The sum of the parts...

Here's my cat in my lap. He's been out for far too long. His coat is scraggly and he's getting kind of thin. My hands move over his little bony body and I feel what's going on. I can feel the big wad of food he just ate It's a hard lump just below his ribcage. I can feel him breathing and rumbling as I pet him. As I rub his shoulders, I can feel the ropy latissimus muscles moving across his scapulae. I know all of his parts. I'm worried about his kidneys and bladder. As I feel around his ribs to where his kidneys should be and down his belly to his bladder, he complains no more than usual. Good.

Thirteen years ago, when I got this cat, he was no more than a bundle of attitude wearing fur pajamas. Today, I still have great affection for my cat but he's more than just a fuzzy beast who demands food and pets. I see him as an organism. I know his parts. I have a greater understanding for how these things work.

I do this to people too. I can see both parts of the gastrocnemii in my dad's calves as he hikes up the trail ahead of me. He's got great legs from so many years of hiking and playing soccer. When I'm sitting still, watching the world stroll by, I can spot the woman with cardiac problems from her pedal edema, the COPD patient from his barrel chest and bottle of oxygen as he walks by. I also can see the worrying signs of aging in my parents as I've never been able to see before.

My perception of people has changed since I've become a paramedic. People, for me, are more than just their outward appearances. My awareness goes deeper than that. I can see their muscles, bones, tendons. I can see where they're moving wrong. Scars tell me a story like they never did before. Yes, those railroad tracks on someone's chest? That means they've had their heart open and if they're gasping for air, bad things are happening. The intellectual part of me finds this infinitely fascinating but the human me is alarmed at times to see the frailty in those I love.

I know that everyone's got a heart, two lungs, an enteral tract, a liver, eyes, brain, blood, a lymph system, IgA and all his companions, etc.. In fact, I know it more than I ever did before. I could become alarmed and frightened by how fragile all these creatures are but I'm not. I'm in a constant state of wonder that someone so wonderful and complex as my brother, my wife, my niece my cat, my dog or my father can be so much more than a simple collection of anatomical structures.

We are so much more than the sum of our parts.

If we were just meat, there would be no place in the world for people like me.

This is why we (EMTs, paramedics and rescuers everywhere) do what we do.


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