It's a Simple Thing, Distance

With all the blood that's spilled on our pages between the cops and the gangsters,

there's a forgotten group that sees it all: the ones who clean it up. 

It's a Simple Thing, Distance by Ron Riekki

When paramedics talk, I mean just gab—at a birthday party, a funeral, a bunch of us at the side part of a garden after a wedding, the reception, those times—we can get so gross that I’ve seen people get sick.

Sick from hearing about people getting sick.

I’ve heard gasps.

I once went to a job interview (to try to get out of the medical field) and forgot it was a job interview.  It happens.  You relax, put your guard down.  It'd gone well, so they took me out to eat.  And they asked for a medic story.  Wanted to hear what it’s like.  So I told one.  It was about a child.  I won’t tell it here.  But let me just say that when I looked around the table, I could tell I wasn’t getting the job.  Not any longer.  There are certain things that if you’ve lived through them, if you’ve seen them, touched them, people automatically don’t want to be around you.  They don’t want to see you on a daily basis, because it’ll make them see that child again.  They’ll see what I saw.  The torso cut in half.  The entire body degloved.

So I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.

Except around paramedics.

Then we just let it all out.

One Christmas party we got into distances.  That’s how conversations work.  People notice the theme and you run with it.  Everyone has a story on any theme you can imagine.  My wife, one time, we were out, her friends all started talking about lost watches.  Every single one of her friends had a lost watch story.

I had one too.  But I didn’t tell it.

I’m telling you, I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut.

But not this time.  Hell, it was Christmas.  Nice and relaxed.  Just us.  And the theme emerges.  Someone says that eggnog makes him want to vomit.  Another guy says he’s seen someone vomit eggnog.  And somehow it leads into distances.

How far we’ve seen things go.


Emesis, if you want to use the medical term.

Hamilton says he’s seen a guy vomit so hard it went up and hit the top of the ambulance.

We all say we’ve seen that too.

Whether or not we have.

I have, by the way.  It dripped down on me for the whole rest of the call.

Hell, if there is one, will be an ambulance.  A vomit-filled ambulance.

Fields says he’s seen an eyeball pop out of a guy’s head.  How far did it go?  Not far.  It was just hanging there by the optic nerve.

Globe luxation, Wiig says.  He likes to show off his med terms.  We ignore him.

So basically we’re talking about inches.  A few feet, Tendulkar says.

And then he tells us about a suicide.  Says it happened in Wagga Wagga.

Wagga Wagga?

It’s in Australia.

What were you doing in Australia?

All the best doctors in China and India, that’s where you want to go to train.

Really?  Why Australia?

Would you shut up and let him tell the story?

And Tendulkar does.  He says that the blood spurted from the guy’s carotid over a mile.

And everybody explodes.  B.S.  A mile.  No way.

Tendulkar has the craziest stories.  When we do this, tell stories like this, I always wait for his.  The guy’s in his fifties.  Looks like he’s seventy.  He’s been a doctor in Mumbai, in Delhi.  Those cities make New York look like a quiet seaside resort.  Then he moves to the U.S.  South Chicago.  White Sox Land.  And for some reason his credits don’t transfer.  They won’t let him be a doctor here.  So he becomes a medic instead.  And stays a medic.  (By the way, that’s like a lawyer becoming a paralegal.  It’s one hell of a decommission.  But he doesn’t care as long as he has a stethoscope and someone getting kissed on the lips by the Grim Reaper.)  Tendulkar is by far the best medic I ever partnered up with.  I’ve actually seen him diagnose patients based on smell.  A sniff.  He’s hyperglycemic.  A sniff.  Pelvic inflammatory disease.  And we check up at the hospital after the call and he’s right.

But a mile is ridiculous.  A carotid can only go about two feet.  I’ve seen it.  Two feet is enough.  But he’s saying that the blood came out of this guy’s neck and traveled over five thousand feet.

Then he explains.  The guy was pissed off at his town.  Got fired.  Some job.  Blah blah blah.  So he goes skydiving.  Jumps out of the plane over the center of the city, opens his parachute, and slits his carotid, his radial, his femoral.  And he’s gushing blood.  Down on the town.  Blood spraying, falling, raining over the city.  Tendulkar’s gesturing, making us see blood everywhere in the air.  Falling.

And we look down.

At this little girl.  Probably ten years old.  She snuck into the conversation.  Her eyes are Santa Claus wide.  She’s bathing in every word.  And I’m expecting her to cry.  For there to be a very pissed off parent nearby.  A Jesus Christ is Lord lecture for us all.  But instead this little girl says, I have a story.

We look around.  It’s just us, her, and a decapitated Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer head on the wall.

OK, Wiig says, go ahead.

It’s pretty gross, she says.

And she tells it.  And it is.  And we love it.  The Christmas lights behind us flashing, alternating between arterial red and venous purple.  And she’s taking pleasure in every word, saying what you’re never allowed to say, but what happens if you live in this world, even if you’re young, especially if you’re young.

Ron Riekki’s books include U.P. and The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works, Wayne State University Press. Moonshot Magazine nominated him for a Pushcart. Verse Wisconsin nominated him for Best of the Net. He’s a pulp fan. If you like his writing, google his name and you can read a lot of his stuff online.