She called 911 because she said she had been hit over the head by a man with a lock and chain. She was barefoot and terrified. Her feet were encrusted with many layers of dirt. It had been a long time since she’d worn shoes. Her pants were torn and soiled, the fabric frayed from being dragged on the ground. She wore a cute, newish purple vest that made me curious. She had no teeth and her forearms were covered by scars from years of cutting. She was scared of the police, she was suspicious of me.I approached her to ask her what happened. She accused me of not believing her before I even opened my mouth. She wanted to run from us. She started to cry, uncontrollable tears.
I told her that she was ok and we were here to help her. She did not believe me.
I told her that I had to look at her injuries to see where she was hurt. When I touched her, she flinched and gasped, tears running down her face. Her history downloaded into my viscera. I apologized and reassured her that I wouldn’t hurt her.
I evaluated her spine for injuries. She said, “The thoracic spine T-1 through T-12,” as I made my way down her spine. “You don’t believe me!” She cried again.
I saw no obvious injuries. “I believe you.”
As the ambulance arrived, I smiled at my coworker as he walked towards me. “See, you are laughing at me!” she declared.
I looked at her right in the eye with conviction, I knew my answer could make or break our trust, all was on the line in this moment. “I always smile. If you see me out on the street, I will be smiling, that is who I am.”
She stood silently evaluating me. Then she relaxed, then trusted. “I am out of my meds.”
“How long has it been since you’ve been out of your meds?”
“About a month? I have multiple personality disorder and PTSD. And a drug history.”
“Ok so lets make a checklist of things you want to address when you get to the hospital: You need to get your meds, talk to the doctor about your injuries, and get some support for your PTSD?”
“Yes.” She said in a small voice.
“Cute vest by the way,” I said.
“Thank you!” she said proudly and lovingly. “An angel gave it to me.” She entered the ambulance and we parted ways.
These are the people living out on the streets.
Jennifer Bartholomew is a Fire Engineer and Paramedic with the Santa Rosa Fire Department in northern California. An 18-year veteran, she also serves on the Santa Rosa Hazardous Materials Team, and is trained in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.
Retired San Bernardino County (CA) Fire Captain Greg Griffin is now an award winning photographer. He lives in Sedona, Arizona with his wife Becky. You can view more of his amazing photos at http://Facebook.com/photographybygreggriffin