The Vomit Room

Henry Lansing Woodward

© Copyright 2023 by Henry Lansing Woodward

Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash
Photo by Mikhail Nilov at Pexels.

The vomit was still slowly coming out and flowing down his “chin.”

Then it ran down his chest and huge abdomen and down the front of his huge legs,

(he didn’t have a lap), where it covered his feet and gathered into a pool around them. 

At every shift change, the EMT of the on-coming crew washes the ambulance, and the Paramedic inventories its contents.  This routine happens every shift change, every time.  My partner had just started with the long-handled washing brush when our dispatch alarm sounded.  I hadn’t even touched the inside of the ambulance.

The call came in as a “Man Down.”  That was all the information we received, so we had no idea what we would find.  After responding lights and sirens, we arrived at a popular Reno downtown cafe. It was so popular a line extended outside onto the sidewalk.  Everyone was there for those cheap Reno breakfasts and complimentary cocktails.

A man stood before that line, frantically waving his arms above his head.  We parked the ambulance next to the police cars and the fire engine, and as we were getting out, the man who had been waving approached us.

Almost yelling, he said, “Follow me.  The others are inside.”

While the Firefighter first responders brought our gurney, oxygen, and heart monitor from the ambulance, we followed the man to The Vomit Room.  Immediately, I was hit by the smell.  It was debilitating and horrendous.  I almost added my vomit to that which was already there.  

As we entered, the wall on the left that fronted the stalls on the right was coated with vomit.  This man must have experienced something called “Explosive or Projectile Vomiting.”  That’s when the vomit shoots out forcefully and travels several feet from the source.   The wall on my left was over three feet from the open stall door.  And the floor was covered with the stuff.

After the initial assault of the smell and the visuals of that vomit-covered scene, and as soon as I could refocus my eyes, I saw a huge man.  An exceptionally huge man.  Somehow he had wedged himself into the stall on the right of two green metal stalls.  The door was still open inward because once he had managed to get in and sit on the toilet, there was no room to swing it closed.  No room at all.  He filled the entire stall.  I was amazed.

Do you remember when you were a kid and watched cartoons?  And do you remember that sometimes in a cartoon, one of the characters is stuffed into a square box?  And do you also remember that when the cartoon character got out of the box, he remained the same, square shape of the box?  Will, that was what I was looking at.  A dead, six-hundred-pound man squashed into a box.

He was so stuffed into it he was squashed against both green metal sides with his mountainous shoulders and fat arms forced toward the middle of his huge body.  His arms pointed straight down and pushed inward with the hands and elbows turned outward.  

There was no way this man would have been able to move, let alone clean himself after completing his mission.  As that thought occurred to me, I wondered how he had been cleaning himself in any bathroom.  It was an ugly thought, and with it, a cold shudder passed through my entire body.

At the very least, he had to weigh six hundred pounds.  Six hundred pounds of human flesh covered with vomit squashed into a box.  How he got into the stall, let alone sit on the toilet, will be a mystery for the ages.  He must have somehow been able to squeeze in backward.

 He was slumped forward toward the open stall door.  His head was tilted down at his thick neck with his chin on his chest.  But he didn’t have a neck or a chin, just a face and a chest.  I could only tell there was a neck because his head was tilted.

The vomit was still slowly coming out and flowing down his “chin.”  Then it ran down his chest and huge abdomen and down the front of his huge legs (he didn’t have a lap), where it covered his feet and gathered into a pool around them.  The pool was a red mixture of ugly, stinking vomit that consisted of freshly eaten and undigested breakfast food and the free “Breakfast Marys.”
Before we arrived, the Firefighters had been trying to dislodge this huge man from the stall.  They were having a tough time because there was no room to get to him and pull him out.  Also, because of the vomit on the floor, they were slipping all over the place and had no leverage.

So now, as we arrived, they were using one of their saws with a big, round blade to cut away the wall.  When they finally had it cut, the door came with it.  In the meantime, without being asked, my partner brought two white sheets from our ambulance and spread them on the floor to provide some needed footing.  I had a good partner.

With the side wall and stall door gone, the man was pulled off the toilet and laid on the vomit-covered floor.  I used “pulled” because five big Firefighters could not lift him.  Instead, they slid him from the stall using his slippery vomit on the floor.  When they had him out enough so we could get to him, his head was in front of the toilet where the stall door used to be.  They had him on his back with his face upward so we could treat him.

Then he vomited again.

It was like a fountain.  The vomit stream went about a foot-and-a-half straight up into the air above his face.  In the process, it sprayed those closest with fluid and chunks from his breakfast.  It was an ugly thing, and the smell was suffocating.

Then that vomit fell back onto his face and again splashed us.  We tried to roll him onto his side to keep it from going into his mouth and then into his lungs, but it was futile.  Even with the white sheets in place, it was like trying to roll a half-filled water balloon.

The man had been “down” for over twenty minutes without oxygen or CPR.  The Fire Chief kept track of those important things.  I tried to attach the gel electrode pads for the cardiac monitor to his chest, but, again, because of the vomit and sweat, they would not stick.

Finally, I used the defibrillator paddles against his skin, not to defibrillate, but to visualize his cardiac activity.  There was none.  Flatline.

Per protocol, I ran a paper strip showing that flat line to add to our report.

Death had probably occurred immediately, most likely from a fat embolism.  Fat emboli originate in the fat that collects inside a blood vessel.  These collections are called Plaque, and pieces of it can break free anytime.  When that happens, they float in the bloodstream to a place where the blood vessel becomes too small to float any farther.

There they become stuck and obstruct the blood flow.  When that happens, everything downstream dies because of a lack of blood or, more precisely, a lack of oxygen.  It had probably blocked a vessel in his lungs, heart, or brain.  

If this had not taken his life, the time involved for us to reach him certainly could have.  Too much time had passed without oxygen or CPR.  There was nothing to do for this man.  He had eaten his last cheap breakfast in Reno.

We gathered our equipment and placed it onto the gurney.  The Firefighter first responders pushed it and our gear out of The Vomit Room, and we all walked with it back through the dining room.

It was still packed with people eating cheap Reno breakfasts, and there wasn’t an empty chair.  That is, except for the chair our patient had been sitting in.  That one was empty, with his breakfast plate still there.  I wondered who was going to pay for his breakfast.

I stopped to speak with some of the people at that table.  They were all still eating as if nothing had happened.  A man told me he had been eating as usual and was on his fourth breakfast and fifth Bloody Mary.  Pure Gluttony.  But who among them was counting?

He continued, “He hadn’t said or complained about anything the whole time we ate.  Then suddenly, he moaned, stood up, and said he had to use the restroom.”

When he didn’t return, a friend checked on him.  That was it.

When I radioed the ER, the doctor told us to put our ambulance back into service and return to our coverage area.
We needed two more white sheets from the ambulance to cover him completely.  One wasn’t big enough, and the two already in The Vomite Room could never again be used.
About ten minutes from our station, the radio spoke a second time.  We would have to wear our vomit-covered uniforms for a while longer.

Contact Henry

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Henry's story list and biography

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher