MEMOIR:

FALL 2004:

A Satisfying Newbury Lunch
When It Felt Like Home

SPRING 2003:

The Big Boys
The Fine Art of Urination and Defecation Al Fresco
The Golden City
Inside Looking Out
Roxbury
The Soup Game

FALL 2002:

All the Hearts
Footsteps

SUMMER 2002:

Being Family

SPRING 2002:

An Alternative to the Common Use of Forks
Memoir Lead
Two Weeks in New Mexico
Untitled
Zeroes

FALL 2001:

The Anti-Valentine's Girls
Play

SPRING 2001:

Amour de Soi
The Day Music Let Me Go
The Force
Lucky Me, I'm Gifted
My Green Canyon
A Painful Passion
Point of Departure
Sail the Sea
Smile and Nod

FILM REVIEWS:

FALL 2004:

Lola Takes Us For the Sprint of Our Lives

FALL 2002:

Arlington Road: A Thriller with Thought
A Big Fat Fairytale Wedding
Border Patrol: The War Against Drugs Continues
Not the Stereotypical Shoot 'em Up Gangster Flick
Punch Drunk Love

SPRING 2002:

The Complexity of Artificial Intelligence
Monster's Ball
Monster's Redemption
Royalty Runs in the Family

FALL 2001:

A Hard Day's Night: A Rock 'n' Roll Joyride That Never Runs Out of Steam
Too Many Potholes in Riding in Cars with Boys

SPRING 2001:

Requiem's Melody Lingers
New-and-Improved Horror

FEATURES & PROFILES:

FALL 2002:

In The End, Everything is Crystal Clear
A Match for Success
They Will Follow Him
A Very Bostonian Hotel
What's an A?

READINGS:

The CO201 program hosts special Coffee House Readings periodically throughout each semester. These stories have each been selected by 201 professors for reading.

SPRING 2002:

Death and Board Games
Luxembourg
Resurrection of a Ghost
The Tool Man

FALL 2001:

Bits of Daylight
Leona's House
This is Spinal Tap: No Need for Painkillers
The Toad and the Giant

SPRING 2001:

The Movies
Solving the Equation: The Trials and Triumphs of International Adoption
Yaglafant

ESSAYS:

FALL 2002:

Her Face is Red
Smoking a Cigarette
Stories and Lies
Sumit Ganguly: He, She & It

PROPOSALS:

Proposals are group projects in which 201 students propose and create an ad for a non-profit organization or cause.

SPRING 2002:

Christian Solidarity International

CONTEST WINNERS:

SPRING: 2007

Riches to Rags... to Riches
Man of the House
A 'Special Education' Defined

SPRING: 2006

#71952
For Never Was There a Story of More Woe, than This of Mr. Thomas A. Marcello
Pei-yeh Tsai finds harmony in opposites at the keyboard

SPRING 2005:

Colorado Peaks and Iraqi Deserts: A Paramedic's Story
The Consequences of Drunk Driving
America, Open Your Eyes

SPRING 2004:

A Fine Balance: The Life of an Islamic Teenager
A Genetic Link to Identity: Dr. Bruce Jackson and The Roots Project
Rebel With a Cause

COFFEE HOUSE READINGS:

FALL 2004:

The Amah’s Revenge
Circle in the Sand
It’s How I Walk
School Bus

SPRING 2002:

Death and Board Games
Luxembourg
Resurrection of a Ghost
The Tool Man

FALL 2001:

Bits of Daylight
Leona's House
Nonfiction Story
This is Spinal Tap: No Need for Painkillers
The Toad and the Giant

SPRING 2001:

The Movies
Solving the Equation: The Trials and Triumphs of International Adoption
Yaglafant

COLORADO PEAKS AND IRAQI DESERTS:
A PARAMEDIC'S STORY

BY KIMBERLY SMITH

*names changed to protect anonymity

His big boot-clad foot taps to the smooth saxophone of Charlie Parker emanating from the creaky, antique radio in the corner of the firehouse kitchen. The six-foot-five paramedic leans against the corner of the beige, granite countertop, a red flower-patterned apron stretched across his muscular stomach. He pushes a few strands of floppy blonde hair out of his face and his sea-green eyes peer intently at a large cookbook. Light from the flickering candles reflects off his silver necklace, forming an aura around the small figure of St. Florian dangling at his throat. “He is the patron saint of firefighters. My mother gave it to me for protection,” he says, fingering the delicate chain.

Three hours earlier, Greg Peterson* was teetering fifty feet in the air over billowing flames, hauling seventy pounds of gear, and praying that his oxygen tank would withstand the heat. Now he flicks on the burner of the gas stove and carefully pours cream into a glass dish for lobster bisque. “Cooking is just another way for us to get to play with fire. I think most firefighters are really pyromaniacs at heart,” he jokes. The large candles on the counters create a warm ambiance and the smell of tarragon and garlic wafts through the room.

Peterson arrived at the local firehouse two years ago, with an acceptance letter from a prestigious university emergency medical program. The fire chief, impressed with his experiences in the field, asked him to live at the firehouse and work four nights a week as a volunteer firefighter.
In May, Peterson graduates with honors and will leave immediately for Iraq, where independent contractors are recruiting paramedics and firefighters to aid in the reconstruction of the war-torn country. There is little military protection for civilian workers, but the $100,000 minimum salary provokes many paramedics to take their chances. “I’m so scared for him,” Peterson’s mother, Katie*, admitted from her home in Colorado, her voice quivering slightly as she spoke. “But he is smart and careful, and I know God will watch over him,” she said.

While the impressive salary is not Peterson’s primary motivation for going to Iraq, he will not deny that money is an important factor in his life. When he was six-years-old, his mother underwent a simple surgery that resulted in a malpractice disaster, leaving her nearly paralyzed and bedridden for years. “Her morphine doses needed to be extremely high to handle the pain, and she was addicted almost immediately. One dose of her medicine would kill a grown man,” Peterson says angrily, his knife forcefully splitting an onion and sending juice squirting across the counter. The costs of incessant medical bills and medications left the family struggling to make ends meet. “People who tell you that money doesn’t matter don’t realize how tough it is not to have it. It would come down to a choice between weekly groceries or my mom’s medicine in a given month. We received some money from the government, but it just wasn’t enough,” he says sadly.

Peterson first encountered paramedics when he was eight years old. His mother, spiraling into deep depression, felt she was a burden to her children and attempted suicide with an overdose of pain medication. “I found her lying there and she wouldn’t wake up. Her face was pure white and somehow I knew she wasn’t sleeping,” Peterson remembers as he absently stirs flour into the broth, his eyes troubled and distant. The small boy called 911 that stormy night and saved his mother’s life. Paramedics stormed through the front door, their black raincoats dripping with water. “They didn’t say anything to me, but they didn’t ask me to leave either,” Peterson reflects. Katie was not breathing and the paramedics had to use an AED machine to restart her heart. Peterson stood by the bed, his small arm clutching the bedpost, and watched a man take two paddles and press them against Katie’s chest. “I will never forget the image of my mother’s body jumping off the floor like a limp rag doll,” he murmurs, his eyes clouding.

Exposure to emergency medicine at such a young age fueled Peterson’s desire to work in a field that would allow him to help people. “I knew at that moment that this was my path. These men and women are the life of our society. They get paid crap, and yet they work inhuman shifts at ridiculous hours of the night, wade through blood and vomit, and risk disease and death so that one person can go on breathing. That night the one person was my mom and I will never forget it,” Peterson says as he chops green onions on a cutting board and pours them into the pot.
Peterson began working for a volunteer rescue group in Colorado, commonly known as the “body finders,” when he was sixteen years old. With Colorado’s unpredictable and severe weather, it is very difficult to find a lost person alive on the mountain. “The first time you find a human body it is shocking. It was the smell that hit me the worst, like burning rubber and burning hair put together. Animals had gotten at it, so there wasn’t much left. It didn’t even look human,” Peterson remembers.

There are exceptions, however, and sometimes the team gets lucky. Five years ago, on a stormy day in October, a little boy drifted away from his family’s campsite on a popular Colorado hiking mountain. The team combed the terrain at least a dozen times and found nothing. Because a light rain had eliminated all hope for tracking footprints, the rescuers relied on a grid system and worked their way across the mountain. Peterson came on duty on day five of the search. “I was rushing and grabbed the wrong pack. It had a map in it that was for a different park down south. I was working off three hours of sleep in over a week and didn’t notice the difference,” he says. By following this map, instead of the correct one, Peterson led a small team completely off the search grid. They found the boy curled up under a tree, nearly starved and extremely dehydrated. Brian Reed*, the team leader, incredulously recalled the incident. “When Greg came out of the trees, I swear, it was like an angel descending. We heard a shout and saw Greg, a huge smile on his face and a small body draped in his arms,” he explained as his voice rose in nostalgic excitement. The team, convinced of divine intervention, nicknamed Peterson “the saint.”

Peterson received his EMT certification two years later, and his laid-back personality and quirky sense of humor made him popular among his coworkers. Kevin Black*, Peterson’s friend and coworker, laughed as he recalled one of Peterson’s various experiences. “I was working at the hospital on the graveyard shift. We open the back door of the ambulance and Greg and some woman are swaying back and forth, their arms locked together, howling ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ at the top of their lungs,” he remembered. The woman was a psychiatric patient and had overdosed on her medication. Highly delusional, she was convinced that she was Elvis. Peterson laughs as he remembers the call. “I’m eighteen years old. Most kids my age are out playing beer pong, but I am stuck in a really small box with a crazy person. Now I could remain professional, but the whole thing is just so absurd, so I start asking for requests. Pretty soon we are singing together as the ambulance careens around corners,” he chuckles. “She was a great lady. People react two ways to the stress of emergency medicine. You either close yourself off and deal with it inside, or you have a sense of humor,” he says as he reaches into a cupboard, pulls out a bottle of sherry, and pours a small amount into a measuring cup.

