Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Unknown Blue 50051484--Part 1

As you all have no doubt noticed, I have posted very little for months now. There are a few reasons for that, but one of them is very definitely a feeling of impotence and an overwhelming anger at that sense of impotence. And grief. In the last nine months I have lost three friends, seems one every three months. That can put a dent in ya. Oh yeah, and those deaths, while personal were accompanied by news reports of lots of other deaths, which while less personally effecting, still registered and ramped up the grief and impotence.

As most of you know, my husband had a terrible accident in September. Certainly the posts shrivelled up during that time as he was in bad shape and needed some help. Naturally that became my first priority. But there was something else seething inside that I haven't written about in all these months. Now it's time I did.

The night my husband was wheeled into the ER at Charity Hospital was a nightmare and totally surreal. Was anything broken? Was he going to be alright? He was scraped up from head to toe and in shock thinking giddily that he'd be back out giving tours in two days. Hell, he told the ambulance guys they could go and he'd just finish the tour he had been doing---nevermind that people were bringing him his shoe from up the block and his hat from down the block and his glasses and his. . . . .personal debris all up and down St. Philip. Any one wanting his DNA could have sent a CSI guy to scrape the street and they'd have had plenty. I had asked the ambulance driver where they were taking him as I had no earthly clue where a hospital was, or which hospitals were now open. He told me, "Glue your front bumper to my back bumper and run all the red lights I do." So I did, almost getting broadsided in the process, but I got to the hospital and was there as they wheeled my husband in.

One of the EMT's looks at me and says blithely, "Ya know, the last fatality in New Orleans was on that very gurney your husband is on now," as though that's supposed to make me feel better. He follows with, "Dammit, I forgot to take my Risperdal today, I have notes all over the house saying TAKE YOUR MEDS STUPID but I keep forgetting." He laughed long and heartily over all this and I chalked it up to the black humored stress of being an EMT in New Orleans.

Hours go by as they x-ray, examine, set up IV's, examine again, do more x-rays. In the curtained area down from my husband was a woman, very large, ageless in that way that could be 40 or could be 70, who knew. She was pretty much unaware of her surroundings but was conscious and awake, just not there if you know what I mean. She had had an accident of some kind in her home, days ago, and had only just been found by a neighbor. It gave me the willies that some poor soul like her could spend days without anyone noticing she wasn't among them.

More hours go by. I go outside to have a cigarette, it's very late at night and I guess most of the docs and nurses were on break. They were all out there smoking, comparing types of cigarettes, talking about how bombed they were last weekend, just having a wonderful time. It was encouraging in a weird perverse way, at least for me. But by now it had been many hours and I still didn't know exactly what the damage was to my husband. I was getting impatient, asking questions, getting no answers, filling out more papers, trying to reach my daughter by phone which turned out to be a futile exercise but kept me busy hitting the redial button on the cell phone.

Suddenly all hell broke loose about 1AM.

People were running all over the ER, hollering "Seven shot at Charbonnet and Royal in the Lower 9. They're bringing four of them here." A nurse breathlessly tells me that they'll have to move my husband, so he's moved over behind a curtain to the left. The ambulances can already be heard screaming in the distance, the sound getting closer.

BAM! The doors of the ER slide/slam open and the first gurney is wheeled in. I was leaned up against the wall near my husband's bed at the edge of the curtain. A once white sheeted gurney passes me, it is now crimson with blood soaked everywhere, four people are running with it, some pushing it some holding the IV bags. On it is a young black man, no older than 20, 23 at the outside. He seems to be bleeding from everywhere. One doctor says quietly, "Take him to the OR. He'll probably be paralyzed. Bullet hit his spine." The young man, unconscious and bloody slides past me and is gone. Two cops walk in through the sliding doors and deposit large brown paper grocery sacks. They are labelled in large hand scribbled sharpie: UNKNOWN BLUE 50051484, UNKNOWN PURPLE 50051485. The bags contained any personal belongings that had been found at the scene. There might have been another one, I can't remember. I was just stunned by the labelling and wrote it down in my checkbook register so I wouldn't forget it. Absurd, but that's what I did.

The two cops, both black and large, joke around with the ER desk staff as they are setting the bags down. The cops and the desk staff carry on a strange latenight conversation, laughing but otherwise emotionless: "Yeah, there were seven of them, shot each other up." "Any reason or are they just trying to kill each other off?" "We don't know yet, but if they do kill each other off that's less for us to do." Laughs all around. My guess is they've seen this so many times that they are jaded, they can't care or they'd scream, so they become cold, inured to the bloody colors streaming by, scribbled on brown paper bags.

As the repartee continues, a 40-ish black woman in scrubs and gloves walks by me carrying a large orange biohazard bag away from her body and slightly up in the air. Behind her is another red soaked gurney, another young black male body, but his face is barely there. As they wheel this victim past me I hear the EMT's saying, "Yeah, we just cleaned his brains and guts outta the rig." Oh, I think, so that's what was in the big orange bag. The doctor running alongside the gurney says, "This one isn't gonna make it."

