My partner and I smirk as we sip our newly acquired Starbucks coffee. Ah, we relish in the joy of caffeine during our 24 hour shifts. It’s mid winter in Michigan and our ambulance has been dispatched to a residence for a well being check. Sarah, my partner, inquires, “Where are we headed?” My head is buried in our routing system as I read the additional call information, “17 year old male home alone for one week. Family has been trying to reach him for two days and has been unsuccessful. He has a history of depression and recently broke up with his girlfriend.” Sarah and I begin to discuss the possible outcomes of our call. We both know from experience what we could be walking into.
At our destination we arrive to find the house quiet. No cars in the driveway. PD is on their way with a 15 minute estimated time of arrival. Sarah and I hop out of the truck to take a look around and hopefully make contact with our patient. We discover water leaking through the siding of the house and a large ice mound on the ground. Above the ice mound we can see a showerhead through the window confirming the leak is coming from the bathroom. As we approach the back door we notice it’s open…… we begin to call out for anyone that may be in the house. There is no answer, just the sound of water running….. The kitchen counter is littered with sleeping pills and medications. As we enter the living room and begin to travel down the hallway we hear our boots sloshing on the carpet as it is saturated with water. My stomach begins to turn. Sarah sighs. The bathroom door is closed and water continues to rush out from under the doorway. Sarah discovers a letter sitting on the floor in the hallway. We both respectfully, place it aside in a dry place.
Peering at the bathroom door we silently ponder which of us will enter the bathroom? Who will bare the burden? As my hand reaches for the door knob we hear “Hello! Officer Andrews with Michigan State Police here”. Sarah and I exhale, and step away from the door. Officer Andrews asks if we’ve made entry into the bathroom. We happily decline. We explain that we are not looking forward to experiencing what lies behind the door. Officer Andrew’s shares that he is finishing his field training program and hasn’t experienced a call quite like this yet. He then reaches for the door handle and we caution him. “Are you sure you’re ok with seeing what’s in there?” He looks at us and says “Well, better me than all three of us”. And before I could say another word he disappeared into the bathroom. I felt pangs of guilt for not being the one to enter.
He emerges with confirmation that the 17 y.o. boy took his own life. Officer Andrews explains there is no reason for us to enter as the body is badly decomposed. Together we deliver the sad news to family and there is a sense of solace as we carry on. There are calls that will live on in our memories forever, the smells, the sights, the heightened emotions, and the cry of a mother that just lost her son. As we gain experience as first responders our wisdom teaches us that things seen cannot be unseen. The wise learn to lean away from the darkness. We all have our burden to bare, but we learn that somethings are better left unseen.
Sarah and I return to our station where we’re lucky to get a one hour nap before being called out again. Not a word is spoken about our call. I would have capitalized on that much needed rest, but I was not able to sleep after that call. I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for Officer Andrew’s sacrifice and I hoped he would be able to rest that night.
Thank you Officer Andrews.