In Iraq, Peterson will be working for an international security company, as a paramedic. The work is daunting, and he will be one of only five or six men assigned to a specific detail. Because he will work as a shooter and a medic, arms training is required and he will attend basic training similar to the U.S. Army program. “It is strange being trained to save people and kill people at the same time,” Peterson says, the corners of his mouth turning up at the irony. The company is building emergency clinics throughout the area, but the chance of recruiting a doctor as a member of the staff is slim. Peterson understands the realities he will face overseas. “They don’t sugar-coat it. I was told that I would have to stabilize people in the street under fire with a fifty-fifty chance of evacuation. There are no rules out there, only personal choices. No one will sue you if you walk away and leave the guy to bleed to death. If it comes to that choice, a choice between risking my neck or walking away, I don’t know what I will do,” Peterson says, cleaning up vegetables on the counter as if trying to distract himself from the thought.

Yet, Greg is ambivalent toward the war in general. He explains that while the doctors and paramedics will fight to protect their lives, they are not there to fight the war. “We are in Iraq to preserve life, not to take it,” Peterson emphasizes. He realizes, however, that he may be faced with difficult decisions. “It goes against every paramedic’s nature to kill. Day after day, we fight to capture that last breath. We shock people until their hearts start beating again or they are good and dead, and it doesn’t matter who they are. If an Iraqi soldier was dying in front of me, I don’t know how I could just stand by and watch. It isn’t about us versus them; it’s about life versus death,” Peterson explains.

Although he looks forward to the fast-paced environment in Iraq, Peterson has no shortage of excitement at the firehouse. Living in a station, going to school full time, volunteering at the hospital, and working as a paramedic and firefighter is a rough schedule to handle. “Red bull. Red bull keeps me going,” Greg says seriously. Despite waking up at all hours of the night to go on calls, he will graduate at the top of his class. “Getting up for a call isn’t so bad because it becomes automatic. It’s like getting up to go to the bathroom and coming back two hours later. You get used to strange hours,” Peterson laughs as he adds canned lobster meat to the simmering pot.

Emergency medical workers have to be careful not to wear themselves down because lives depend on their efficiency and ability to think quickly. On his first day on the job, the team called Peterson to a structural fire at a local warehouse. The firefighters needed to get up six stories, and the ladder on the truck was malfunctioning. Ten minutes went by and the ladder was still broken, but the fire was spreading through the bottom floors, and the only way to get people out was through the window on the ninth floor. The fire chief remembered the call vividly. “We were in a panic because time is everything when dealing with fire. Greg was the rookie, so no one was paying much attention to him. Suddenly, we see a crane coming down the street toward us. I thought I was delusional, but there is Greg in the driver’s seat,” he said. Peterson borrowed the crane from the construction site down the street and, using it like a ladder, the firefighters scaled the bars to the top of the building. “I remembered passing a construction sight on the way, so I asked the foreman if I could borrow his crane,” Peterson explains as he throws a pinch of white pepper into the boiling pot.

Improvising is a common aspect of the profession because paramedics and firefighters never know what they will face. It is difficult to make decisions with so little information, and Peterson does not underestimate the mental toll of his job. “Watching a person die for the first time is shocking to the system. One second he is looking up at you, and he is a person, and then he is just gone. I know it sounds stupid, but you feel a chill pass through your body, as if everything around you is cold for a moment. You are left there holding this shell and wondering if you could have done something differently. The night after is the worst part because you stare at the ceiling and go over every little action in your head. Once you see some things, your dreams are never the same. I always remember the eyes of a dead person because they are human eyes, but void of all life, empty and glass-like. It is the eyes that are haunting,” he says, dispelling the disturbing thought by brushing the vegetable remnants into the trash.

Sometimes paramedics seem cold and calloused about death, but Peterson explains that it is only their way of dealing with the horrors of the job. “You have to separate yourself. If you see everyone as someone’s daughter, brother, or mother, you will go insane. Sometimes we even joke that the dead people are the easiest calls because you can’t really hurt them and they don’t really change or complain.” Peterson smiles wryly, “Actually, they are really easy to treat.”

Peterson is considering medical school after Iraq and wants to be an ER doctor. He rejects private practice because he believes that Emergency Medicine is where his skills can really make a difference. In his room at the fire station, his EMS certification hangs above his high school diploma on the wall, and he believes it will probably hang above his college degree. “This is what matters most to me,” he admits.

Iraq will give Peterson the opportunity to work with various professionals in a uniquely stressful environment. It will require every piece of experience and endurance that he has gained in nearly a decade of public service. However, he will never forget the respect that he has for the men and women at the fire station. “Being a firefighter is not about bravery. It is about moving forward when you are scared, tired, cold, and lonely and all you want to do is turn around walk away. It is about running into a burning building when every instinct is screaming at you stop. People curse you and attack you and sometimes you just want to throw your helmet on the ground and say, ‘fuck it, why bother,’” he says.

Peterson turns the stove off and pours the creamy bisque into a dish, looking thoughtful. “But it is all worth it,” he says finally, throwing a sprig of parsley on top of the steaming soup. “It is all worth it because one day a little boy might call 911 because his mother isn’t breathing.” A cocky smile returns to Peterson’s face and he removes the red apron. “And the ladies love the uniform,” he adds.