Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Jumper Down" - Don Shea

 Henry was our jumper up expert — had been for years. When the jumper was up, by which I mean when he or she was still on the building ledge or the bridge, Henry was superb at talking them down. Of all the paramedics I worked with, he had the touch.
     When the call came in 'jumper up' Henry always went, if he was working that shift. When the call was 'jumper down' it didn't matter much which of us went — we were all equally capable of attending to the mess on the ground or fishing some dude out of the water.
     The university hospital we worked out of got more than its share of jumpers of both varieties because of its proximity to the major bridges — Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Williamsburg. Over the years, dealing with his jumpers and the other deranged human flotsam the job threw his way, Henry had become a tad crusty — you might even say burned out — although he was still pretty effective with the jumper ups. He always considered them a personal challenge.
     Henry was retiring. On his last shift, we threw him a little party in the lounge two doors down from the ER, even brought some liquor in for the off duty guys although that was against the rules. Everyone was telling their favorite jumper stories for Henry's benefit; he'd heard them all before, but that didn't matter. Big John told the story of the window cleaner who took a dive four stories off his scaffolding. They got him in the bus, started a couple of IV lines, and John radioed ahead to the ER, "Bringing in the jumper down." Now this guy was in sad shape, two broken legs, femur poking through the skin, but he sits right up and says with great indignation, "I did not jump, goddamit! I fell!"
     Just as Big John finished this story, a call came in. Jumper up on the Brooklyn Bridge. Everyone agreed it was meant to be, it was Henry's last jumper, and I went along since it was my shift, too.
     The pillar on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge is over water. Our jumper up had climbed the pillar on the Brooklyn side, which is over land. By the time we got there, the police had a couple of spotlights on him, and we could see him clearly, sitting on a beam about a hundred feet up, looking pretty relaxed. Henry took a megaphone and was preparing to climb up after him when the guy jumped.
     It looked like a circus act. No exaggeration. Two half gainers and a back flip, and every second of it caught in the spotlights. The guy hit the ground about thirty yards from where we were standing, and Henry and I were over there on the run, although it was obvious he was beyond help.
     He was dead, but he hadn't died yet. His eyes were open, and he looked as if he was somewhat surprised by what he had done to himself. Henry leaned in close and bellowed in his ear.
     "I know you can hear me, 'cause hearing's the last thing to go. I just gotta tell ya, I wanted you to know, that jump was fucking magnificent!"

     At first I considered Henry's parting shot pretty insensitive. Then I thought about it some. I mean, it was clearly not the occasion to admonish the jumper, who had obviously suffered enough defeats and rejections in his life. Why should he spend his last few seconds on earth hearing how he blew it once again?
     Seems to me if I was a jumper on the way out, right out there on the ragged edge of the big mystery, I might, indeed, upon my exit, find some last modicum of comfort in Henry's words, human words of recognition and congratulation. 

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