Wednesday, October 21, 2009

ON WRITING 1: Just Tell The eFfin' Story

It's funny because it was blogging bout the ambulance messes that re-opened up the writing part of me. Spittin out these weird little vignettes that I'd throw together from memory in 20 min btwn calls reminded me of a simple rule of writing: just tell the fucking story.

Seems so obvious but I see how not remembering that caused some real blockage in my creative output over the years. Get so damn caught up in angles and analysis and voice---nothing happens. My big overeducated head a dang boulder on the path.

So it makes sense that I'd start throwing in some thoughts on the craft of writing among these twisted true life tidbits. The ambulance work feeds me, literally and literarily, because what better fodder for a writer than night after night of humanity's tiny disasters? Even the boring shit's a nice little packaged short story (repeating again and again...) and rather than falling in 2 the cliched role of passive observer that we writers are prone to, the medic is unavoidably, irrefutably and literally arm deep in the shit.

So these notes on writing won't b as gory or ridiculous as the ambulance ones but they will b curse-laden and spiritually engaging. Yes, spiritually.  And they'll be clearly marked so u gorehounds can disregard @ will...

So Today’s Topic: Just Tell the eFfin' Story. Much as I believe in the other timeless wrtier's rule: Ass In Chair, I’ve logged many a-blank stared hour in this chair and wound up with blank pages. Or the inverse: pushed hard and cranked out pages and pages of utter uselessness. I believe in freewrites something fierce- it’s the best way 2 dislodge that thought-fraught brain and clear writer’s block. But for me, thrusting forward towards a word or page goal isn’t the way 2 go.  (For other writers, wordcounts are the beesknees: )

I am though, a big fan of the Outline.  Right behind me, winding across my wall in a serpent of post-it notes, is the outline of the novel I’m deep into. (A sample:  Actually, there’s two intertwined strands, one a completed work and the other a completely different strand of that forking off at page 30. It’s a roadmap- guarantees that each time I sit down to write, I’ll know where I’m going, where I am and where I been. That way, the work on the story itself happens all the time, on the train, in the ambulance, in the shower, while I’m treating a patient- whatever, and gets scratched into my handy blackberry, spat onto my wall and then the writing time allows me to throw away all other concerns and Just Tell the Fucking Story.
Which is what writing is all about.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


It’s amazing how many calls we get for old men that wanna complain about the “tiny little guys” running around their apartments. There must be an infestation of freaky leprechauns in the city. I know it’s gonna turn up in 1 of my short stories soon…

But anyway, that’s not today’s topic. Today’s we’re here to discuss the little dude that makes sandwhiches at one of the delis of 125th St in Harlem. He called because he was having pain all up and down his left side (came over as a CARDIAC job, because they included the chest in “all over”…smh). So he’s 32 years old, no medical problems, no medications and he’s basically rocking back and forth and going “OOOh it feels so WEIRD! It feels SO Weird!”
what’s weird?
My whole left side of my body!
Does it hurt?
No! I can’t feel it! Or it’s like pins and needles! Aiiiii!
How long it’s been going on?
Since the day before yesterday…
Anything else wrong?
Yeah, when I poop: blood comes out…
Oh boy…how long THAT been going on??
Since about…well, matterafact since the day before yesterday!
What the hell happened the day before yesterday?
I fell down the stairs.
How many stairs you fell down?
Shit…all of ‘em.
…And you’ve been shitting blood ever since?
And you can’t feel half your body?
Uh huh. You think Imma be alright?
NO I DON’T THINK YER GONNA BE ALRIGHT! …jeeeeeze…(aside: do you really need me to tell you that?)
So you think I should go to the hospital?
No, I think you should’ve gone to the hospital 2 days ago when you ruptured your internal organs and severed your damn spinal cord but now u HAVE to go to the hospital…
Sigh….okay let’s go…

That is all.

