By Birdstrike MD
“Blood in the streets, the town of Chicago…
Blood in the streets of the town of New Haven;
Blood stains the roofs and the palm trees of Venice…
Blood on the rise, it’s following me.”
– Jim Morrison
During my first year of medical school, my roommate and I decided to live downtown in the Big City, while we attended Big City Medical School. One late night, shortly after moving in, we were studying for our first big anatomy test. In through open windows billowed steam-thick August air and the sound of,
Pop! Pop! Pop!
“Fireworks,” I said to my roommate.
“That was gun shots. Get used to it,” he shot back, without lifting his eyes off his brachial plexus diagram.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“I’ll show you,” he pushed a button on his watch and folded his arms.
“Whatever….” I said, and went back to studying.
“Hear that?” he said, as he cupped a hand behind his ear, and turned his head, as sirens crawled closer from the distance. He pushed the button on his watch again, with a beep. “14 minutes: a pretty pathetic EMS response time. Whoever got shot is sure to be dead by now. Don’t you listen to Public Enemy? ‘911’s a joke in yo town!’ By the way, did you hear that EMS ride-a-longs are no longer mandatory?”
“No. Why is that?” I asked.
“On the last one, the ambulance was shot full of holes,” he answered with a gunner’s grin. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?” That’s how “Medical School in the Big City” started. You definitely had the sense you could lose your life at any minute if you made the wrong move, at the wrong time, or for nothing at all.
On day, I pulled my car up to the gated entrance to our new apartment complex. The swing-down gate was broken off and the maintenance man was bolting on a new gate-arm. I rolled down the window, and asked him, “What happened?”
“Someone just drove right through and busted it off because they didn’t have their card. People just don’t care around here. Why swipe your card when you can just drive through and smash the gate? It’s a war zone around here,” he answered.
“I know. The airbag was already stolen out of my car and we saw our neighbor’s car get repossessed last night,” I answered.
“See that building over there?” he asked, pointing to the tall apartment complex across the street.
“Yes,” I answered, as I looked at the nondescript brick buildings.
“A baby fell out the 6th floor window last night,” he said, and laughed. “It lived, too,” he laughed again. “They always live. It happens every few months. The bushes or an awning always seem to break their fall,” he said shaking his head.
That night I had my noise canceling headphones on and was studying. It was dark. It was late. I was caffeinated. I was determined to ace my next exam.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
It must be the song. Crazy music nowadays…
BAM! THE DOOR TO MY ROOM BLASTS OPEN A GUN IS IN MY FACE I’M GOING TO DIE RIGHT NOW HOLY @$#%&* !!
The gun doesn’t go off. Behind the gun comes the panicked face of my roommate. I rip off my headphones. “Get out of here! Somebody just got shot! I heard the shots! They’re looking for the guy! Let’s go! LET’S GO!” screams my roommate.
“What is going on? You scared the crap out of me!” I yell back at my roommate. “Go where?”
“I don’t know, but the cops are scattering all over this place like a SWAT team. There’s a dead guy on the sidewalk,” he says, with sweat pouring down his vein-popping forehead.
“Lock the door, and put the gun away,” I say. “I’m not going anywhere. If there’s some psycho on the loose, I’m not about to go out this door and have a run in with him, or have the cops think we are him.” We decide to stay put.
Finally, the sirens start to fade away, and so do the police. So does my sinus tachycardia. I can’t go back to studying. This is one test I just am not going to ace. Somehow, I manage to fall asleep.
The next day, I wake up and I’m the only one in the apartment. The apartment door swings open. It’s my roommate again. “Come outside! It’s so cool! There’s an outline of a body on the pavement,” he says, thoroughly enjoying this way too much.
“No way,” I say. Do they really do that like in the movies, I wonder?
“I’ll bet you $20,” he whips out a $20 bill and slaps it on the table, challenging me.
“Deal,” and out the door and around the corner we go.
My roommate points to the sidewalk in front of the apartment building next to ours. “There it is! Pay up, dude!” he says. “How awesome!”
Right there on the pavement is the outline in the shape of a body in orange paint, with the outline of a gun-shape next to it. “How do I know you didn’t paint that yourself? You’ve pulled crazier practical jokes on people. Plus, it’s orange paint. It’s supposed to be white tape,” I said, not ready to concede.
“Okay, double down,” he pulls out another $20.
“You’re on,” I shoot back.
