by Steven P. Velasquez, MICP
My commute from the Keyport area of Monmouth County to Newark was one of them, but this guy ain't complaining, as my detours drove me into a chance meeting with a real-life "Ambulance Driver."
I abandoned the Garden State Parkway in search of perhaps longer, but at least moving, roadways. I traveled into Union County, past one of their submerged county parks, entered Kenilworth and out of sheer frustration, planted myself in a booth by a window to study Tranexamic Acid, eat some grub and spectate while my commuter cohorts sat paralyzed in their coffins trying to reach their daily grind.
The Kenilworth Diner was the perfect perch to sip coffee, read literature and listen to the locals discuss daily issues from their Medicare coverage (or lack thereof), to the bunions on their feet or the local propagandist tying the heavy rain to the certainty of global warming.
Who Owns That CPR Van?
My work vehicle is a very distinguished, wrapped mini-van that promotes our CPR Training Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. Sometimes mistaken for a local taxi service (I was once parked, texting, when my doors suddenly opened and several, Central Americans began to enter the vehicle asking for transportation. Quite the scare!)
A very tall man entered the diner, obviously known to everyone but me and begins querying out loud;
"Who owns that CPR Van? If I was still working, I'd flatten all his tires."Not willing to "engage crazy" I remained silent. The locals and propagandists apparently knew him well and understood his sub-reference. Apparently, he was a retired undertaker and saw my business as a threat to his former business (if we're saving lives, he's out of business). Ahh! Gotcha. I continued with my research into TXA.
Several minutes later, he began asking everyone in the diner who's vehicle it was. The two doctors in the booth behind me sold me out. "It's his we think." He bellied up to the table and introduced himself to me. I invited him to sit down, and politely he began to explain who he was and inquire as to who I was and what my CPR mobile was all about.
George (I don't have his permission, so I won't use his real name) worked for two funeral homes in Irvington, NJ about 50 or so years ago. He told me stories that proudly began with the sentence; "Back when I was an ambulance driver" (mentally, I cringed in the booth with both hands over my ears like a kid in a classroom full of screeching chalkboards) and went on to explain how emergency transportation, in his day, was a rapid ride in a comfortable, but very fast Cadillac Ambulance. "We had absolutely no medical training" he laughed out loud as he waxed nostalgic. "On occasion" he said, "we'd give the patients 5.2 liters of Oxygen" when directed to do so by the physicians. I could tell he no longer saw me across the table, but the many patients he'd seen, and good times had, over his time; and I understood that look well. I knew not to interrupt it (never disconnect a man prematurely - from the Matrix).
What Is Past Is Prologue
Of the many fascinating things George mentioned, I found his problems and complaints of the period eerily similar to ours today. Of them were feelings of futility from a limited scope of practice, frustration over not enough education to be of help, and ironically - fear of competition by who else?? Volunteers!
He explained the funeral homes he worked for used to earn $30.00 / trip for a pickup. $35 at night and an extra $2.50 for him personally if he had to respond from home. "Then came those rescue squads." The dawn of volunteer first aid squads had arrived and with it (these are his words, not mine) bored house wives who often couldn't lift or do the work required. "Sometimes they'd come over and ask us if we'd come help them lift. I told them go get a job!"
His laughter really picked up as he told a story of how the ambulance drivers used to bypass the ER and bring the patients right to their beds on the floors. "It was truly door to door, bedside service back then." He told of how one time, a patient had died in transit on the stretcher before him. He leaned into the window to tell the driver; "He's dead. I got nothin'" His driver instructed him to follow his lead. When they arrived in the ER, the driver placed his hand beneath the sheet to mimic movement of the patient so the ER staff wouldn't A: Turn them away and B: They wouldn't get hung up forever waiting for the medical examiner's office to come make a pronouncement of death. They bypassed the ER, avoided the M.E., and took the stiff right to their comfortable bed upstairs! "Let them handle it!" He laughed out loud.
Before you light your torches and grab your pitch forks, I'm not laughing at the anti-volunterism, the misogynistic tone, the questionably criminal deposit of the dead in a hospital or whatever your imagination is conjuring, so chillax! I find humor in hearing some of the same sentiments of today - from the septuagenarian at my table! It was a delicious view into a window of the past through George's eyes - and words.
Farewell Ambulance Driver
George seemed to snap out of his daydream, his eyes fixed on the boulevard before him. He turned his head to me, looked down at my pile of documents and excused himself. "I'd better let you get back to your work. Sorry to have been so long." He rose to his 6'3" height, smiled, turned and left.
I doubt I'll look upon his countenance again. But I'm glad today for the rain, the traffic, the detours and the look into the past, of the field I love so much today. I'm sure he'd disagree, but understanding how processes work, I realize I / we cannot have what we do today if it was not for the "Ambulance Drivers" of yesterday. I feel blessed to have met George.