by Mike Schoeffel
She is 28 weeks pregnant when she overdoses in the backseat of a rusty Honda Accord. Heroin, of course. It’s always heroin. Bad batch going around. Happens every couple of months. No overdose calls, no overdose calls, then BOOM: three in one shift.
She’s our first one of the day. Seven thirty-two in the morning on Christmas Eve. In the parking lot of an Exxon. The gas station attendants flag us down when we arrive, pointing us to the car. Not the first OD in this parking lot by a long shot. She’s blue in the back seat, sprawled out on a spare tire and an old McDonald’s bag. Cigarette burns on her arms. Scabs on her cheeks. Skinnier than hell, except for the stomach. The guy she’s with is pacing around the parking lot, smoking a cigarette. Tattoos on his face. Not so much concerned. More like fearful. How’s he going to get out of this one? Probably not the first one. But still.
We hit her with Narcan. That’s the go-to move for blue people. Narcan, then oxygen. It usually does the trick. Within seconds of shooting that stuff up their nose, they usually wake up, eyes bulging. Disoriented and dismissive. “What did you take, ma’am or sir?” “Oh, nothing. Nothing. I don’t do drugs.” Rarely do they fess up.
The Narcan doesn’t rouse this skeleton. Not instantly, at least. We push it and wait. Nothing. A paramedic gives her a sternum rub. The skeleton’s eyes pop open and she jolts awake, then collapses again, lifeless. The paramedic is unconvinced. He deploys another knuckle rub. That does the trick. She bolts up. A frightened animal. Silent, though. Strange. Most of the time they holler. Tell us to get the hell out. But this one is monk-like. Onto the stretcher and into the ambulance without a word. Her eyes are two craters punched in her face. The man smoking a cigarette does not look at her as she goes. He’s still pacing when the cops arrive.
Me and another guy on our truck help the paramedics back the ambulance out of the parking lot. It’s cold and windy. Christmas Eve. Colorful lights are strung up along the front of the Exxon. “Jingle Bell Rock” is playing from the pumps.
“That should be a fucking crime,” says the other guy on the truck. I nod. Blow warm air into my hands. “They should detain her until the baby’s born.”
It seems as good a solution as any, in a land without many solutions. Just look around. This happens every day. Every hour. In every city. Every town. Politicians know it. Cops know it. Citizens know it. But nobody knows what to do about it.
Back on the truck, our captain asks if anyone got the patient’s name. He needs it for the report. Silence. We were too busy waking a skeleton. “Reckon it doesn’t matter much,” he says. Tiny snowflakes land on the windshield. They stick for a moment before being swept away.
Tomorrow smiling children will open presents in warm houses. Eat ham and turkey. Hug their parents. Wonder how Santa fit down the chimney. Festiveness changes nothing. Certain parts of this country, this world, will still be very cold. We don’t have to dwell on that, but we should at least try to remember it. If only for long enough to forget it again.
Mike Schoeffel is a writer and firefighter based in Western North Carolina. His work has appeared in USA TODAY, Little Patuxent Review, Hemingway Shorts Vol. 7, Bookends Review, Sheepshead Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, Non-Conformist Mag, Firefighter Nation and a short story anthology titled Draw Down the Moon. His story “Now Walt” is a finalist in the 2022 Hemingway Shorts Contest.