Trauma Mama

Leandra Vilardi works at the city's busiest emergency room. She only wishes it were busier.

It happens most commonly with the death of children. In a dim room with peach walls and a painting of trees and sky, Leandra leaves the body and brings the parents. There was a Cajun man who was blown apart when he found his son here. He roared and staggered back out. He ripped off his shirt and crunched down on his teeth. He began spitting his teeth "like Chiclets" at Leandra's feet.

So there is a toll to this work, and Leandra tries to protect herself. She has learned that those who have been shot with a nine-millimeter bullet usually arrive alive, and when she bought her guns, she made sure to get something more deadly. Leandra keeps her two 40-caliber revolvers loaded with a "badass bullet" called a Golden Saber, which opens upon impact and claws a large hole through the target. "You can't let fear paralyze you," she says, and with her gun, she is not afraid of crime.

She finds truth in cliches, particularly the one about living today because you may die tomorrow. "I had a great trike, man," she says, smiling. Her Harley had extended forks, mini-ape bars and a "badass stereo system." Riding it gave Leandra a sense of freedom, until it was totaled a few years ago in a wreck that almost killed her.

She is building a new Harley, but for now, when she can, she derives the same feeling from drifting deep in the water. When her scuba equipment failed in Cozumel, she nearly died again, but she had swum with groupers and moray eels and barracudas as big as her desk. "I got to experience something," says Leandra.

She lived fast for a long time, and then about two months ago, when she was simply sitting in the car at the post office, Leandra's own heart began thumping wild and fast for no reason. There was nothing she could do to control it. She felt a shortness of breath. She rushed to the emergency room.

Her friends, the doctors, gave her medicine for arrhythmia and referred her for more tests. Leandra ignored them. She doesn't take her medicine because "pharmacology's a racket," and she hasn't scheduled her tests because she is afraid. Leandra would prefer that her heart keep its secrets. The end that is hardest to face is her own.

The patient with 16 bullet holes was patched and saved, and after that, the night improved. Another man arrived who had been shot in the throat, and then came a hit-and-run victim whose scalp had been "degloved" and whose leg was attached only by flesh.

There were television cameramen peering into every ambulance, and this was always a good sign. Leandra said she was happy.

"Come on, lady," said the security guard, "I want a quiet night!"
"Ah, people in hell want ice water," said Leandra, and walked on.

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