Three kids, a full time college schedule, writer for the college paper, vice president of the Commuter Students Association, camera operator for the college television station, and a farm. I must have been maniacal, and I definitely needed a break. The day my sophomore year Spring classes were released on break, I ran home piled my children, a few basic necessities, and myself into my little Nissan and headed for my grandmother’s house in North Carolina. I desperately needed a sanctuary that would allow me to momentarily skip out on the horrors of impractical pressures to perform perfectly and my grandmother’s house was just the place to provide the sanctuary I needed.
I was so excited about the reprieve that I was driving toward, that the eight-hour journey before me seemed like minutes in my mind. My children seemed to sense the release I was already beginning to feel, as we were laughing and talking in tones that flowed through the car like gospel music through a choir. They serenely sang to me childhood giggly notes about the events that had occurred over the last few months that I had not taken time to really hear and comprehend. We really seemed to enjoy being in the car musing forgotten moments of “In a minute,” “Hold on,” and “Not right now.”
We filled the car with silly laughter reminiscing about a “Today Show” article from a few days earlier that discussed what acceptable lawn furniture was. A few community constituents, in a small town in North Carolina, felt that there should be a law passed that stated that inside furniture should not be used outside of the house. The segment revealed a family lounging in their faithful, love worn sofas, and recliners romancing the aroma of a feast that would allow them to come together as a family and breathe sunshine into the lungs of their lives. They did not care that their unmatched, body formed furniture was out in the open for the world to see. They only cared that they were together, wrapped in an embrace of laughter and love. Seeing this bounded me back to the hours I spent reposing in my grandfather’s outside recliner discussing little things like clouds and weather; waving as unknown passers blew past us at storm cloud speed trying to get someplace that allowed them no time to take in the beauty of the moment.
A polar segment in this article included a house that was taut with perfectly trimmed bushes and lovely white “appropriate” wrought iron lawn furniture. It had a sanctity about it that seemed to whisper, “Get your feet off of the back of that pew,” or “Don’t write in that Hymnal,” and teeth whispers of “You will respect God’s house!” We began to turn this journey into our own search for furniture, and we critiqued possibilities for proper locations of inside or out.
About a quarter of the way into the journey, the bliss of the adventure was interrupted, as we began to notice that the traffic ahead of us slowly began to pause and force us to look in its direction to see “what it was up to.” We tried to laugh it off and continue with our conversation, as no one wanted anything to ruin our vacation and stalled traffic is one sure way to do just that.
After a few minutes, I began to see smoke erupting from the center of the traffic ahead of us. My oldest daughter and I looked at each other. We knew that something bad had happened. I wondered aloud if I should go and see what was going on. My daughter looked at me and said, “Don’t go!” As before, I became so wrapped up in the situation before me that I was oblivious to the request she had just made, and I told the children to stay in the car no matter what and began to made my way through the arrested traffic.
As I approached the scene, the accident did not look too bad. A truck and a
small car horizontally straddled the center of the road. They did not appear to be too badly damaged. I was surprised to see men desperately trying to get someone out of the car. The truck was expelling oil-weighted smoke from under its hood. It appeared to be a glass delivery truck, as large pieces of glass were still secured in racks at the rear of the toppled truck. Strangely, they did not appear to be disturbed by the chaos that put people in the mode of the Good Samaritan.
Suddenly, I remembered that I had had CPR training. My stomach froze, as if ice was dripping from the vocal threads in my throat into the steel vessel of my abdomen. I strained to say, “I know CPR, if you need my help!” Almost immediately, a man ran over to a body that I had not noticed lying on the ground next to the smoke blazing truck. He grabbed the man by the shirt collar and began pulling him over to me. I felt sick, as I saw the man being carelessly dragged along the road. My mind screamed training remembrances of “Don’t move the body unless you have to, as he or she might have a broken neck or a broken back.” The blazing truck made it clear that the man should have been exhumed from the wreckage, but I was certain that dragging him across the pavement was wrong.
