Sunday, November 14, 2010


We pulled up to the stoplight, noting the homeless woman standing on the divider next to us. As is the normal custom around these parts, she was holding a sign made of cardboard. I don't remember what it said, but I am quite sure it mentioned god or work. I don't think it referred to her as being a veteran, but you never know.

As whatever demons that affected this woman had not yet had the time to ravage her, she didn't have the sunburned look of baked grime that people of her fate usually have. She did however, have the gift of gab.

As it was a beautiful day, Cyndi had left her window open, as did Miles. It gave the homeless woman the openings she needed to begin her spiel. While not a rant, it was somewhat unintelligible, lengthy and it was a request for money. As we were a captive audience, we listened to it until the light changed and we made our escape.

Of course we reviewed the event as we rolled toward the station. Some comments were likely not very kind and may have even caused some laughter at the homeless woman's expense. It did, however provide us some great entertainment for the short ride back. Besides, she would never know.

Twelve hours later:

The report was vague. A fall victim with a head injury, reported to be under a bridge near Goody's. Just by the sounds of the dispatcher's voice, I can tell that this is going to be an adventure, never mind the fact that it's three in the morning and that the only people under bridges at that hour are transients,  trolls and some form of hybrid between the two.

We pulled into the parking lot of Goody's, hoping to find the RP. As usual, there was no one to be found. Dispatch told us that the report was second hand from a passer by and that no other information was available. As I pondered our next action, an employee of Goody's emerged from the back door and walked toward the rig. I hopped out and met him.

"We had this lady walk up and ask us to call" he said. "She told me that her friend had fallen and busted up his head and that he was under the bridge."

I asked him if she gave any indication which bridge. Of course, his reply was "no".

About this time, the ambulance pulled up. I told them to follow us and stand by until we could figure out what was going on. I also requested the sheriff, as it was becoming evident that we were dealing with a homeless bridge resident and this might become a police matter.

There are three bridges worthy of human residency in this corner of the K.B.F.P.D. One crosses the state highway, one crosses a railroad track and one crosses a creek. As the highway was closest, I opted to begin our search there.

Poking around homeless camps in the middle of the night can be a high risk endeavor. I used to do it often, when I worked in the Arson Bureau. The very nature of being homeless precludes one to being fucked with, usually by someone who wants what you have. Weakness can exploited by other homeless people and is a trait which should be avoided. Thus, homeless people are sometimes quite defensive when in camp and may also be territorial.

They are also most vulnerable when they are asleep and they may arm themselves with a knife, club or other hand-held weapon. The trick is to wake them without alarming them, somehow allowing them to make the transition from sleep to cognitive awareness without the need for defensive measures.

I tried to keep all of this in mind as the three climbed through the fence and made our way down beside the abutment. Our hand lights illuminated the well worn path leading down under the bridge. I paused as my head cleared the bottom of it, shining my light under the span The form of a box and a shopping cart. became apparent, as did the form of a person sleeping between the two.

Traffic blasted by, fifteen feet below, twenty feet away, oblivious to our presence. The noise of which masked our presence to the person sleeping on the ledge. We walked toward the middle of the ledge, keeping apart from each other until  we were  were positioned on either side of the sleeping form. I shined my light on the sleeping person's face and could now see his face, which did not appear to be bloodied or injured.

Despite the lights shining in his face, the sleeping transient did not stir. A few "Hey Buddys" were added, each in increasing volume, still no result. Finally, I decided to nudge his foot while shining my light in his face and shouting "hey buddy".

Finally, success! His eyes blinked and I quickly followed up with inquiries about his well being. My elation quickly faded into disappointment as we determined that this sleeping man was not our patient. I thanked him for his time and apologized for disturbing his sleep. Actually, I was grateful that he was not angry with us. The ledge was not a place to commence hostilities.

We returned to the rig and proceeded to the next bridge, the one that crossed the railroad tracks. It was only a quarter mile or so from the first bridge, but parking was an issue. Darkness and a blind curve forced us to park a little past the bridge, then walk to our objective. Another hole in the fence, another path and another ledge.

This ledge was narrower than the last and was only a few feet below the road bed. I squatted down and shined my light under the bridge and could see the forms of several people laying on the ledge. Of course they were on the other side of the road, causing us to climb back up to the street, cross, then hike back down.

There was no hole in the fence on the other side, just a spot where people had been standing on the guardrail, then climbing over the fence and dropping onto a bucket. We opted for an attic ladder, the bucket not looking too stable.

After a few minutes, we accessed the  bridge and found that the person we were looking for was asleep under the bridge. We were speaking with a friend of our patient, one who saw what had happened. He told us that our patient had been drinking and had miss stepped onto the unstable bucket while returning home. The resulting fall had resulted in a goose-egg on the rear of the patient's head, along with some bleeding. Apparently, the patient had discussed the issue with his friends and had climbed under the bridge to fall asleep. Probably what I would have done at that early hour.

While we appreciated the report on conditions, we still needed to see and speak with our patient. Frankly, I was not looking forward to getting on my hands and knees, then crawling under the bridge. There was no room, either vertically or horizontally. The medic and discussed the issue, he shared my reluctance. Since the patient had been ambulatory after the event and had acted normally, we decided that we would approach the problem in a step by step fashion.

We asked the patients friend  to see if the patient would wake up and if he would, ask him if he was ok. If the patient did wake up and saiy he was ok, we would ask the friend to assist him in crawling out to the side of the bridge where we could speak with him.

After a few minutes, our patient crawled out from under the bridge and stood before us, swaying in the calm air. I could smell him from five feet away. The medics assessed him, finding him to be alert and oriented, though intoxicated. Very intoxicated. His pupils were equal and he denied losing consciousness.

He did, however have a large hematoma on the back of his head.. One that we felt should be examined by a health care professional with more education than ourselves.

I was starting to look at how we were going to get him back up over the fence and onto the street. Miles was trying to convince our patient that he needed to go and get checked out. Our patient was having none of it.

The deputy rolled up at about this time, determined that we were dealing with the homeless, then left.

Another conference, this one with the patient standing right there as we discussed our options. We decided that since our patient could answer all of our questions correctly and clearly and that his friends were there to look out for him, if he would allow us to get vitals, perform a thorough secondary survey and sign AMA, we would leave him alone. Thankfully, he agreed.

As we were getting vitals, another person walked across  the bridge, stood up on the guardrail and peered over at us. This one was a female, a chatty one, who let us know that it was she who had walked to Goody's and caused us to be called.

I had to ask her why she didn't stick around to show us where her friend was. She said that she had to go to the convenience store next to Goody's to get cigarettes and coffee. She had to have seen us while she was in the store, it's entire front is made of plate glass. No matter really, one can't apply logic to the thoughts of another who does not live within ones societal norms.

Our patient lived up to his end of the agreement and his friend helps him get back into his spot under the bridge. We climb up the attic ladder and secure it on the engine. It is now past four and I know that I will be staying up until shift change. We load up to go and the chatty female shouts a thank you to us as we start to leave the scene.

There was something about the tone of her voice that caused me to realize - she is the same woman who asked us for money earlier in the shift.

Maybe we shouldn't have had a few laughs at her expense, even though there was no way she could have heard us. Maybe there is a cosmic payback machine that charged us ninety minutes of our lives as payment for our insensitivity toward her plight.

As a person who's spiritual beliefs lean toward a more traditional Christian perspective, I really don't believe in karma. However, the legendary fire captain Dwight "The Blight"  used to have a saying: "What goes around comes around".

That's a saying that I do believe to be true.

Thanks for reading,

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