Sunday, October 4, 2009



One of the crappiest parts about this job is the fact that no matter how fucked up your night was, no matter how tired you are, how many chests you pumped on or IVs you started or whining buttheads you dragged 2 the hospital, you can still get hit with an assignment right up until the minute you get off. So at 6:59 am, after a 12 hour tour, we can end up driving all the way up town for some nonsense. And the rule seems to be that those late jobs are always one form of clusterfuck or another- like, somehow, something always goes wrong.
Okay, not always. Sometimes we do a grab n go:

:::ambulance screeches up to Slightly Intoxicated Mexican dude with no shirt on:::

Me: Get in!
SIM: My neck feels funny…
Me: Get in the bus. We talk inside.
::::he gets in::::
Me: What hurts?
SIM: My neck, it doesn’t hurt but it feels funny.
Me: for how long?
SIM: Like, 2 weeks, guey.
Me (to my partner): Go go go!

:::ambulance screeches off::::

And then, sometimes we actually get home on time.

Last month, we got the job for the UNCONCIOUS at 6:30, which could’ve been a quickie but it was a old lady up in a apartment, so you know it’s gonna be slow. Most of the time, theyre really not unconscious, they’re either napping or felt a little woozy, unless they’re in a nursing home and then they’re usually dead.
This lady wasn’t in a nursing home and she wasn’t unconscious, in fact, she wouldn’t shut up. We heard her yelling from down the hall and us comin inside only made it worse.
“Me not going to the hospital! Just wanna drink me tea! Leave me ‘lone I tell you!”
It was one of these get gramma out the house for whatever reason things, probably cuz she’s won’t stop yelling, so call 911 and have us deal with her. We get that a lot towards the weekends…
Anyway, she also kinda had to go anyway, cuz she had like fourteen billion medical problems, was borderline insane and her toes were rotting off.
But she wasn’t having it. Her poor husband was actually dying of cancer in the other room, but I think he really just needed a good nights sleep. Then the daughter showed up and started cursing out the old lady “Just go with the goddamn ambulance people, ma, you always do this, ma, seriously, we go through this every FucKING WEEK!” and then to us: “I’m so sorry, boys, really…”
But without her tea it was a no go.
We sent someone to put the kettle on, but really it was a battle of wills. You could tell she was starting to cave when she got pouty and stopped yelling and carrying on- the non-logic of tea over amputated feet had been barreled over by the sheer strength of her daughter’s curseout.
“But I can get up me own self,” she insisted after finally relenting. “If I can make it to bathroom on me self and make it to kitchen to make me tea, why you think me can’t go to ambulance me self?”
Far be it for me to tell someone that I don’t have to carry their ass- I’m usually the first to agree. Unfortunately for everyone though, grammy’s feet were wrapped in leaking, yellow stained bandages that hadn’t been changed in…weeks at least. Damn near had to wrestle her onto the chair and she actually took a swipe at me as we carted her out, but all in all, granma made it to hosp and everyone else breathed a sigh of relief.

Then last week- we came for the DIFFBREATHER on top of one of those pjs along marcus garvey. The man was ancient! Skin like crinkled up paper, long boney legs bent into an antique wheelchair.
“did you ask for the police to come to?” he wanted to know when we came in. I put a message over the radio for them.
-what’s wrong today sir? You feel okay?
…yes. Yes feel alright.
The apartment was dusty and mostly empty.
-Do you wanna go to the hospital?
-Yes…Yes I think I do.
Ok…Any pain anywhere? Any trouble breathing?
No. None at all.
That’s nice. Why did you, ah…call…911…today…sir?
Lemme get back to talkin’ to my daughter for as sec, he says, indicating an empty corner behind him.
I was about to be able to explain the whole weird episode away as a oh he’s bonkers but then i saw the phone sitting there off the hook. I passed him the receiver.
No- he says- no, dear, it’s just something i have to do. I can’t stand him being here anymore. No, he’s out now. No…I know…It’s just the way it’s gotta be. Okay…alright.
He passed me the phone to hangup.
Popo couldn’t get much more outta him than we could.
Basically, the cop says, you just wanna go to the hospital but nothings wrong?
That was the gist of it. When I went to help him up from his wheel chair and into ours, he reached one long arm into the pillow behind his back, retrieved a 10” butcher knife and handed it nonchalantly to my partner with a curt: hold this for me.
“Uh…ok…” she gingerly placed on the dust covered kitchen table and we wheeled him the fuck out the door.