Friday, October 23, 2009

The white patch.

"I'm going to wear my old pair of scrubs." said the artistic director of my improv troupe. He was referring to the presentation that we were going to make to the transplant team of the money (that was raised through a special performance) for the patient's Special Needs fund by the improv troupe a little over a month prior. Being an improv troupe, we were thinking of doing something a little different rather than a straightforward, formal presentation of the $1,400 that was raised. We hit on the idea of presenting this donation in an organ transport box, which I was able to obtain from my old place of employment, the organ donor network here in Rochester. We were going to run in to their weekly meeting as if delivering an organ.

What he asked next however, was wholly unexpected.

"Do you still have your old paramedic uniform?"

I had not been asked that question in a long while, and I felt the blood drain from my face at the question.

"Yeah, I do." I knew where he was headed, and while I silently smirked at the thought, as it was rather funny, but it still scared me. "Great." he said. "I think you should wear that."

Every instinct inside of me was screaming "NO!" Somehow, the word "Okay" came out of my mouth. I don't know why it did, but it did. It has been 12 years since I wore that uniform, 12 years since I was part of a profession and a world that I never envisioned leaving, as I did 10 years ago. Why the number discrepancy? Well, for the better part of the last three years as a paramedic, I was in management, and wore a suit more often than a uniform, and didn't touch a patient.

I tried to convince myself that it was really nothing, that I would put in on, wear it for a couple of hours, and then take it off. It wouldn't mean anything. It was simply a costume for this purpose. I was going to be acting, and why should my old uniform be nothing other than any other stage device that I have used in the past.

The answer, of course, was far more complicated.

So, the morning came for me to prepare for the presentation. Going through the morning ritual of showering, brushing my teeth, taking my transplant medications, and all the other mundane tasks carried an air of tension. I then went down into the basement of my house, and found the box where I keep all my memories of my EMS life, and found my shield and collar bars. Shield #6241. Collar bars with my unit, 35V. The black shield holder and securing pin. I remember this being part of my mrning ritual for so many years.

I went upstairs and found the long sleeve uniform, as this had the perforations above the left breast pocket sewn into the fabric where the securing pin would pass through, pinning the shield to the shirt. The shield holder also had the small metal plaque with my name, and then below it, "PARAMEDIC."

The shirt has two patches. The left sleeve at the shoulder had my hospital's blue and white patch. The right had the one that has been earned by only a comparatively few, the one that said 'EMS-PARAMEDIC - CITY OF NEW YORK." White, with an orange border, orange and blue lettering, and the blue star of life in the middle, it was simply known to us that rode the ambulance as 'the white patch." It was coveted by anyone that worked in EMS, in any capacity, in NYC. There were, and still are, far more EMT's than paramedics. We were an elite group, and we knew it.

I attached the collar bars, pinned the badge on, and slipped the shirt on. As I buttoned it, I was first pleasantly surprised to find that it still fit, and like a glove too. I then went and looked in the mirror, and a wave of emotion overcame me.

I cried. I cried, and cried, and cried. It went on for about 10 minutes.

I missed it. I missed it all. The good, the bad, the silly, the insane, the danger, all of it. I missed my friends, my colleagues, the two partners I had that I worked so closely with for so long, that they became second and third spouses in a way. I was in grief. I was in grief for a life that I left behind so long ago, that I was never able to grieve for, and that I was never able to fully accept that I left behind. I think it was just then that I honestly faced that emotion, as I faced myself in the mirror, in that uniform.

I was grieving for myself.

After I stopped, wiped my tears, and pulled myself together, I went to the presentation. I went into character, and along with my artistic director, made everyone laugh. We presented the money, had some nosh, pressed the flesh with the transplant staff, and then left. I got home, took off the uniform, hung it in my closet, but left the shield and collar bars on. I have yet to remove them and put them away.

I went to my therapist earlier this week, and related this story to him. He just let me talk, not offering any advice, but rather smiling and nodding with each major point that I brought across. We're going to discuss it further next time around.

As I unburdened myself of this grief, I began to realize that this was one of the biggest obstacles, if not the biggest, that has stood in my way all this time. While I was not living in the past, it was always close behind, and impeding my progress in life. I think now however, that I can move forward with more confidence.

The white patch will always be with me. It is part of who I am, a source of pride, and always the greatest title I will ever have, that of NYC Paramedic. From now on however, it won't stand in my way.


BenefitScroungingScum said...

An excellent post, and one any person who's had long term health problems can really relate to. We have to grieve for what we lost before we can be happy with what we gain.
PS: It's a lifeguard shirt for me, which I earned in CT, deep water spinal board rescues, I was your gal ;)

Guyana-Gyal said...

Acknowledging that grief, then letting it out is one of the best ways to heal.

When I was leaving the Caribbean island to come back home here to live, I cried. I was leaving behind a nice island life. I was coming back to no real writing job, no creativity, I was coming back to a place where people are so conservative, I'd be stifled. Then there was the violent politics, and later, the crime. I had to find a way to enjoy my life here.

Guyana-Gyal said...

And to make matters worse for you, there are those long-term health problems. "Oww," as we folks here would say in sympathy.

Peter said...

In retrospect, it must have been such a relief Mr Nighttime: realizing what you've lost,
but after all those years being able to be proud of what you've achieved,
without all those layers of grief impeding your progress in life.

I believe you truly reached a milestone.

Bina said...

Wow. That gave me chills. What an excellent, emotional post. I'm so very happy thought you were able to put it on, and the grieve for a way of life that you loved so very much. It was part of you. It was a part of you that you no longer have.

I'm wondering if you grieved for you liver the way you grieved for this. That may be a strange thing to ask, but both were so very much a vital part of you. Only, the job can never be replaced.

Joanna Cake said...

I was talking about this just the other day with a friend who had an accident which left her knee useless. She had been an aspiring black belt martial artist. Three years on, she's just a middle-aged woman who has put on too much weight because she cant exercise, smokes too much and is mostly alone because she can no longer get about. Her therapist told her that she has to grieve for the woman she was and learn to accept the woman that she now is.

It's not easy. She was one grading short of her black belt. Perhaps if she could look at one of those, she might be able to grieve properly. Without it, she feels resentful at having her dream cut short in its prime and it's really hard to help her :(

Mr. Nighttime said...

Bina - Grieved for my liver? No, not in that way, but it does take some getting used to at first, understanding that what I lost is nothing in comparison to what I gained. I would say it was more anger that my body betrayed me in way it did, but I came to terms with that a long time ago.

Joanna - Your friends therapist is dead on. Here's hoping she heeds the advice.

VioletSky said...

This almost had me welling up with emotion.
But, you want to be an actor - this proves you ARE a professional amateur actor.

Mr. Nighttime said...

VS - If only it were an act... ;-)

jay said...

I think I understand. These things from our past lie dormant, often, until the right time, or until something triggers their release. It's only then that we can truly deal with the emotions we've packed away with the rest of the baggage when we severed that particular link. It happens after we lose someone too, doesn't it? There are things we can't, don't want to, or won't face. Sometimes we don't even know we're hiding from them, but they'll get us in the end.

I'm glad you were able to get through this and that you feel able to move forward now. Onward and upward!