A while back I was thinking about mythology and heroes and all that. For awhile, I was an actual legend myself. Here's how it happened:
The ambulance world in 1980 was a world of legends. My first week, I heard about a medic who had intubated a man upside down while hanging from his knees on a crane job, about an EMT who had gotten into a brawl at the scene of an overturn and single-handedly sent five drunken firemen to the hospital, and about an old midnight corpsman who had so many weapons strapped under his uniform that if you accidentally bumped into him you would probably get impaled on something..
The Boro Chief had been thrown out of the morgue for using the morgue truck to transport whores to city hall parties, but had a hook so deep no one could ever get rid of him. The Captain lived in a bizarre religious cult where everyone was required to have sex with everyone else every night. The medical director once defibrillated his own head as a joke, the charge nurse had been stomped into cardiac arrest by an irate patient but got revived, and one of the MVOs raced funny cars at Raceway Park on his days off. There were nothing but legends, as far as I could see.
I, however, was the farthest thing from a legend that anyone had ever met. Short, skinny, quiet. And worst of all, a woman. There were only two kinds of women legends at EMS. The EMS Mamas, fat middle-aged ladies who had been booted out of dietary for some infraction and refused to carry anything heavier than a clipboard, and the EMS Sluts, girls my age who supposedly slept with every man they worked with and every cop ever who offered to help them carry the lifepack. I was outside the mama category, and managed to avoid being labeled a slut by refusing to wear nail polish, but aside from that I wasn’t making much progress.
All the men had nicknames like, “Killer,” and, “The Flash.” My unfortunate nickname was, “Little Bit,” and when the Boro Chief/ex-whore-procurer saw me he always shouted, “Look, it’s little Maggie from Met.” Meanwhile, legends continued to sprout up all around me. A medic named Bruce who just seemed like a little punk before had somehow managed to commandeer a city bus to transport a cardiac arrest into Harlem Hospital. One of my own classmates broke into a burning trailer to save two toddlers and wound up on the front page of the News. As for me, I toted drunks and heart attacks to the hospital, and got told by the lieutenant that I really ought to shine my shoes once in a while.
Then one night, about nine, I was riding around with my partner Bob when a medic began screaming over the radio.
“Ten-thirteen, shots fired, one-oh-four and Park, in the projects.” Bob drove faster than I had ever seen him, taking the corners on two wheels, We were the first ambulance to get there.
“Stay here, I’ll be back,” he said.
I jumped out and followed him, running up the nine flights of stairs, and down a hallway filled with housing cops. The medic who had called for help stuck his head out of a doorway. “In here, in here, Little Bit.” Bob and I ducked into the apartment with him and his partner, and we all stayed in there watching television with some little boys until the cops caught the shooter.
The next day when I walked into work, one of the MVOs greeted me. “Hey girl, I heard you ran right into those bullets last night.”
“Little Bit got some balls,” an EMT said.
The medic who called the 10-13 threw his arm around my shoulder. “You can be my partner anytime, baby, you got my back better than any man here.”
As the days went on, the story got better and better. I heard that a bullet had whizzed right by me and I just kept running in. That the door of the apartment we’d hidden in was riddled with bullet holes. A few weeks later, when I crashed the ambulance into a bridge abutment because I had never really driven before, I acquired the legendary nickname, “Mad Maggie,” for the speedy, fearless driving style that fit right in with my newly acquired legendary personality.