Every once in awhile you come across someone in your EMS career who is just the epitome of everything you want to be. Charismatic. A good leader. A fantastic teacher. Wonderful with patients and the staff of the facilities. Someone who knows when it’s time to play and when it’s time to buckle down and get some work done. I know I’ve written about My People before… This is more than someone who is one of your People.
Rob was that person for me.
My first day at the Little Ambulance Company That Could was terrifying. I remember walking up to the back door of the bay, knees shaking, checkoff paperwork and barely dry EMT card in hand. A million thoughts were racing through my head.
I’m too old to be starting a new career. I’m going to kill someone. I’m going to look like an idiot in front of these people. I’m not going to know what to do. How in the hell am I going to park this huge ambulance in this tiny garage? Do I really have to back it in? What happens if I hit the side of the garage and knock the building off of the foundation?
You know, all sensible, legitimate, rational concerns. (Okay, some of them weren’t rational.)
I was standing there, frozen, at the back door when a bear of a man flung it open, coming within inches of knocking me unconscious. “Jesus I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were out here… Are you our victim, I mean our third rider?”
I turned a ridiculous shade of red and extended my hand, “Yes, Sir. My name is Epi, nice to meet you.”
“I’m Rob, and don’t you dare call me Sir. Come on in here.” He shook my hand with mitts that swallowed mine entirely before turning on his heel. “I’ll show you around.”
“Okay,” Rob grumbled between bites of his lunch. “Show me where the collars are.”
“Uh…Uhm… Uhhh.” I couldn’t put a coherent sentence together.
“Epi, you look a little pale, are you okay?”
The truth was, I felt like I was going to throw up. Here I was, finally doing what I felt like I had been called to do, at the private service that I fought like hell to get hired in to, and I was slowly freaking out.
“Rob,” I started, “I think I should probably go back to working on computers or doing photography or something because there’s just no way in hell I’m going to remember everything. I… I… I think I made a mistake.”
“Whoa, slow down there, Epi. Take a second and breathe. You’re overwhelmed. Come out here with us, smoke a cigarette, and just relax for a few.”
And I did. I sat down with him for a good half hour and we just hung out watching Carlos Mencia. And God did we laugh.
That wouldn’t be the last time he’d make me laugh until I cried that day. As a third rider for the day it was expected that I would ride in back, both when we had a patient and when we didn’t. Rob noticed that I was slowly turning green after nine hours of this and forced me to sit up front for the rest of the day. After a particularly rough run he wrapped neon purple kling wrap around his head like a mummy, leaned forward into the front of the truck and groaned loudly.
I choked on my coffee.
A few minutes later he had a latex glove over his head.
I laughed even harder.
It wasn’t all about making me laugh, though. He taught me so much. A few shifts later when I asked him to show me how to spike an IV bag he went one step further. He let his partner show me how to start an IV on him. An 18ga in his hand. When I’d miss something on a run he would tell me what I missed and why it was important. When I got to the point where I was ready to be released to work on my own he was the one who gave me a pat on the back and he told me that he knew I was going to “do some good”.
I never forgot that.
Eventually I left the Little Private Service, moving on to the Evil Green Empire (the Ohio version anyway). I didn’t get to see him as often, but I will still run into him from time to time. We’d greet each other the same way. I’d yell out his last name, or he’d yell mine, and if we weren’t with a patient I’d tackle him. We’d talk for as long as we could before promising to “Catch up with you soon!”
It seemed like when I needed him the most he was never too far away. He was truly, TRULY, one of my favorite people on the planet.
I’ve been having a rough time of it lately, and I’ve missed seeing him around. I made a mental note to track him down.
Today I got the news.
I waited too long. And I’m mad as hell, sick to my stomach and absolutely fucking heartbroken over it.
Do NOT make the same mistake I did.
I’ll never forget you, Rob. Never. Godspeed, Darlin’.