I knelt down beside the man and began to look for damages as carefully as if he were a child who had just fallen off of her bike for the first time. Immediately, I began to mentally run through all the things I had been taught in training. Was it possible for me to remember the right things?
Fear paralyzed me as I stared helplessly into a face so sculptured in a scream of horror that Munch’s artistic rendition of fear seemed like a childhood vision in comparison to the reality before me. There were raspy noises coming from his throat, so I continued to look over the rest of his body. His left ankle had been completely ripped away and his foot was lying in an angle that made my gut strain to avoid purging the contents from within. There was no blood coming from anywhere on his body. I moved my fingers along the jugular portion of his neck. There seemed to be a faint pulse. My interior thoughts pushed me through external life saving motions. I felt over his chest wall looking for broken ribs. He definitely had broken ribs and a lot of them. “What am I going to do now?” It was becoming increasingly obvious to me that the gurgling, raspy noises that I that had mistaken for breathing was not just ordinary air struggling to get to the surface. It appeared to be mixing with the fluids within. I began to attempt to give him mine. I wanted so desperately for him to live.
I was so confused. Nothing was as it should be. There was still no blood coming from anywhere. It seemed to be a figment of my imagination tangled in the air of his existence, as most all of his injuries were invisible to my newly trained eye. I knew he had to have a family that would want him alive. My air was not getting into his lungs, as there was no rise and fall of the chest wall as stipulated in the course of instruction that was seriously failing me. A woman was standing over my shoulder screaming; “Do something!”
In my heart, I already knew this man was not going to make it. He was already gone. All the training I had and I did not know what to do in this my first rescue attempt. I tried again to give him air. The woman again screamed, “Do you want me to do compressions!” In a moment of desperation, I went against my gut and whispered, “Yes.” She pushed three times on his chest. Her compressions were so hard that I heard his ribs snap as if they were chicken wings separating from the breastbones of their frame. I shouted for her to stop! In the movies, all the people on the scene know exactly what they are supposed to do to assist. This woman did not. I did not know what else to do, so I leaned over the man and did the only other thing I knew to do. I began to pray. I again tried to give him air. It was still not getting inside.
Unexpectedly, I began to notice a shadow leaning across the face of death. My heart-leapt hurdles of hope as I looked up to find the form from which the darkness came belonged to a police officer. I looked into his eyes and said, “What do I do?” He said, in a whispered sigh, “You are doing all you can ma’am.” I looked at him and said, “How do I get the air into his lungs?” He softly said, “Lift up his neck.”
The soft pressure of the motion did not award the effect I was expecting. Instead of shifting a little to allow for easy airflow, the movement made the bones of his neck rub together like course sandpaper was scrubbing against the wood of his structure. I looked up for advice. The police officer was looking down at me with the weight of reality pushing against the lines of his face. He did not say a word, as he slowly turned and walked away. In a state of heightened panic, I again tried to give him air. I was not giving up until someone more trained arrived.
I again prayed for help! I, at first, did not realize that my panicked prayer was spoken out loud, “GOD PLEASE HELP THIS MAN!” Almost as soon as the words were spoken, the man’s body seemed to quiver and a single breath of air was released from his lungs. I was so close to him that his last breath began to fill my lungs, almost as if he had given me back the air that I had tried to give to him. His body took on a stillness that let me know once and for all that he would never breathe again.
I sat on my knees beside his body feeling his air embedded in my lungs like an emergency dose of proventil that is meant to keep my lungs from an asthmatic collapse, and began to get angry that God had not listened to me at so desperate a moment. I had asked Him to help this man, and instead He let him die. As I sat there feeling the full weight of everything that had happened in the last few months that brought me to this place, a man emerged from a rescue squad, gently touched my shoulder and said, “You did all you could.” He helped me stand up, then covered the man’s body up with a sheet. I could not think past the moment that I appeared to be stuck in. My voice froze as if I had frost on the shield of my throat. My soul began to sing pity, “I should have stayed home. I knew better than to try and run from my troubles, but I did it anyway.”