“Look there,” says my roommate. He raises an arm and points his finger at the door, then to the second floor apartment, and then the third.
“Whoa….” I say. “C r a z y….” There was a trail of bullet holes leading from the 1st floor apartment door, and up the siding of the second, then third-floor apartments.
“Pay up, dude. Pay UP!” he says, bouncing up and down, like a kid in a candy store. “It was a drug deal gone bad. The cops told me the guy living there was a dealer. Someone came to the door to put a hit on him. The only problem was that he was ready. The guy that was coming to take him out managed to pop off a few shots as he went down, but the dealer apparently had much better aim. He then took off and the cops gave chase. They caught him last night.”
“Wow, this is too much. I’ve got to move out of this place. I’m moving to the moon if I have to. This is crazy,” I say, in disbelief.
“We can’t. We just signed a year lease. My advice is to get your own gun. I’ve got no worries with my .40 Ruger at my side,” says my roommate.
Two weeks, two exams and two organ systems later and this incident is all but forgotten. I convince myself it’s a fluke, and that it could happen anywhere, to anyone. That night I lie down and drift into a deep sleep. Strangely, I wake up in the middle of the night. I never do that. I look at the clock. It is 3:16 am. Why am I awake? Did I hear something? Shattering the peaceful silences comes,
Pop! Pop! Pop!
No, it can’t be, I think to myself. No way. Not again. It must be the sound of a transformer blowing or something, I tell myself. Just go back to sleep, your mind is playing tricks on you. I start to doze off, then…………………………………………………………….sirens.
I lie there wide awake staring straight upwards, wondering what I’m going to hear next, watching red and blue flashes of lights dance on the ceiling. This is insane, I think to myself. Eventually, the sound of the sirens and the chirping of police radios fade away. The night goes silent again. I fall back asleep.
The next day, I go out the door. A police officer stops me. “Did you see or hear anything last night?” he prods.
“Yes, sir. I woke up in the middle of the night. I looked at the clock. Then I heard gunshots,” I answer.
“Some guy decided to shoot his girlfriend. Your information is crucial. We need to time the shooting. What time did you look at the clock, sir?” the officer demanded to know.
Five years later, after this incident is all but forgotten, I get a phone call from a woman who identifies herself as a prosecuting attorney saying she needs me to testify in court. “What’s this all about?” I ask her.
“Five years ago, a 50-year-old man is in the apartment of his 20-year-old girlfriend, who lives in the building next to yours. For whatever reason, shortly after 3 am, she decides to break off the relationship. They start screaming and yelling, and fight. Then he pulls out a .22 pistol, points it right at her head, shoots several times and runs out the apartment,” she explains.
“Yes, I remember now. I was already awake and then I heard the shots. I must have woken up from them yelling. I was looking right at the clock when I heard the shots. I still remember the time: 3:16 am. It’s amazing how you remember things like that after so many years. Go on,” I say.
“We need your testimony for the timeline of the shooting. It gets better, though. Out he goes to his car and realizes he left his keys in the apartment. ‘Oops.’ Can you believe that? So he runs back in to get them. He opens the door and to his surprise, she’s alive. Not only is she alive, she’s on the phone with 911, telling them exactly who shot her,” she tells me.
“Then what happened?” I ask.
“When he comes in, she’s on the phone with 911-dispatch, bleeding like mad, but alive. You see, he shot her with a .22, which is pretty low caliber, as I’m sure you know. Several bullets hit her in the head, but just deflect off her skull, not even knocking her out. Seeing that she’s on the phone with 911, in the process of ratting him out, he puts the gun to her head again, pulls back the trigger to finish her off for good, and…
No more bullets!” she says with a laugh. “He had fired off all six shots. ‘Oops.’ So he turns and runs, gets in his car and drives 1000 miles south. For five years he lives on the run under an assumed name. One day, he makes a left turn without putting his signal on in front of a cop. He gets pulled over; they realize his ID is fake and the party is over. Now it’s my job to put him behind bars for as long as possible.”
“What happened to his girlfriend?” I ask.
“She’s alive and well. She had nothing but graze wounds. She was discharged from the ED that night. She will be testifying against him. She’s doing great, and happy to know this guy is finally going to be brought to justice,” she says.
“Amazing,” I answer. “That’s Medical School in the Big City.”
(…Stay tuned for Medical School in the Big City, Vol. II: A Month in Big City Morgue)