moment Blake believed her. She put two fingers to his neck and sighed deeply.

There was a sharp pain in his arm that he barely noticed. The angel woman hung another bag of water over him. IV bag, he thought. Saline.

The woman holding his hand didn’t seem as flustered. She sat calmly on the other side of the gurney, her fingers laced through his right hand. Her hand was warm in his and he thought of his mother’s hand. He thought of holding it in the doctor’s office when he got shots as a boy.

Blake couldn’t exactly see what she wore, as his neck was restricted by the cervical collar, but her face was calm, a slight smile turning up her lips.

“What’s your name?” he asked the other woman.

It was the angel woman that answered, “I’m Holly, by the way. I’m sorry we had to meet like this.”

The other woman smiled at Holly, then down at Blake. “I’m Dana. You’re in good hands.”

“Can you tell what hurts the most?” Holly interrupted.

“I don’t know.” Blake said. “I feel numb. Am I bleeding?”

“Okay, I need to make a phone call.” Holly produced a phone from her pocket and began dialing.

“I think you’re doing wonderful,” Dana told him, holding on to his gaze. Blake couldn’t tell if her eyes were green or hazel, but they were kind and striking.

“Are you both EMTs or whatever?”

“She’s the paramedic. Tonight I’m just observing.”

Blake was vaguely aware of the ambulance turning and shifting around him. Holly had a blood pressure cuff around his arm and was inflating it as she talked.

“We’re coming emergent with a twenties male, auto ped. Struck at fifty miles per hour. Positive LOC. He’s got an unstable pelvis, deformity to thoracic spine at about T five, a right femur fracture, rigid belly, and lacerations to head and scalp. CSM compromised to lower extremities. Last pressure is seventy by palp, heart rate of one hundred and thirty, respirations of forty. We’re still five out and I’ve got lines and fluid going. He’s collared and backboarded. Questions? . . . . Thanks.”

With that she hung up and looked back down at Blake.

“How are you doing? Still with me?”

“I feel dizzy.” It was harder to talk, like he was underwater.

Holly frowned, “Your blood pressure is low. The fluid I’m giving you isn’t working. Try to hang in there. I’m not going to lie to you, you’re in pretty bad shape.”

“But I’m not going to die?”

“No one dies in my ambulance,” she whispered, perhaps more to herself. Holly shot him that smile again, warm and genuine. However, even hurt as he was, Blake could see behind it. Blake could tell she didn’t believe it.

She put an oxygen mask over his face.

Dana squeezed his hand, “If Holly says you’ll make it, you will. I’ve been riding with her a long time.”

Holly put her stethoscope in her ears and the bell to his chest and listened to his lungs.

“At least you’re breathing okay.”

Blake could hear the sirens, cold and distant, like an afterthought in this whole thing. Had they always been there? He wasn’t sure. It wasn’t the sirens that were cold. He was. Blake Owens realized he was freezing.

“Is there a blanket?”

Holly regarded him for a second, her face betraying something he couldn’t pinpoint. She grabbed two blankets from a compartment and draped them over him.

“Is that better? It’s just a little longer.”

“Yeah,” he lied.

Holly took his blood pressure again but this time she cursed. She reached up and pressed two gloved fingers to his neck and cursed again.

“What’s wrong?” Blake asked.

Holly didn’t answer him. Instead, she ripped the blankets off his upper body. She wove her fingers together and placed them over his sternum. Abruptly and with surprising force she pushed down. Her first three compressions broke most of his ribs.

Dana squeezed his hand harder and he squeezed back. “You’re doing great,” she whispered to him.

The rear doors to the ambulance flew open and there were more people and more voices. Holly was shouting, not angry, not even upset, just to be heard. “Inside! He just lost them! Get him inside!”

They pulled the cot out of the ambulance, with Holly doing chest compressions on the way out. Locks of tied blonde hair fell into her face with each push but she did not stop. She stood on the lower rail of the cot, riding it, and doing compressions as several others wheeled the cot through the big doors of the emergency department.

Blake stayed behind with Dana.

“Does it hurt?” she asked him.

“Not anymore,” he said. Then, getting a better look at her, asked, “Are you . . . taking me anywhere?”

“No. I don’t do that. But I like staying here.”

Blake looked around the back of the ambulance. There was blood on the floor and plastic packaging and pieces of his clothing strewn about. The hum of the air condition and buzzing of the vent came together in near harmony. He sat on the long bench seat and thought for a moment.

“I think I like it here too. Do you mind if I stay? At least for a little while?”

“Not at all,” Dana smiled. “But don’t you have a place you’d rather be?”

Blake thought for a moment, “I don’t think so. Not anymore.”

Together they sat and watched Holly return. She and her partner, a young man with a scraggly beard, began cleaning up the back of the ambulance. They picked up the trash and wiped up the blood with a peroxide-soaked towel. Then Holly sat on the bench next to Blake and sanitized her stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff with some disinfectant wipes.

Her partner went back inside the hospital for supplies.

It was then Holly cried.

It was only for a few moments but Blake saw it crash over her like a wave.

He wanted to put a hand over her shoulder but he was never really good when people cried in front of him.

“Thank you for trying,” he said instead.

Holly wiped her eyes and breathed deeply.

After a few long moments she composed herself and moved to the front seat. Her partner returned to the driver’s seat.

“Yeah, they called it,” he reported.

“I figured.” Holly sighed. “Hey, what’d the cops end up doing with the driver?”

“I heard on the radio they transported him to city jail. Suspicion of DUI.”

“Well, it’s homicide now.”

“When did he die on you?”

Holly scoffed at him. “He lost pulses right as you were pulling in. But remember, in here, we don’t stop working them. No one dies in the ambulance. They die in the hospital.”

Her partner was silent for a moment. “Hey. Good job on that call. I don’t think doing anything differently would have changed his outcome.”

Holly nodded. “I know that. It’s just . . . I was talking to him, you know? He was talking to me. He knew his name, the month, the quarter question, and then . . . nothing. Unconscious the rest of the way. I thought he had a chance.” Holly thought for a moment, then said, “It’s funny. I thought I heard him ask for a blanket. He barely had a pulse at that point and I put blankets on him.”

Her partner nodded. “Makes sense. We’re supposed to keep trauma patients warm.”

“Well, thing is, I forgot. But it was like he reminded me. Is that weird?”

Her partner smiled, “I think you’ve got a lot of empathy. And you listen to your patients regardless of whether they’re talking or not.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Holly picked up the radio mic and held it for a long moment, frozen in thought. So long that Blake could see her hand begin to tremble and a moment of realization trapped between her lips.

Then she keyed up, “Dispatch, medic 64, we’re back in service.”

When not writing, Chris Daruns works as a paramedic in Denver. He keeps the insanity at bay by rock climbing, playing guitar, and spending time with his wife and daughter. Sometimes he can be found at school (when not closed due to pandemics) furthering his education in medicine. His short stories have been published in Dark Futures, The Copperfield Review, Obscura, Alcyone, and Infernal Ink.

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