Another gurney is brought in and put on the left side of the doors. There is a young black woman sobbing and howling as she lays on it. A woman in scrubs stands over her, trying to examine her and calm her. "I didn't know anything like this was gonna happen," the girl wailed. "I don't want to die. I didn't know anything like this was gonna happen." She repeated the same refrain for nearly 45 minutes, sobbing loudly, clearly terrified, probably no more than 19.

Finally the fourth ambulance arrives. Yet another young black man dripping buckets of red blood on the white sheets and floor. This one is semi-conscious and looks like a child. His face, unlike the previous young man's, was still intact, and I started to cry knowing that his mother had kissed that face many times over the maybe 21 years he'd been on this earth. No one saw me crying. I was still peeking out from behind the curtain, my husband drifting in and out of consciousness thanks to the painkillers they had administered. The desk staff asks if there are any more. The EMT says, "There are three more but they're taking them somewhere else, this is it for tonight." "Typical Friday night in the ER, huh?" ::::::chuckle chuckle:::::: "Looks like the girl and the last one will make it. Anyone know what this is about?" "Does there need to be a reason?" :::::::::chuckle chuckle:::::::

At that point, a young white doctor notices me, apparently looking shocked, still peeking from behind the curtain. He adopts a serious, kindly look, and heads my way. "Ma'am, as you can see we're a little overwhelmed here. We haven't forgotten your husband but. . . . ." "I understand," I say since my white husband isn't gushing blood all over the floor and I really do understand the seriousness of what I just saw and the fact that something has to be done instantly for these kids. "Ya, know," he says, "99% of the gunshot victims we see in here are black, male and under 23. They seem determined to kill each other. You probably think I'm cold, but if they want to do that, there's nothing I can do about it. It's hardly worth patching them up 'cuz they'll just be back in 6 months."

They did what they needed to do for my husband, at one point they kicked me out of the ER when I asked what was the diagnosis for my husband? Was he okay? Broken? What was broken? "Lady, go sit in the chairs in the waiting room and we'll call you." At 6:30AM the next morning (we'd gotten there about 10PM the night before) they released him and I brought him home.

I still don't know why seven kids were shot at Charbonnet and Royal Streets on September 14, 2007, nor do I know their names. I don't know who made it and who didn't. I only know that Unknown Blue 50051484 and Unknown Purple 50051485 were someone's kids. And they haunt me.


Sophmom said...

I'm speechless. Thank you for sharing that.

Leigh C. said...

Damn, Bec, this is AWFUL. All of it. Cruelty every step of the way. Blase responses to the violence and the horror from those who are supposed to protect, serve, and help save lives. It is even more heartless that these folks have disappeared, fallen between the cracks in what passes for informing the public.

I want to find their families and tell them how absolutely sorry I am, but that woun't bring these guys back.

oyster said...

Oof that was a heavy post.

It's good to see you back, and I hope your husband's makes a total recovery as quickly as possible.

Before I read "part 2", though, I think I'll have a stiff drink.

GentillyGirl said...

Darlin', this is powerful stuff. To be there with your husband all laid out and to have to witness the kind of barbarism that goes down within certain segments of the population here.

I saw some things like this during the gang wars in S.F. twenty years ago, but they were still lying on the street. Saw it as a Cultural phenomenon with no rhyme or reason.

How do those of us who hold Life dear understand those folks who do not? I have no real answer to that one.

Maybe in time I will.


Tim said...

Wow. The utter fragility of human life. Ugly but real. And ultimately unavoidable.

Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us.



G Bitch said...

Wow. It is hard to be that close to the carnage. It hurts on all levels. Take good care of yourself so you can do what you can to stop that stupid shit.

LisaPal said...

Oh, Bec. This hit the mother in me right in the gut. So tragic and so sad on so many levels.

Charlotte said...

I'm sorry you had to witness that. But try not to be to harsh on the medical personnel. It's common for health care providers to "joke" with each other - seems jaded to the general public - but it's actually a self-preservation mechanism. Seeing blood and guts and people mangled day after day will drive one crazy. You saw a little bit of what they deal with every day. Would you do that for a living if you *didn't care* about people?
Just something to think about.

I'm glad your back and hubby is doing better. :)

Anonymous said...

Bec, thank you for finally sharing this with all of us. There are many of us here in town who love you and Dave both. Glad to see you back.

E.J. said...

By God, you ARE a writer! ;-P I'm glad you finally got all that out of you. I think Charlotte is on the mark; working in healthcare, we do create a distance between us and "the job." It often comes out in the form of humor, probably because laughing (even detached laughter) reduces the stress and anxiety. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not inappropriate at times.

I must admit though, it made me a bit angry that the doctor and the average citizen don't recognize that there's alot we can do to change this situation. This is a social problem. Black males aren't born without respect for life or taught it; it's just kind of impossible for us to grow up without picking up on the fact that we're dehumanized, devalued, and still expendable. We were bred, sold as property, and lynched for 400's not like everybody suddenly saw the light and reversed their opinions of us since 1964.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for having the courage to care and the courage to speak out on your blog. Maybe a lot of people feel overwhelmed, but when they hear someone else speak out they might feel more empowered to try to work on social problems.