“We gotta get over there; they’re at it again.” My on-call partner yelled over at me as he snatched the keys to the ambulance off the peg. No point to ask questions until we were en route.
“So, what’s up? What are we looking at here?” I rapidly assembled the oxygen set-up and tested the oxygen flow, knowing that whatever the victim, we’d need oxygen during transport.
Before the ambulance had had time to get to full speed, John swung the vehicle onto a front yard, perhaps a hundred yards down the street to the left. The abrupt stop caused me to lurch forward, but I righted myself and grabbed the jump box, just as John flung open the ambulance door. “Leave the cot for now; there’s no time.” As we stormed inside the house, John filled me in.
John was on his way over to my place, because he was the duty-attendant/driver for that day. As he strolled by the home of Albert and Lila, he noticed the couple through the open side door. Lila was chasing Albert with a large paring knife, shouting murderous consequences for whatever it was he’d done to push her button. Knowing the couple’s history, John broke into a dead-run, headed for the ambulance. The two of us reached the kitchen and all chatter stopped.
Dropping to my knees at the side of the fallen man, I hoped we’d made it in time. The high-arch of spurting blood from Albert’s carotid artery made it easy to find the site of the attack. Blood was all around his head, neck and shoulders. Gently I plugged the pulsing flow coming from his neck with my index finger. I needed to stop the loss of blood without impeding the flow to his brain.
“Don’t you go helpin’ that no good man! Don’t do it or I’ll stick you in the head!” Since the knife lay on the floor not far from Albert, I felt a bit more courageous than I would have had she been holding the dripping instrument.
“John will help you to the chair over there,” I said while lifting and turning my chin to indicate the metal chair farthest from me. “You must be so tired from chasing Albert around the kitchen.”
“You bet I am, white girl. He’s nothing but trouble to me so don’t you go helpin’ him out none.”
John had lightly gripped the woman’s elbow and was escorting her over to the chair as she ranted. Relief flooded me as the wild-eyed, nightgown-clad middle-age woman sat.
John attempted to calm Lila with his soft-spoken assessment of her situation. “Now, Lila; relax and let us take care of old Albert over there. You know if he dies, you won’t have anyone here to fight with, now will you?”
Lila barked a retort in the language of her people, to which John choked trying to stifle his laugh. “You young ones are always trying to interfere. Just leave ‘im lyin’ there. He deserves to bleed and I’m not gonna clean it up neither!”
Fortunately, the tribal police arrived to take over Lila, and we could get on with our care of Albert. Truthfully, because of the location of the slice into the carotid artery, there was only one thing I could do, keep my finger in place.
John soon had the ambulance cot rolling through the living room, stopping at the door of the kitchen. I was delighted to see that, in the heat of the serious threat to life and limb, John had remembered to put the portable oxygen tank and mask on the cot before leaving the ambulance. Since I could do nothing with only one free hand, John opened the flow of oxygen and secured the mask to Albert’s face, much to his protesting shouts.
The police officers on the scene assisted in carefully moving Albert from his position on the floor to the ambulance cot. I struggled to hold my index finger in place, because of Albert’s continued shouting throughout the transport from the floor to the back of the ambulance.
Once inside the ambulance, a new problem presented itself. My arm was too short to sit on the attendant’s bench and reach over to keep pressure on the carotid. Through his oxygen mask, now hooked up to the system inside the ambulance, Albert voiced his own solution. “Just sit on me. You ain’t nothin’ but a little squirrel.”
“Stop talking Albert. I’m having enough trouble keeping my finger here without you moving that jaw of yours.” On the other hand, Albert was right. Since the doctor was not in town this particular weekend, I was looking at a period of time not shorter than forty-five minutes to hold that position. There was just nothing else to do; I climbed on top of the man, straddling his body just under his rib cage.
Because of the numerous times John had to slow the ambulance, the trip took more than an hour and a half. Throughout the travel over those narrow roads, I could see Lila in the car following the ambulance. Her mouth was going a-mile-a-minute. I just hoped she’d be over whatever it was that set her off once she arrived at the hospital…and where were the police, anyway? Shouldn’t she be in their custody, not in a friend’s car on the way to the hospital?
At last, we pulled into the ambulance bay of the hospital. Very gingerly the team there guided the ambulance cot out of the vehicle and locked the wheels in place. Yes, I was still atop the victim, holding my finger in place. The joints were aching in protest. How I longed to move my finger and hand. I was fairly sure I was in more pain than the victim.
Not long after being wheeled into the treatment room, the stitch was slipped down over my human plug. I backed the digit out and climbed off Albert, shaking my hand to try to regain some of the circulation to my finger. What an enormous relief to be freed from that position.
We were assured that Albert would live to run away from Lila another day and turned the ambulance towards home. Lila? She was running up the Emergency Ramp with family surrounding her as we drove away.
“John, why doesn’t he just leave her before she kills him? And, why don’t the police arrest her? It doesn’t look like they intend to do anything about this attempted murder.” I was exhausted and puzzled.
“Arrest old Lila? Never happen. The police don’t even try anymore. Albert just won’t press charges and, until she actually kills him, they just chalk it up as another episode of domestic violence; Albert must press charges against her. He never will as long as he has breath in his lungs.”
“But, why? Does he have some kind of death wish himself?”
“Lila’s his woman; that’s enough reason. Love? Hmmm? Maybe it’s a kind of love he has for her; I don’t really know. It’s just that she’s his woman, period.”
“But, if she keeps trying to kill him—“
“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind. Last year, we came upon Lila chasing Albert around the yard swinging a hatchet. A couple of us ran over to stop Lila and Albert came after us, fists flying. Nope, nobody messes with Albert’s woman.”
“So, he ran faster last year than this, uh?”
“Not at all. She buried that hatchet in the middle of his skull. The doctor was in town then, though, so Albert’s emergency trip wasn’t so long in the police car.”
I really didn’t get it, but this episode finished just as the doctor said it would. Albert was soon back at home with Lila. Nothing more happened between the two of them that necessitated an ambulance call while I was living on the reservation.
However, about six months after my part in the project had ended, I came across a very familiar name while I was transcribing medical records at a large hospital 105 miles from Lila and Albert.
As it turned out, Lila had buried a small paring knife in Albert’s ample abdomen and he came in to the clinic complaining of a bellyache. No mention had been made of the violence that led to his bellyache, and none was noted until close examination of the patient.
This time, Albert needed surgical removal of Lila’s instrument of conflict; but, as in all such cases prior to that one, Albert healed and went home to live with Lila.
While I lived on the reservation, it was extremely difficult for me, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, to understand such relationships. Certainly, neither of these two demonstrated love, affection, or respect for one another. A bit of a crusader by personality, I tried to get authorities to do something about the continual attempts of Lila to end Albert’s life. Neither the tribal police nor the tribal council members were the least bit interested in the couple’s marital interactions. It was just their way, and none of anybody’s business.
I finally accepted that some things are best left to God; there was nothing I could do to change anything or anyone. It was God Who kept seeing that this man was rescued, and only God could create a miracle of change in the human heart.
*While the account is true, all names have been changed.
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