My mom and I went out shopping today, and at lunchtime we went to McDonald's. We were unloading the kids from the car when a man pulled up in a truck and said, "Can you call 911 for me? I feel like I'm going to pass out."
For me (someone who lies awake worrying about handling herself in an emergency and is scared of telephones to the point of diagnosed phobia), this was like opening the door to a room where a child has had a dramatic and horrifying barf incident. When there is barf on the ceiling and in between all the intricately-carved rails of the crib, there is a time period during which one stares at the disaster and tries to deny what one is seeing, and then there is a moment where one gathers oneself up and thinks, "There is no one else to do this thing which must be done, and so I'd best get started." The journey of a thousand loads of laundry begins with a single paper towel.
Right away there was a decision to be made: cell phone, or go inside? I went for cell phone. My cell phone was out of batteries. I took my mom's. I didn't know how to use it, or even how to unlock it, and I also knew 911 wouldn't be able to track my location and that I didn't know where I was either, and I tried not to think about how much this resembled one of my Anxiety Dreams. I thought, "911 is accustomed to people who don't know what they're doing. THEY will figure this out. JUST DON'T CRY."
I called, and they did figure it out, and I didn't cry until the end when she told me to "Take care." I told them the wrong city (we were right near the border of two), but it was quickly and efficiently figured out by the people who knew what they were doing. It cost maybe 15 seconds of time. They asked me a bunch of questions, and I kept reminding myself to say "I don't know" if I didn't know, rather than panicking and/or guessing. They asked me to guess his age, and I did, remembering that they don't really expect me to guess accurately, they just wanted his approximately decade, and that most people belong at least to a recognizable DECADE and that it was okay to give that decade ("in his 40s, I think") rather than trying to guess exactly ("42 or so? Or maybe older. Or you know, his hair is thinning and that can make men look so much older, so maybe he's more like my age? I'm in my mid-thirties. Or maybe he could be even older than that? I'm not sure.").
This is when my mom suggested we go OVER to him instead of continuing to stand by my car in the next aisle, which I swear had never occurred to me. My mom said kindly later, "Well, it would have occurred to you eventually," but no, it wouldn't have. Or rather, it would have, and I would have NOT gone over: I would have thought we should give him privacy, or space, or something. But my mom was exactly right, because do you know what? If a 911 operator is asking you questions about someone you don't know, the session goes better if you can ASK THE STRANGER for the answers! I know, right?? Emergency Medical Training right here, free of charge!
He was pale and sweating and shiny and shaking, and he was moving around really restlessly. It was a hot and sunny day and I opened the door to his truck, and my mom opened the passenger door, but it was still hot. I asked the 911 operator if we should do anything, have him lie down or help him out of the car or something, and she said no. I'm not a touch-oriented person (I have to deliberately remember to hug the children or I don't think of it---that's how non-touch-oriented I am), but I put my hand on his upper arm and it was obviously the right thing to do because he GRABBED for my hand with his other hand. I remembered some study I'd read where it said that nurses who touched their patients were far more effective than those who didn't. I also remembered when I was in the hospital having my babies and someone offered a hand to hold and I was so grateful to have it and so reluctant to let it go. So then I held his hand with my other hand and left my first hand on his upper arm, and my mom said later she wished she had thought of it first. It was a good move.
He wanted me to call his girlfriend and so here was the phone/emergency situation to deal with again, but it went okay and I didn't cry. This is when I thought to ask his name, another move that turned out to be a good idea. He was very eager that she know that his valuables were under the passenger-side mat. I was eager not to panic her or to make her feel obligated to come (she was 25 minutes away, and unshowered/undressed), because I was pretty sure (though NOT sure) that he could take those things with him to the hospital. But he was adamant, and he was saying it again and again. It reminded me of my one big car accident at 17 when I was trying to give the ambulance drivers my car insurance information.
I kept telling him the ambulance was on the way, and that everything would be okay. It was a combination of Mommy Mode and things I'd seen on TV. He'd watched TV too because he said, "This is what they do, right? They keep you talking and conscious and they say everything's fine!" I said, yes, they did, but that I really did think he'd be okay: that he definitely looked pale and sweaty and ill, but that he didn't look like a man on The Way Out. That maybe he'd just had too much sun, and maybe they would cool him down and hook him up to an IV for awhile and everything would be fine. (He'd been working outside all morning, he said.) I don't know if people who don't know anything are supposed to offer worthless reassurances, but that's what I did.
The ambulance seemed like it took a long time to get there, but I looked at my watch when everything was over and it was only 15 minutes later than when we'd arrived at McDonald's so it can't have been TOO long. They didn't have their sirens on; shouldn't they have had their sirens on? I'd thought we'd hear them coming. They checked him briefly and then put him on a stretcher and said they'd bring him into the ambulance where it was cooler. I told them about his stuff under the mat and asked if we should stay or if we should get out of their way now, and they said we could go. I went over and told the man that we were going, and he grabbed my hand again. I don't think he ever once saw me: his eyes were moving moving moving.
We went in to McDonald's but my mom said she couldn't eat until she made sure the ambulance people got his stuff, so she went over to a window and watched until one of them went to the passenger side, got his stuff, closed the doors and locked them. I got her a diet Coke to sip while she waited, but she was at our table by the time I got there. We ate lunch, and of course his truck was still there when we left. What's weird is we'll never know what it was. Heatstroke? Heart attack? Food poisoning? Did he...die? Probably not. But did he?
I came out of this feeling relief. I worry a lot that I won't be able to handle an emergency, because for one thing I'm not a fast thinker, and fast thinkers do better in emergencies. So I guess I'd started thinking I'd be BAD in an emergency, COUNTER-good in fact. But I was fine! I wasn't perfect, I didn't demonstrate a Natural Gift for Emergency Handling, but I was COMPETENT, and that was such a relief! And I felt like I LEARNED things from the experience (TOUCH! Find out the person's name! Don't let the fact that you don't know everything throw you into a panic!) that would help me if such a thing happened again, and that gave me hope, too: some people ARE naturally gifted in Emergency-Handling, but probably a LOT of people get good at it from EXPERIENCE and TRAINING, and those are things I could get too.
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