By A.B. Wylie
I was a trauma medic when I was 24 years old. My great grandfather was a medic in France when he was 19. There’s a photo of him in his doughboy uniform, dapper as you like, sitting in front of an ambulance. I think he would have been pretty proud that we were both medics. I surely am.
Working trauma is dealing with people on what is going to be the worst day of their lives. One event in particular sticks in my mind like a chicken bone caught in the craw.
This young man had tried to kill himself and his girlfriend with a lighter and a can of gasoline. He suffered minor, superficial burns while she died from her injuries, slowly and painfully.
The nurses whispered that she must have cheated on him, that he was full of romantic passion and fury. I bandaged up his wounds while a detective asked him questions and he said he just felt like killing her.
He said he thought about killing someone for a long time and he was happy as a pig in shit that he had done so. He said he was going to Hell. He said if we gave him back his lighter and gasoline, he’d be there in about 10 minutes. I placed an IV in his arm. I imagine the State of Texas did the same down the line.
There’s a German concept I think about – schadenfreude. It means the purest form of joy we experience is from the suffering of others. On account of its Teutonic origins, I assumed it was a statement full of malice and cruelty, but now I’m not so sure.
Maybe it means that the purest form of joy we experience is knowing that, while you’re willing to help someone suffering, you know in the back of your mind that at least it’s not you. That’s not me who got shot, that’s not me who got kicked in the head by a horse, that’s not me who got burned alive. That your shift will end, and the horror will give way to the unyielding light of morning.
Something always gnawed on me, though. Knowing that the next day would start the cycle of blood and time all over again, whether I rose to meet it or not.