Schrödinger’s Patient

When I was a new EMT and chatted with my jaded colleagues, only once did I hear the words Schrödinger’s patient, and when I did the conversation ended quickly. I pressed, wanting to know more, but I was firmly instructed to leave off.

I pondered it every now and again. I’d seen most every callout type. From minor fender benders, fraught roadside scenes of dismemberment or deaths on impact, and everything in between. I became jaded too. When you do the same thing, day in and day out, for long enough, even scraping brains off the pavement becomes routine.

So naturally, this call out was just like any other.

I approached the car, just as I was trained. There was a single passenger, a woman who held her hands to her face in shock.

I told her I was here to help. I opened the driver’s side door. She looked at me. I could tell she had been crying, her mascara had run and covered most of her cheeks. As I leaned over to undo the seatbelt, she groaned at me. I told her what I was doing and she moaned even louder. I reassured her that other paramedics would be on their way, that she could see someone, that how she was feeling was completely normal when you’ve been in a car crash. But all she did was moan through her fingers that were gripping her face and chin.

I unlatched the seatbelt. By that time more paramedics had arrived and brought a stretcher. I told her I was going to lift her out, she didn’t appear to weigh more than eighty pounds, a weight I could easily carry. I slipped my hands under her legs and back. She screamed in pain. I asked to check her neck, that she probably had whiplash, nothing more serious. I had never seen anyone so scared in my life. I said, You need to move your hands, honey. She wouldn’t move them for dear life. I soothed, everything will be okay, I just need to look at your neck, otherwise I can’t put you on the stretcher. She didn’t relent.

I should have asked one of the other paramedics to help. I pulled her hands away from her face. Her head fell and rolled side to side, the skin around her neck the only thing holding it to her body. She had an internal decapitation. I was told she wouldn’t have felt a thing as the nerves that were left were severed. But that is no consolation for me.

My colleagues have told me there was nothing I could do, that she was a Schrödinger’s patient, someone who’s alive and dead at the same time, they look and are alive, but when you interact with them, they die.

When I close my eyes at night, and all I can see is her holding her head in her hands, I wish I had never had to help Schrödinger’s patient.

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