by: lil

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“This is what it’s like” says your instructor, watching you carefully for mistakes

        Training you on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching you what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling you that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And you listen, wide-eyed.

“This is what it’s like” says your crew chief, pulling you up into the ambulance.

        Showing you streets, the bad stretches of interstates, the homes of frequent fliers. 

Reminding you to check pockets for knives and arms for track marks.

Relaying experience’s thousand little lessons, unteachable in the classroom.

And you listen, working hard to show your worth.

“This is what it’s like” say your patients, pointing to where it hurts.

        Screaming with pain, clutching an extremity turned the wrong way. 

Groaning and sweating, grabbing at their chest saying it’s just like the last one.

Lying still and silent, unknowingly trusting a stranger with everything.

And you listen, replying with soothing words.

“This is what it’s like” says your gear, speaking in clicks, beeps and error messages.

        The defibrillator whines its way up to 300 joules, saying it’ll try but no promises. 

The ambulance growls, bouncing and rattling over potholes as you try to start an IV

The BVM whooshes, fighting to push breath into a ruined airway.

And you listen, hoping that together it’ll make a difference.

“This is what it’s like” says the notch in your shears, bearing witness.

        Reminding you of that one, the one no one could have saved. 

Pulling you back into the dirt and blood of the scene, unbidden.

Making you feel old, far older than you should be by now.

And you listen, wishing you didn’t have to.

“This is what it’s like” says the calendar, slowly passing time

        Marking out your shifts, 12-hour gambles on what’ll come your way. 

Quietly telling you it’s almost time to renew your license again.

Studded with anniversaries you’d prefer not to remember, but can’t quite forget.

And you listen, stunned that it’s been this long.

“This is what it’s like” you say to the newbies, watching them carefully for mistakes

        Training them on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching them what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling them that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And they listen, wide-eyed.

"This is what it's like," said the recruiter, showing me the screenshot of a first-person shooter.

"This is what it's like," said the CO, as we stood drenched in sweat from head to toe.

"This is what it's like," said the EOD, defusing a mine that would have taken his knee.

"This is what it's like," said the veteran, as our unit rotated out for some rest again.

"This is what it's like," says the evening news, reminding me of things that I made myself do.

"This is what it's like," says my former spouse, with one last spiteful glance towards my house.

"This is what it's like," says the therapist, and puts me in pain that I didn't know could exist.

"This is what it's like," say people like myself, who can't know their pain and don't think to help.