In my soul sunken state, I wandered, as if moving without myself, over to a police officer and gave him my name and asked him to tell the man’s family that we all did everything we could to try and save him. I paid little attention to the medical evacuation of another person that was taking place around me. I had truly done all that I could, or had I? Perhaps, I should have updated my training more often?
I tried to walk to my car. I was so unsettled that I found myself inundated by a section of my psyche that had been sealed since the death of my own child years earlier. Had I truly done all that I could? As I approached my car, I saw my pain stricken across the faces of my children. I instinctively looked over my shoulder at the scene behind me. The cars that had separated them from the scene had begun to pull away, and police officers were trying to reroute the traffic pattern away from the scene. The sheet-covered body of the deceased was on still lying on the ground. They seemed to know what had just happened, I could not go to them. I was no good to anybody, especially to them. I ran to the opposite side of the road and began to purge my gut of the guilt that I was feeling deep inside.
A woman with a camera and a notepad came over to me and said, “I am from the local newspaper. Do you know what just happened here?” I could not believe this woman dared to enter into my grief with her quest for a scoop. I looked at her and said, “Someone just died, or can’t you see that for yourself!” Her eyes widened in surprised horror. She turned toward the scene of the accident, and quickly moved toward it to get more information than I could give her.
A few minutes later, I was asked if I was able to move my car out of the street. I said, “yes,” but in my attempt I found that I was so shaken that I could not drive. My arms and legs felt like they had no body inside them that could make them do what they were supposed to do, and I really wasn’t certain what I was supposed to do. I just sat there.
The voice of my son touched into my thoughts as he said, “Mommy what is that white light shining from the clouds onto that sheet?” I looked up and saw that the sky had been covered over by a mantle of gray clouds and from the center of the clouds was a crack that unveiled a path of pure white sunlight that lead directly to the man under the sheet. I stared at the ray of light for a moment and began to realize that perhaps God had answered my prayers by letting the man die. I did not ask God to let the man live. I had only asked for help.
This knowledge gave me enough strength to approach a rescue worker and ask a few questions. I spoke in confessional tones that I hoped would not reveal the true depth of my guilt at letting the man and my family down, by not doing the right things to fix the problems before me. He attempted to absolve me of my pain by telling me I could have done nothing more under the circumstances. I strained my voice to profess that I thought the man had a broken neck. He and the worker next to him looked at the body then at me. I lamented that my CPR training only taught me how to help someone that is choking, bleeding, or having a heart attack, and at that moment all that seemed fairly minor in comparison to what I had just witnessed.
He took me by the arm and put me, and eventually my children, in an ambulance and began to take my pulse. He continued to attempt to resolve me of my inner pain by telling me stories of his Samaritan journey while asking me questions about my medical history. The rhythm of my soul was so troubled that I did not realize that my own heartbeat had taken on a pattern of irregularity. He asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said no, as I did not want to further traumatize my children by having them see me being driven away in an ambulance. Secretly, I knew that the irregular rhythm of my heart did not come from heart disease, but heart dis-ease. I also realized that it would take time for my heart to regain a normal rhythm. I was no longer certain that normal would mean the same thing after that day.
As I began to tug the pieces of my broken soul together, I realized that I had to decide if I would return home or continue on the path that had brought me to this place? To my own surprise, I decided to continue. I told myself I needed the break more now than I had before.
The adventure that we had set out on a few hours earlier never returned to the bliss that it was before the scene changed. We allowed ourselves to laugh and change the subject back to the conversation of “Today.” I tucked the furniture of the day inside the nooks and crannies of my reason along with the accessories of the past few months and continued our journey in search of acceptable lawn furniture.
The true beauty of today’s story is that it was considered acceptable for a member of the community that the Today Show article was about to store a coffin, the epitome of inside furniture, on their front porch, but a sofa had to stay in the house no matter what the occasion. We passed through that town and never found the house with the coffin on the porch, but we had a gloriously fun time looking for it and pointing out all the supposedly inappropriate lawn furniture we saw along the way.
Stock Image, My Thoughts, My Compilation