I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how people move in and out of my life. Quickly. Slowly. Suddenly and abruptly. Gradually or almost without noticing. The amount of time they spend in my life, in my physical presence seems completely unrelated to the amount of time they remain in my conscious and subconscious mind for days, weeks, and years after we part ways. Did they become a part of my life because I was born into a family they were already a key part of, as with my Gramma, and so I never knew a world without her as I grew up, forming every early memory and becoming the person I am today with so many of her fingerprints all over my way of thinking, of being, how I interact with people, how I think about the world around me? Or were they a coworker who became like a family member to me, a brother or sister, who I could trust with my life in a heartbeat, and who would trust me with theirs just the same? Were they a patient? Brought into my life by maybe the worst part of theirs, expecting me to solve their most dire problem at a moment’s notice, together for perhaps only minutes or an hour, and gone again just as fast.
Some people, my Gramma, my father-in-law, will never leave my mind, my heart. It hurts to even completely fathom that they’re gone, so how can I even begin to imagine that I would ever not think about them multiple times a day? Thinking about their words of wisdom. Things they told me. Hopes they had for me, and for my family. Places and people that I see that I wish they could see with me now. It’s understandable that people who were so important to me, who spent so much time with me physically, and so much time in the forefront of my mind for so long, should remain there.
Others… marching band friends, paramedic classmates, summer job coworkers, previous department coworkers, having spent thousands upon thousands of hours with some of them, and having spent days, weeks, or years with some of these people, and having them be important, integral parts of my life, barely ever even cross my mind. Some of them, when they come up on my facebook memories feed, I might even have trouble remembering their name if the photo isn’t tagged, or if we’ve grown so distant that they’ve unfriended me and I can’t even see who they are anymore. This long, slow death of a friendship or acquaintanceship, makes me sad, because these were people who were important to me. Right? I mean, they were…. or at least…. I think they were? I remember thinking that they were a big part of my life. They were good people. We had good times together. In many cases we lived together at our summer jobs, or worked in very close proximity, shared a emotional experiences together, accomplished great things together, made amazing art together, or worked on some pretty amazing public safety projects together, or accomplished paramedic school together. And with the exception of just a select few, they’ve all but completely faded away into the background static of forgotten memories of past experiences replaced by the busy, frantic pace of my life in the present day.
Some important people in my life arrive or leave rather suddenly. I’ve met some of my closest friends very unexpectedly; a new hire at work who turns out to be a very close friend, or being transferred to a new partner and finding out that our shared love of the Steelers helped blossom a life-long friendship. My wife happened into my life, rather suddenly, at a time when I was not sure I was meant to find the kind of life-long love that I have grown to embrace and enjoy. She has become a steadfast, lasting, rock-solid source of compassion and comfort for me. The sudden arrivals always seem to be happy moments in stark contrast to the sudden departures. A best friend whose father lost his medical study visa and moved back to Israel at a moment’s notice and was just gone, in the middle of a school year, and never heard from again. My father-in-law passed so suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving so many unanswered feelings and questions.
As much as I sometimes struggle to remember the faces and names of people who I’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours laboring alongside, there are also patients who I spent no more than 30 minutes with who are indelibly seared into my mind who I will never forget. My first field delivery of a newborn. My first cardiac arrest patient save. The wife of the first cardiac arrest patient that I didn’t save as the lead paramedic. The overdose patient who remembered me and came up to me at a gas station and thanked me for helping her to turn her life around. A couple of pediatric trauma victims with bodies so impossibly contorted or destroyed by their own parents’ careless acts or drunk driving that I thought I could actually feel my blood boiling as I worked through the futile efforts of trying to save their already-dead child. Elderly husbands or wives who cannot fathom that their partner of the better part of a century has died and left them to walk the earth alone, leaving me to be the bearer of bad news and inform them that they’re on their own now, and they have to endure this time of waiting, of wondering, of hoping that maybe they’ll get to see their partner again some day, but not knowing, only maybe believing what their religion has taught them to believe, and hoping that it’s true.
How is it that patients and family members, who, before the 911 call that brought me to their bedside, or their front yard, or found them in the middle of a highway in an overturned car, probably never would have even made eye contact with me, let alone known my name or heard my voice or held my hand, are permanently, forever seared and etched into my mind? Constantly floating and bubbling up to the surface of my subconscious thoughts when my mind wanders for too long. How is it that I can recall even some of their names? How their voices sounded? Even how they felt in my arms, what the scene smelled like, what the radio sounded like, all of it almost in slow motion, but I can’t remember the name of my study partner in paramedic class, who spent hundreds of hours trying to get me to retain pharmacology dose information in preparation for the National Registry test?
What does it say about me that I so easily let go of people who, at the time, I thought were so meaningful to me? People who I thought, at the time, would be life-long friends? People who, at the time, meant the world to me, and who became my entire world, and at times, were maybe with me for every waking moment of the day, and then when the job was over, or the summer was over, or I moved away, or school was over, we just…. drifted apart? These people who I had an actual personal connection with, who knew my name, knew my family maybe, knew where I grew up, knew my sense of humor, had shared meals with me, maybe even shared an apartment with me, certainly knew more about me than “Hi, I’m Dave, I’m a paramedic, and I’m here to help” – and they don’t even garner enough space in my mind to retain their name, let alone a spot on my facebook friends list. They’re just gone. Faded away. Part of my past. I barely even carry them with me anymore. I wonder sometimes if they ever think about me. If they worry about people they’ve forgotten about. If there are other people who are important to them, or who used to be important to them, who they’ve since forgotten.
I’ve decided I’m going to make an effort to reach out to these people, at least some of them. These people were important parts of my life, and they deserve some credit, some thought, some care, for that. At the very least, they deserve some closure in my mind, and not just an anonymous, slow, drifting apart. Even if I reach out and never hear from any of them, at least I’ll have tried, reaching out into the void, sending out positive feelings, saying hello, wanting to know how they are, what’s been going on in their life since we last spoke. I’ll try not to dwell on why we lost touch, as much as the curious and selfish part of me wants answers to that question, and instead focus on reconnecting with people who, at one time or another, meant a great deal to me, before they’re no longer here, and there’s no way to reconnect with them again. Because if I’ve learned any one thing for certain in EMS, it’s that there are no guarantees in life, and tomorrow is never a sure thing, and leaving something unsaid, leaving that dangling participle, that unasked question, that wandering thought, is a mistake.
Reach out to the people who mean something to you, even just to say hi. Catch up, just for a minute. Don’t drift apart.