Wednesday, April 14, 2010

the green fuse

We step outside to give the family time alone with Bill.

The house is part of a long and steeply-banked estate cut into the side of a valley. Way off in the distance, the last of the farms that used to dominate the landscape stand hard against the sky on the valley rim, horses roaming the high-sided fields, scatterings of sheep, smoke from a brush clearance. The day has risen with dizzying clarity. You can almost hear the fizz of sap rising in the hedges and trees and shrubs, filaments of green springing from the dark networks of branches; intense bursts of colour from the daffodils, anemones, forsythia, camellia. The edge of everything, every nick and stretch, from the flick of a pigeon’s eye to the splinters on the rough cut timbers being delivered next door, everything hangs with a clarity of focus as bright as the ringing sky above us.

‘Everything all right?’ says the delivery guy, wiping the back of a gloved hand across his forehead.
‘Not all that great, to be honest.’
‘Oh. Is the van all right up there or d’you want it moved?’
‘You’re fine. Thanks anyway.’
‘Give us a shout if you need a hand.’
He walks back up the steep steps to grab another timber.

The police arrive. We meet them at the top of the path.

‘Thanks for coming. Nothing suspicious. What it is – we’ve got a seventy seven year old – Bill. Got up at six as usual to make the breakfast. His wife Ellen didn’t hear anything more from him, went down about seven thirty or so and found him lying on his side in the kitchen, not breathing. She says he opened his eyes when she shook him, but didn’t say anything. Couldn’t move him or do any CPR. We got here and did what we could, another crew backed us up, but it wasn’t any good. Asystole throughout. The rest of the family – son and daughter in law – came by about five minutes after we got here. They’re all in the sitting room, pretty upset. Come on in. I’ll introduce you.’

One of the officers stays with the family whilst I take the other into the kitchen to inspect the body. We’ve tidied our clutter away, put back the oven gloves I used to kneel on when I did the compressions, mopped up the bile-stained vomit, wiped Bill’s face clean and closed his eyes. He lies on his back with a blanket under his head and another stretched over his length. Only his face is visible, waxy and slack, and the tips of his slippers poking out from the bottom of the blanket, angled left and right.

‘He was in hospital a few months ago about some breathlessness and fluid retention, discharged with query heart failure and an upcoming heart appointment, but other than that his health was pretty good. Apparently Bill had complained of some chest pain last night but he’s always been a stubborn so-and-so and just wanted to go to bed with a hot water bottle. Was out all day yesterday on his bike, up town buying flowers.’

I hand the officer copies of the paperwork, and leave him to it. We say goodbye to the family as we pass by the sitting room on the way out.

As we step onto the patio, I’m struck full on again by the force of colour and light outside. It feels as if I’ve been given a pair of x-ray specs, so dreadful in their scope that every hidden network, from the water pipes running under the path to the tiniest capillary bed in my nail; from the sapwood in that laurel tree to the spidery crystalline threads in the granite; from the red blood cells drifting down and pooling in Bill’s veins to the molecules of chlorophyll hustling light in the cells of the grass - an infinite, unremitting network of being and becoming, reaching out, growing and connecting, breaking up and then blindly making good again.

We pick up our bags, walk back up to the ambulance, and I radio control to tell them how things stand.


lulu's missives said...

Hola Spence (my pidgeon spanish),
The first and last paragraphs were amazing. Beautifully descriptive.
Again, you have an amazing way with words, drawing a person into the event.
xx jo

Spence Kennedy said...

Hola Jo. Que tal?

Muchas gracias... and that's as far as my Spanish takes me (unless you're going to the bar...) Hope you're having a great holiday (are you still on holiday?) *wistful sigh*. You've earned it, though. :) x

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Spence.
It was spring when my father died, five years ago in May. Your story made me remember the incongruiosity (is that a word??) of the event: Dad's last gray breath and quiet passing; the profusion of clear green, warmth and color, the world bursting with new and renewed life outside the climate-controlled, tension-laden neutrals of the hospital. Spring is a bittersweet time of year for me now, but my memory of him always places us in the summertime. Thanks for such lovely writing.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Wren

It always feels strange and maybe unfair that life should go on as chaotically and abundantly as before despite great personal loss. But then I suppose the fact that it does is comforting.

I'm glad your Dad's passing was quiet and calm. I remember when we buried my Dad, it was lovely to go back to the house and see all the flowers he'd kept such good care of over the years bursting with colour. And then with Bill - I was glad to hear that the day before he'd been buying flowers for the garden!

Thanks for the comment, Wren. Hope you're well x

lulu's missives said...

Hi S,
Sadly I was only in Miami for 4 days.
Back in London tomorrow morning and back to reality.
Exams and interviews...ahhh!!!!
Going to a bar sounds like a good idea though........

Michael Morse said...

Always a pleasure to visit here, Spence. Thanks for that story, it really hit home

Spence Kennedy said...

Hey Jo - Good luck with the exams and interviews. Go girl!

How are things, Michael? Good to hear from you. Hope everything's fine with you in Providence.

lulu's missives said...

Ok....not happy....bloody volcano (scuse my language).
Stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic.
Missing my interview.......PAH!!!!

Spence Kennedy said...

It's incredible how this volcano has disrupted things. Bloody nature! Hope you make it back quickly and don't have to waste too much time in airport lounges :/ x

Michael Morse said...

Things are well over here, Spence, thanks for asking. I've been hearing a lot about that volcano, unreal.

Spence Kennedy said...

Makes you realise how much we take for granted, I suppose.

I was listening to a radio phone-in today and one of the subjects was the volcano. A caller said he thought it was disgraceful - the prime minister should step in and get everyone home who was stranded abroad. How? You can't fly! :/

Anonymous said...

As much as I hate to admit it...this post stopped me booking on my first duty as a CFR as It was such a nice day I'd Had...selfish I know,but I kinda had some Preconceived image in my head that my first Resus or Dead person would be a gloomy, foggy day or in the depths of Night...It's not as if I didn't know, just a strange association of death I guess!
At least it shows that life (as a whole)still goes on!

Spence Kennedy said...

VT - But I suppose this is the A&E life! You'd never go to work if you worried about what you may or may not come across!

Anonymous said...

Yeah,I've applied to uni to become a paramedic, and everything I do and see is a constant learning curve, It does leave me pleasantly suprised on a constant basis :P
My first 999 call ever (real excitement for me)=drunk person:-( sign of things to come?

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks Mike!

(For some reason I only just got that comment!?)

Hope everything's good with you