The Chinchilla Tail

Once upon a time, many winters ago, I was spending some time riding around in an ambulance…

My partner, Vince, and I were driving downtown on a bright winter morning. He was drinking his gas station cappuccino while basking in the sunlight and I was squinting into the distance. It was ridiculously bright outside. So bright, in fact, that for a second I thought, “this is what that Riddick guy feels like when he takes his goggles off during the day.” That’s how bright it was.

Actually, I shared that thought with Vince, who just laughed at me and continued to sip his cappuccino.

“Is it always this bright outside?” I asked Vince, while holding my hand over my eyes like a visor.

“Yes, this is what they call ‘daytime.’ It happens for several hours every day, and you’re not nearly ripped or bald enough to be Riddick,” said a very amused Vince.

“But I’m a night shifter, doesn’t that make me a little like Riddick? I work best when it’s dark outside and stuff!”

“No, dude, that makes you more like a day-walking vampire. Actually, now that I think about it, you are really pale and skinny… You’re more like—”

I knew what was coming; he’d made this joke before, so being the mature 24-year-old that I was, I plugged my ears and made that “la-la-la-la-la” noise.

“—Edward Cullen!” Vince shouted enthusiastically, “You’re more like Edward than Riddick. We just need to buy you some glitter so you can sparkle and look pretty!”

Fortunately, we were hit up for a run before our conversation could deteriorate any further.

“Ambulance ninety-nine, we have a transfer for you; going from Mendax Hospital to Calvor Psychiatric. They’re ready for pickup now,” our perky dispatcher said.

Vince marked us en route and we began to make our way through the unnaturally bright city, which, according to my partner, wasn’t unnaturally bright at all. Apparently it was always that bright at ten in the morning.

After a few minutes of superb driving on Vince’s end, we arrived at the Mendax ambulance bay.

I’ve been in a lot of ambulance bays, but the Mendax one was always my favorite. It was partially underground and had ceilings that were twenty feet tall. There were also strategically placed concrete pillars with mural-styled paintings on the bases scattered throughout the massive bay. I asked a security guard once why there were so many pillars, and he said it was something about half of the hospital being above the pillars and if they weren’t there then the place could come crashing down or something.

I don’t really remember, but it was something fairly dramatic like that, I think. But anyway, we grabbed our stretcher and made our way through the sliding double doors and into the Emergency Department.

There were a few nurses doing nurse things behind the counter and Vince, being the delightful and extroverted guy that he was, decided to announce our presence, “Good morning nursing staff of the Mendax Emergency Department! We’re here to save—”

“And by ‘save,’ he means ‘prolong and enrich,’” I corrected.

“—Some person’s life. Which room are we headed to?”

One of the RN’s looked amused and handed us the packet of paperwork.

“Hey guys, you’re going to be ‘prolonging and enriching,’” the nurse said with finger quotes, “Miss Lucy Pearson’s life this morning. She’s a twelve-year-old who came in last night with some psych and family issues, more family than psych, which is why you’re going to Calvor.”

Calvor was the local children’s psych hospital, and as anyone in the EMS field knows, there are usually only two kinds of psych runs: Those which are mellow and uneventful, and those which are five different kinds of hectic and crazy. Luckily, most, including this one, are the former.

The nurse walked us to the room, knocked on the door, and disappeared inside. Vince said he was going to stay in the hall and get the stretcher ready, so I followed the nurse into the room.

The room was dark, only lit by the TV, which appeared to be on the Discovery Channel. Apparently it was Shark Week or something. There were two other people in the room; one sleeping on the bed and one sleeping on the couch.

I dropped a side rail on the bed and said, “Good morning Miss Lucy, are you ready to get out of here?”

The figure on the bed rolled over, pulled the covers over her head, and gruffly told me to let her sleep for another twenty minutes.

The nurse poked me on the shoulder, “That’s Mom; Lucy is on the couch.”

“Oh,” I replied, caught off guard.

The real Lucy stood up from the couch and hopped onto our stretcher, which made Vince chuckle.

“That’s funny, most people who get on our stretcher can’t jump at all,” Vince said to Lucy. “It’s a nice change from the elderly people. You’re much lighter weight than most of them, too.”

We asked the nurse if Lucy’s mom was going to be riding with us, to which the mom yelled from the room, “No, I’ll be there when I finish my nap! Behave, Lucy and don’t talk to anyone about anything! I paid for you to stay in this room and one of us is going to get my money’s worth!”

The nurse exhaled in frustration and bitterly whispered to me, “Mom has been a peach to work with all night. Lucy is great though.” Then to Lucy, “Get better, Hun, it’s been great taking care of you.”

