Brought Back

The alley was lit by the faint glow of street lights.  Overhead power lines crisscrossed the piece of sky visible between the buildings and turned the night into a patchwork quilt. Garbage bins lined the angles at the bottom corners of buildings, spilling refuse in scattered piles.  

“Breathe, damn it,” my partner said, and thumped the man’s chest for the third time.

We had been walking our beat in the Downtown Eastside when a woman told us of a man unconscious from a drug overdose.  We were directed to this alley, where we found the man slumped in a filthy alcove. 

A needle was stuck in his arm and his head lolled to the side when we tried to wake him, and I knew the man was dying.  We pulled him from the alcove and radioed for an ambulance.

Kneeling beside the motionless form, my partner pressed his fingers to the side of the man’s neck and threw me a grim look. He couldn’t find a pulse.  My partner wiped the back of wrist across his mouth in an unconscious gesture.

We could not perform mouth to mouth on this man.  He was an IV drug user in an area where Hepatitis C and HIV were rampant, and we could simply not risk becoming infected. 

I felt horrible for it.

Joining my partner in a crouch, I looked closer.  The man’s face was hard from years of drug use and covered in grizzled stubble.  Scabs scattered across his cheeks, and a lock of greasy hair fell across his brow.  He could have been anyone. 

Surely, though, he was someone.

He was someone’s son.  He had loved, played, been a part of someone’s life. He had fears, goals, likes and dislikes.  His addiction did not make him inhuman, it only made him addicted.

If not for the addiction he could have been me.

Faint sirens floated on the air, coming closer, and I placed my own fingers on the side of his neck.  His skin was warm and supple, but there was no heartbeat.  My hands moved to his chest. 

Stillness.  

I looked away and willed the ambulance to hurry. He could not die like this, in squalor.  In the cold, outside, lying mere feet from a rank mound of human waste.  It was not right. 

Gripping the man under his arms, I cradled his head against my belly and dragged him into the center of the lane, away from the unspeakable.  My partner helped me lower him to the ground, and we stood watch.

Within moments, an ambulance came into the lane and the paramedics were a blur of controlled chaos. The man’s clothing was cut off, heart rate monitors were attached to his pale chest, and a breathing tube was forced into his airway. 

A pair of gloved hands with laced fingers pushed his ribcage up and down, up and down, up and down.

A flash caught my eye as one medic produced a small glass vial. She dipped a needle into the cap and withdrew a syringe full of liquid.  Quickly checking the amount, she plunged it into the man’s arm, forcing the dose of Narcan into the man’s veins.

We waited.  Hands pumped ribs. The breathing tube made a low sucking noise. Seconds felt like hours. Minutes felt like forever.

Then, as if rising for the first time, the man’s eyelids fluttered and then flew open as he drew in a great rasping breath.  His hand clawed at the breathing tube, and he succeeded in pulling it out. 

The initial breath was followed by a second, and then a third.

His eyes, a startlingly beautiful blue, blinked up at us, and tears coursed from the corners to be lost in the hair at his temples as he tried to fathom where and who he was.

Another one, brought back from certain death.

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