The first time I went to New York City was in 2002, not long after the first anniversary of September 11th. One evening I was in the back of a cab, headed to the Lower East Side from my hotel in Midtown. I heard a siren approaching from behind, and noticed the cars around us pulling over to the side of the road. My cab driver, however, kept driving. “These emergency guys think they own the road!” The cabbie was a stereotypical hack-driver, and while I wanted to say, “Um, they kind of do own the road,” I was too intimidated by his New York-ness to reply. As the ambulance sped by, I remembered the emergency personnel that rushed to Ground Zero, and I wrote my cabbie off as a total asshole.
Almost two years later, New York City was hosting the Republican National Convention. I’d been living in Manhattan for almost a year at that point, and because I was totally broke I hadn’t been able to leave town during the convention like most of my coworkers. My bus route to work was a disaster. The NYPD had closed off lanes of traffic on many of the larger streets to create emergency lanes, and there were traffic check points all over. The emergency lanes were necessary – since that first trip to New York, I’d seen fewer and fewer drivers pull over for police and fire vehicles. I’d lost count of how many times I’d sat on a bus, staring out the window at a frustrated ambulance driver. As the daughter of a police officer, I felt badly for them – they were just trying to do their jobs.
I’d never thought about the person in the back of the ambulance until the day Madeline was born. She needed to be transferred to a better hospital four miles away, and she was going to be taken there via ambulance. There are times in Los Angeles where going four miles can take as long as going forty, but the transport team assured us that it wouldn’t take them long. It was a Sunday, Veteran’s Day, and it was after eight pm. “Besides,” one of them told me, “we have the lights and siren.” After they wheeled Madeline away I was taken to the postpartum unit to recover. My room just so happened to overlook the ambulance bay. I heard her ambulance’s siren go on, and I listened to it drive away, the siren slowly dimming with distance. I willed every car on the road to get out of its way.
The day before Maddie died she and I were taken from her pediatrician’s office to the ER via ambulance. The paramedic in the back of the ambulance was chatty. I told him how I rarely saw cars get out of the way of ambulances in New York. He shook his head and told me that in his experience at least half the cars didn’t pull over. I was appalled. The driver of our ambulance used the siren to go through intersections, but I was too focused on Maddie to notice if cars were pulling over.
The exact same transport team that moved Maddie to the better hospital on the day she was born came to transport her on the day that she died. They arrived too late to help, even though I begged them to save her like they had once before. I wondered later how long it had taken them to arrive. It was a Tuesday night, during rush hour. Had all the cars pulled out of their way? Would those cars have moved to the side if they’d known the lights and sirens were for a sick baby? What if the team had arrived sooner?
We live rather close to a hospital now. Helicopters going to and from the hospital fly over us every few days, but I see or hear an ambulance daily. I always stop what I’m doing (or pull over if I’m driving), and will every possible delay out of the way of the ambulance. I hope with all my heart that they get to where they need to be in time.