University of Minnesota

“If It Isn’t Fun.” – A Wild Ambulance Ride

September 15

After taking Janie home tonight, I read “Keys of the Kingdom” into the wee hours. Cronin writes powerfully, using climaxes of hopeless tragedy, gentle humor, and welling compassion. I had just dozed off when the phone rang at 3 a.m. A brusque hospital operator informed me of an urgent ambulance call, an apparent cardiac event in an elderly mariner living on the Mississippi flats. I was unusually poised and courteous on the phone, perhaps because I was still under the influence of the uplifting reading of the evening before.

Once underway, Dunham, the driver, made our great, gray machine fly in a wild, refreshing ride across the Huey Long Bridge. All the while, I went over in my mind the treatment of the heart case I was anticipating.

We were met at the levee by an old river woman hobbling on one crutch and carrying a kerosene lantern. She led us down a boggy trail and up a slippery bank and across the mud flats on a narrow footbridge. The thought of transporting a desperately sick man over that precarious walkway was chilling.

I need not have worried. When we entered the shanty we found the patient cold, very dead. The old woman looked away, mumbling unintelligibly in reply to our soft queries trying to ascertain the nature of his death.

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