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18.08.2018

The insane tales of a 1960s NYC ambulance attendant.

In 1968, college sophomore Mike Scardino was working his second summer as a New York City ambulance attendant. He took a call from a woman in Jackson Heights, Queens, about her mother, an old, religious Italian woman who wasn’t taking her pills and, according to the caller, wasn’t acting right. The daughter had legal paperwork...
Time: 22:36     Date: 18.07.2018
Metro News: The insane tales of a 1960s NYC ambulance attendant. NY Post 24 - US News

The daughter had legal paperwork stating that if she felt her mother needed to go to the hospital, the woman legally had to go. She couldn’t refuse help.

But walking into the house filled with religious iconography, Scardino found a strong-willed woman too proud to be seen by her neighbors riding away in an ambulance.

Scardino and his partner eventually walked the reluctant woman to the ambulance, prying eyes seeing all. Once inside, he began asking for her personal information when she suddenly spoke to him in “a firm, loud” monotone.

“I AM THE VOICE OF JESUS CHRIST. LET GO A THIS WOMAN RIGHT NOW. SHE AIN’T GOT NOTHING WRONG WITH HER. LET GO A THIS WOMAN RIGHT NOW.”

Scardino attempted to continue.

“Dear, when is your birthday?”

“I AM THE VOICE OF JESUS CHRIST. DO NOT INTERRUPT.”

As his partner unsuccessfully attempted to stifle his laughter, Scardino tried again, asking her age. The woman, noticing they were passing under an elevated subway track, doubled down.

“I AM THE VOICE OF JESUS CHRIST,” she said. “IF YOU DO NOT LET THIS WOMAN OUT I GONNA MAKE THESE TRACKS FALL DOWN AND KILL ALL A YOU.”

At that point, Scardino lost it, completely breaking down in laughter — but not before throwing a quick glance at the subway tracks, just to make sure they were staying where they belonged.

The interior of an ambulance.Mike Scardino

Scardino’s new memoir, “Bad Call: A Summer Job on a New York Ambulance,” (Little Brown) recounts his days working on an ambulance for St. John’s Queens Hospital from 1968 to 1971 on summer breaks from studying medicine at Vanderbilt University.

He once took a call in Elmhurst from an elderly couple whose 30-year-old son had a history of psychiatric commitment and was refusing to speak or eat. They wanted him brought in for observation.

The young man was “at least 6-foot-6 or even taller,” weighing not much more than 130 pounds by Scardino’s estimate.

“He looks like the pictures of the guys who were on the Bataan Death March,” Scardino writes, adding that the man’s fingernails were “grotesquely long . . . all curly and [with] alternating light and dark growth bands.”

His name was Jimmy, but his mother asked Scardino to call him “Little Jimmy.”

At first, Little Jimmy was too weak to even walk. Scardino propped him up by one arm, and a cop on the scene took the other.

“We help him get up, very slowly and gently,” Scardino writes. “He feels brittle, like something could break off if we don’t handle him right.”

As they slowly walked him through the house, the policeman released his grip on Jimmy for just a second so they could fit through a narrow door. At that moment, Little Jimmy showed he wasn’t so brittle after all.

“Jimmy, in one fluid motion, reaches on top of the fridge to my left and grabs a pair of editor’s shears — the kind with the really long blades that people use to cut out newspaper articles — and raises them over his head,” Scardino writes. “Holy s–t. Little Jimmy’s going to kill me, right here in his mom’s kitchen.”

Mike ScardinoMike Scardino

Scardino saw, in what felt like slow motion, “Jimmy’s hand go up high and then start down, headed right for where my neck meets my chest.”

Noticing a sickly grin on Jimmy’s face, Scardino had the door frame at his back, so he was trapped. He did his best to compress himself, and the shears sliced his left shirt pocket. Jimmy’s limited energy now depleted, the police officer subdued and handcuffed him.

Called to a motorcycle accident just off Queens Boulevard, Scardino arrived to find a calm scene. Two Harleys were neatly parked off to the side and two policeman were there, but there was no obvious sign of any crash or trouble.

One of the motorcycle riders, Hank, was sitting in the street. He recounted the night’s events for Scardino in such a leisurely manner that Scardino started to believe he was called for nothing.

Hank said it was such a lovely night that he and his friend decided to ride around the city, taking in the night air.

He said that as they came to a stop, he bumped against his friend’s exhaust pipe and thought he might have bruised his ankle.

“I couldn’t have been going more than two or three miles an hour, max,” Hank said. “It was just a tap. It don’t even hurt that much. But I don’t think I oughta walk on it, do you?”

‘What do I have to show for it . . . all the grief and the lost sleep and the isolation and the tears. All the horror.’

Scardino began filling out his paperwork and took Hank’s vital signs, which were normal. Then he was ready to look at Hank’s ankle, to see if they would need a splint or if Hank could just walk it off.

But when Scardino lifted Hank’s pant leg to look at his ankle, he saw that Hank’s foot was, basically, off. “Not completely off. It is held on by the thinnest pedicle. Even so, it is essentially amputated,” Scardino writes.“There’s almost no blood. He’s in almost no pain. He has no idea what has happened. Jesus, he wants to know how it looks. What am I supposed to tell him.”

“We’re going to have to put a splint on this, Hank,” he said.

“Is it broken?” Hank asked.

“Yes, it’s broken,” Scardino replied, leaving the horrible truth for the ER doctor to share with him.

Scardino writes that working on the ambulance, seeing misery and death at every turn, took its toll. His grades suffered, his drinking increased and he changed his mind about a career in medicine, eventually going into advertising.

While he certainly saved lives and helped people along the way, the job was too heavily geared toward misery for him.

He recalled a man he found dead who had apparently been lying on his couch and had fallen onto the floor on his left side. It had clearly been awhile since he died, and he was just being discovered now.

Mike Scardino

“He had no left side,” Scardino writes. “What had been his left side had grown into the carpet.”

Another time, he was called to a multicar, multiple-fatality crash in a hilly area hard to reach by a conventional vehicle. After surveying the corpse-filled scene, he and his partner found a woman who was unconscious and severely injured but alive. They were about to lift her onto a stretcher when two firemen — who had jurisdiction at the site — usurped their effort, claiming that stretcher for another body instead. A body that, Scardino saw, was obviously not alive.

The firemen, though, who were charged with making a split-second decision, believed he was. So Scardino and his partner had to race the obvious corpse to the hospital while a woman who might have been saved was left behind. Scardino never heard what happened to her. Once he was off a case, he rarely learned the result. Once he was done with a patient, he was on to the next one.

Scardino witnessed every facet of human tragedy. He saw every possible way a human body could be mangled or distorted. He saw a woman at the precise moment her life fell apart and she realized she was homeless, and saw a man lose his leg due to the careless way a thoughtful neighbor had patched him up.

By the end of four summers plus various shifts on breaks and holidays, Scardino was done. He said goodbye to the ambulance in January 1971 and was finished with medicine forever.

In the end, outside of helping him pay for school, he took no benefit from the experience, saying it left him more fearful and pessimistic about the world.

“What do I have to show for it . . . all the grief and the lost sleep and the isolation and the tears. All the horror,” he writes.

“Did it make me understand more about life, other than how bad it could be? How could it? If anything, life is more an enigma to me now than I ever imagined it could be.”

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