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High Rise, Deep Impact

My First and Last Day as a Paramedic.

By Penelope HenainPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
Top Story - May 2024
High Rise, Deep Impact
Photo by Robert Nelson on Unsplash

I have witnessed a death that I relive every time I step into an elevator. Although it no longer affects me as deeply—given that it's been 11 years since the incident—it remains a heart- rending memory from my first and last day as a paramedic. My initial call to the scene involved a man who seemed to have fallen down the elevator shaft of a high-rise building. Alternatively, it might have been that the elevator moved upwards while he was working on it. Different scenarios were being considered when I arrived.

We entered the building as people were being ushered away, and we received clearance to join the numerous authorities peering into an open elevator door. At first glance, everything appeared normal. However, I followed instructions to look down into the shaft from a safe distance from the edge, with my colleague holding my hand for support. As I peered into the dark well, with chains, my eyes adjusted. The actual elevator was two floors below, yet the sight was unmistakably clear and remains etched in my memory: the image of a head and torso. The head seemed disproportionately large compared to the body, resembling a bobble head, but it was far from humorous. My colleague pulled me back as we needed to head downstairs. I wondered where the rest of the man's body was.

We hurried down the stairs of the newly built high-rise, which was still being dressed and furnished. After descending a couple of flights, we reached another open elevator door, where another team of paramedics was already present. I noticed a man in a green uniform attempting to climb on top of the elevator, presumably trying to save the man we had just seen from above. I stood beside the other paramedics, all of us watching and waiting to assist the injured man.

Observing the man in the green heavy-duty canvas uniform, I noted his left leg was straight, his right leg bent, and he had a chain connected to his keys hanging around his waist by his right thigh. His brown skin was visible under his uniform, complemented by brown boots that reached just above his ankles. Out loud, I wondered if he needed a push to help him get on top of the elevator, puzzled why no one else had offered to help. It hadn't dawned on me yet that this was the workman. My colleague was mortified by my comment as she already knew what we were looking at. In my defense, there was more eerie silence than conversation, and when someone did speak, it was in Arabic. I speak English and only minimal Arabic. As embarrassed as I was to have made a mindless comment, I had at least broken the uncomfortable silence. My heart sank as my brain caught up with the reality of the situation in front of me. This was the missing body; it wasn't actually missing, and this man was not trying to save anyone. He was the man—the man in front of me appeared alive, as if he were helping someone, but from what I had seen from above, I knew this was a deceased person. My heart sank deeper, and I could feel a tear forming. My mind flashed back to all the brown men lying helpless in hospital beds. Most of them were unable to move due to their injuries and had tracheostomies, waiting for a nurse to attend to their needs—cleaning them, toileting them, and tending to their tracheostomies. They stared at me as I cared for them, their fear and sadness palpable. All I could do was hold their hand for a moment, allowing them to release some emotion as tears streamed down their cheeks.

Reflecting on this scene from the hospital, I asked the seasoned paramedics how often they encountered such devastating scenes. It was my first experience as a student paramedic. To my surprise, they replied that it was a first for them as well. I couldn't help but think, "Go figure. Story of my life." "Yallah. Khalas. The black ambulance is coming," is all I hear as we leave the scene because our role is no longer needed. My brain tries to process everything. We leave the scene physically, but it remains etched in my memory forever.

Before the day is over, we attend other emergencies, but I will never forget that one—my very first emergency scene on the very last day I volunteered to leave my role to be a paramedic. I'll stick to being a nurse.

After a challenging day, I go out with my friends. As a nurse, I've seen and experienced many emotional situations, so I jump at the opportunity to explore the Dubai markets. We laugh and giggle as we walk through an array of brightly colored materials, with the scents of musk, amber, saffron, and rose lingering in the air. Ahead, I see a family also enjoying themselves: a young child holding on one hand an ice cream cone and the other hand is holding his mothers hand, who has long jet-black hair, big brown eyes that glow as her husband walks beside her. What a beautiful family, laughing and looking so happy.

"What's wrong, Penny?" my friend asked, noticing tears streaming down my face as my laughter abruptly stopped. The husband had brown skin and was wearing the same green uniform and black hair as the deceased man.

My mind couldn't keep up with an avalanche of thoughts, blurring my vision with uncontrollable tears. What about the dead man's family? What if this had been him? It could easily have been him. What about his family back in India? He just went to work and died. Khalas, finished, dead. What's the purpose of life? How could this happen? What about all those men back at the hospital? What, why, why? My friend stood beside me, comforting me and offering a tissue. We both knew this story; we had heard it enough times. A man from India or the Philippines comes to Dubai to work. Sometimes, the extended family back home saves all their money together so they can send one man abroad to work, who will then send money back to the family so they too can have access to basic needs like food, shelter, and water.

Meanwhile, I am living in luxury in the doctors' quarters, walking outside every morning to await my chauffeured bus with my team of nurses. As we wait, I see the men smiling, interacting, and sending kind glances our way. There must be a hundred or more men, all living in one of the many shipping containers outside our white stone luxury compound. That's it; my mind feels like it's going to explode. I am feeling sorry for myself, yet the workman I saw is dead. Who will feed his family back home in India now? What happens now?

About the Creator

Penelope Henain

Writing has been my creative escape since I was a child.

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Comments (3)

  • Esala Gunathilake3 months ago

    Congratulations on your top story.

  • Hope Martin3 months ago

    Thank you for grieving that man for his family… they probably didn’t get to do it properly if he didn’t get sent back home to them. I am in Native American shaman, and we are taught that sometimes things happen to us just so that we can be the one to help the process forward. If you are the only one who had enough love and heart to grieve for that man that day, if he didn’t get to be buried traditionally by his family… you could have been the one who helped his soul go forward. You have love in your heart. It doesn’t make you weak even if you quit being a paramedic. It makes you strong- because not a lot of people can be strong enough to grieve - especially for a stranger. Your heart is kind. I can tell.

  • Gabriel Huizenga3 months ago

    There are no words- such a deep tragedy. Thank you for sharing this. 💙

Penelope HenainWritten by Penelope Henain

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