Scenes in Medicine
by David Cotrone
The emergency responders will find him stumbling through his kitchen. They will guide him outside and douse him with water. They will not put an oxygen mask on him until the burning itself is over, since, as you know, straight oxygen mixed with fire triggers an explosion.
They will manage to cool the burns. Here’s something crucial: they will wrap him in a blanket. It is vital to keep the victim warm and dry. It’s as if once the body comes into contact with fire, it craves continuous heat.
Here’s another essential: the victim, when subjected to flames, undergoes several traumas. The burn is paltry in the first moments of post-smoldering treatment. With this in mind, the responders will first attend to his air passage, an aperture that cannot be obstructed. It is also likely that a victim of a house fire has an inhalation wound, either above or below the vocal cords. Along with carbon monoxide poisoning, this victim suffers from one of these inhalation injuries: severe lung damage.
His children will not yet be home and his wife will still be visiting her sick mother. Later, upon seeing him charred and helpless in a hospital bed, they will gasp.
The heart monitor displays a pattern that satisfies the nurse. She looks down at the hospital bed. For a moment she’s jealous of the bed’s occupant. Here, the patient experiences stillness, static, rest. He has glimpsed hellish distress that has, in a fit of terror, attacked his skin. She wonders how long it was before he stopped feeling, how long before the part of his brain that detects pain dissipated into a sort of calm paralysis. She wonders if he will be able to recall the fire in linear fashion, or if he will only see fragments. She wonders if it was more of a collapse or more of an expansion. She wonders if he will see himself and the kitchen burning down from some sort of third person, a wide camera lens. Or maybe he’ll see it from above, or from his own perspective, a good old first person angle. She wonders what he thought, what crossed his mind. His wife? His children? His father? Or perhaps there were no thoughts. Perhaps it was a time of peace, maybe even grace.
She’s never been a victim; she’s never had to ride in an ambulance as a civilian or commoner. She wonders what it was like, being tucked into the vehicle’s box, looking up at the technicians and the paramedics. Was it hazy and distorted, his vision? Was it vague? Disorienting? Unclear? Or maybe it was lucid. It could have been entirely lucid. Oh, what that must have been like, she thinks. Time must have stopped. A technician or a paramedic must have leaned over the gurney and rested his hand on the patient’s knee. The patient must have closed his eyes and focused only on his breath. The oxygen must have piped into his lungs, cool and fresh. The vehicle must have rolled forward, its sirens somehow inaudible from inside. Without a doubt, time must have stopped when the patient was assured: Don’t worry… Don’t worry… Don’t…
© by David Cotrone. Used by permission of the author.
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