We headed out to the truck and Vince and I did a quick game of rock, paper, scissors to see who would drive. He won, so I hopped in the back and started my usual spiel and routine.

“Hey Lucy, my name is Adam, but I’ll pretty much answer to anything and ‘Hey You’ has always been one of my favorite nicknames.”

“Hi, I’m Lucy. Is it just me, or is it really bright out this morning?”

“It is really bright out! Vince and I were just talking about that before we picked you up, actually.”

“It’s not that bright outside,” came Vince’s reply from the front, “you’re just sensitive, Edward.”

“Edward? I thought your name was Adam or Hey You?” Lucy asked, amused.

“It’s either, but definitely not Edward; I’m not nearly sparkly enough to be a vampire. Anyway, I have a few questions to ask you, but don’t worry, it’s not a test and you won’t be graded.”

“Okay, bring it on.”

“First, how are you feeling? Do you have pain anywhere? Any chest pain or difficulty breathing? I also need to take your blood pressure and stuff real quick…”

I started to take her blood pressure and other vitals while she was replying, “Nope and nope. I feel great! My mom is crazy and last night was weird, but I’m good.”

“Second, this is possibly the most important question I have for you, so I need you to think about it for a second before you answer, okay?”

“Okay…” Lucy said, not sure what to make of my qualifying statement.

“If you could have a tail, what kind of tail would you have?” I asked, trying to keep a straight and serious face.

Lucy burst out laughing, “What? Like an animal tail?”

“Any kind of tail,” I said, while trying to hold back my own laughter and amusement.

“I would have a…” Lucy paused, probably for dramatic effect or something, “…a chinchilla tail!”

Vince from the front, “Did she just say chinchilla? I know she didn’t just say chinchilla! They’re so fluffy!”

“Yeah, partner, she said chinchilla.” Then to Lucy, “Do you have a pet chinchilla?”

“No, but if I did I would use the tail as a pillow. They’re so fluffy and cute!”

“That’s a really good reason. Vince always wanted a chinchilla, but he got a hedgehog instead. He named him Sonic and everything.”

“Who’s Sonic? I thought that was a food place?” Lucy said, clearly oblivious to what Sonic the Hedgehog was.

“It is a food place, but this Sonic was a superhero hedgehog cartoon guy. He was kind of a big deal when Vince and I were your age.”

I heard the radio key up, meaning we had arrived at Calvor.

Vince opened the back doors and said, “Chinchilla tail? That’s my new favorite answer. I’ve heard him ask that question a lot over the past few years, but your answer is definitely my favorite.”

We headed inside Calvor and talked to the triage desk people to find out which room we were headed to. One of the nurses escorted us up to Lucy’s new room, and on the way up Vince and Lucy monopolized most of the conversation. He was explaining to her the plot to Sonic the Hedgehog in great detail and how the restaurant “couldn’t shake a stick” at Sonic.

That phrase still doesn’t make sense to me. Why would someone shake a stick at something? Unless they were shaking a really big stick to ward off a bear or something…Maybe I should’ve bought that book about idioms instead of the one about one-liners for dummies.

Anyway, when we got up to the room Lucy, once again, briskly hopped off the stretcher.

“Oh, to be twelve again…” Vince said with a smile as he reached out to high-five her.

I gave my report to the nurse, got a few signatures, and then Vince and I headed back out to our truck to take on whatever else the day and our dispatchers had in store for us.

_________________________

I had another run to Calvor a few weeks later and I asked the nurse on shift, I think her name was Anna, if she knew anything about how Lucy was doing or how her home situation was.

Nurse Anna said that Lucy was a single child; it was just Lucy and her mom at home, no idea what happened to her dad. But she was discharged into the care of some very nice relatives about a week after we dropped her off and had set up regular appointments with a child psychologist.

Oh, and her mom was taken to prison for neglect and drug dealing. According to Anna, she was involved in one of those Home Party Sales companies (similar to Avon, Thirty-One, Younique, Mary Kay, etc.) and was using the products as a front to sell drugs. I guess low-quality purses make great containers to carry low-quality drugs in. Anna also said that Lucy’s detailed description of her mom’s drug operation was vital in helping the police take it down.

Really, the home living shift wasn’t too big of a change for her, since she spent most of her time at her relative’s house anyway and because her mom didn’t do too much mothering.

___________________________

That’s the legend of Lucy and her chinchilla tail. But, like all great legends, it has morphed quite a bit over the years. Actually, it’s debatable how much of it is real and how much is made up for dramatic purposes.

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