Two Worlds and Eighteen Words

I was at work when the news hit. Specifically, I was in a third-floor walkup apartment with a patient who was taking a significant turn for the worse. A lot of blue-uniformed colleagues were in the room, along with very concerned family members, and we still had to get the patient down the stairs, loaded on to the ambulance, and transported to the hospital. I was growing concerned he wasn’t going to survive the trip.

Bink,” went my back pocket. It’s a very subtle notification, almost inaudible. I had no idea at the time, but some of the most exciting news of my writing career had just been made public.

We carried the patient down the stairs. Bink. Bink, the phone beeped. I looked at the EKG on the portable monitor being carried by one of my colleagues. I didn’t like what it showed. At all.

Bink. Bink. More notifications.

Now we are in the ambulance, and I’m calling for my colleague to prep an IV medication, and I’m doing about three things at once, and telling the driver to start driving, because I think this patient might die in front of us. I’m still standing when the driver pulls a U turn in the parking lot, holding on to a ceiling rail because I grabbed more crew members in case the patient went into cardiac arrest, and now there’s nowhere to sit. Bink, bink, bink. Someone is blowing me up. A family emergency? I’m not going to take out my phone in the middle of a call. It has to wait.

We get the patient to the ER. Things look extremely dicey for a little while, but he stabilizes. I’m cleaning up the ambulance, which is trashed with discarded bits of packaging and equipment, when I check my phone. The 2019 finalists for the Sturgeon Award are out, and one of my stories is among them. I have more Twitter notifications than I’ve ever had before. It feels amazing, and yet I have to restock medications and put fresh linen on the stretcher and get the ambulance ready for the next call, because I’m at work, and two calls have already gone out nearby while we were on the last one.

We’re dispatched for a seizure minutes later. Bink, says my pocket as I climb back into the ambulance. Bink. Like transmissions from a distant outpost, plaintive chirps from a place I once lived. I silence the phone and quiet my mind, because I have ten more hours to go in this shift.

By the time I dragged my ass home in the morning, I was beat. Our last call was for a patient in cardiac arrest, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to resuscitate them. I opened up the laptop to my current project, which I hope will someday be a book.

I managed to add eighteen words before my brain shut down.

I used to call myself an aspiring writer. There was no discrete moment when I dropped the “aspiring” qualifier - not my first publication, not my acceptance into the Clarion West workshop, not my first pro sale. Not the party at which a real author smiled at my self-deprecation and told me it was okay to call myself a writer. Not the day of the Sturgeon nomination. It just happened along the way.

The reality is that I’m still an aspiring writer. If you write, you probably are, as well. You’re always somewhere on a continuum between the first line you ever write and what you hope you might someday be capable of. Like me, you might be writing while an entire planet full of demands and concerns competes for your attention.

On this scale, eighteen words doesn’t look like much. But it’s progress.