Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lost and Found

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

--John Donne

My phone was ringing but I didn’t recognize the number, or even the area code, so I hesitated to answer it.  I figured if it was important, whoever was calling would leave a voice mail.  I waited for the ringing to stop, and sure enough, the double beep signaled that the caller had left a message.  Some guy had found my Road ID bracelet while snorkeling off of the coast of Tobago. 

He had been working his way through my various contact numbers on it, and finally found his way to me.  I too had been snorkeling in Tobago several weeks before; but I had taken it off at some point because I didn’t want the reflective surface attracting the attention of any barracuda that might be lurking about in the reef.  I had thought it would be safe on the boat, but apparently it had been washed overboard. Road ID’s are great things to have.  They serve double duty as a medic alert bracelet/emergency contact list; so it not only tells the paramedics about any medical conditions or allergies you may have, but it also tells them who to call in case of emergency.  Somehow mine must have wound up in the water, and this guy found it.  He had been concerned that the body it had been attached to might have been claimed by a shark and was immensely relieved when I returned his phone call right away.  He described how he saw it wedged in the coral and dove down several feet to retrieve it.  I was amazed that he had found it and had made the effort to track me down. We marveled at how he had found such a small, personal thing in such a big ocean.  We exchanged information, and he promised to put it in the mail as soon as possible.

          Once off the phone I thought about the reason I bought that bracelet in the first place.  I have some allergies and other medical conditions that paramedics should know about if I was found lying on the side of the road somewhere.  

 At all the races I run, folks are constantly talking about how important it is to be able to be identified and have emergency contacts in case something happens. At most races, especially the longer distances, runners are even instructed to put important medical and contact info on the back side of their race numbers. 

After one particular marathon, I was sitting in the post-race food tent inhaling my peanut butter covered bagel when another runner came in and slumped down in the chair across from me.  He looked too exhausted to move so I stood up and got him something to eat. I introduced myself as I handed him a bagel. He thanked me for the bagel and told me his name was Scott.   We started chatting and he noticed my newly acquired Road ID right away.  He mentioned that he had seen the ads for them as well and thought they were a good idea but just hadn’t gotten around to getting one.  I told him I had also procrastinated, but that something significant had happened a few weeks earlier that had finally motivated me to get one.  His eyes widened with interest and he said, “Really, what happened?

I told him about being out on a run about a month ago when I saw a car.

Just sitting there.

It was at the top of a long, twisting road and it sat there poised, almost suspended it seemed, facing downhill. The engine was running, the headlights glowed and brake lights illuminated the early morning darkness as though the driver had merely stopped for a moment to contemplate his next move.  As I got closer, I noticed that cars were pausing behind him, momentarily, then, realizing it wasn’t going anywhere, tried to find ways to get around it on the narrow road.  They either went to the right and drove half over the lawn of the nearest house, or more perilously, passed on the left by crossing the double yellow line on a nearly blind curve.  It was my usual, oh dark thirty, morning run, with my dog, when I noticed that something was odd about the entire scene. I wondered why the car was just sitting there, brake lights engaged, at the top of the hill, not moving.  As I ran up alongside the car I glanced in at the driver and had my answer. He was slumped over the steering wheel.  My first thought was to wonder if he had fallen asleep, or was drunk and had passed out. Then I realized in horror that the reason didn’t matter because the only thing keeping that car from careening down the hill was his foot locked on the brake.  I reached for my cell phone and dialed 911.   As I was speaking to the operator, giving her the car’s location and nearest cross street, I found a tree, tied my dog’s leash to it and began walking back towards the car.  As I got close, another car approaching from the downhill side slowed down and stopped.  Dean (not his real name), a radiology tech from St. Something or Other hospital was on his way to work, had passed the car, noticed that the driver was unconscious and returned to help. As he got out, I quickly explained the situation and pointed to the driver’s foot on the brake.  Together we eased up to the driver’s side and Dean tested the door handle.  Thankfully, it was unlocked.  We could hear some music coming from inside the car and it made for a macabre soundtrack for what happened next.   In one swift move, as though we had rehearsed it, Dean yanked the door open, I reached in and pulled the driver upright and out of the way so he could grab the gear shifter and throw the car into Park.  The sigh of relief was short lived as we both took one look at the driver and realized he needed immediate medical attention.   We quickly slid him out of the car and stretched him out on the yellow lines. The driver had on his work badge and I saw right away that his name was John. (also not his real name) He was the Director of Rehabilitation at the same Saint Something or Other hospital where Dean worked.   Cars were still zooming all around us and I began to get furious.  I was furious that people wouldn’t even slow down as they passed us kneeling on the ground beside this person.  Finally, another vehicle approaching from the opposite direction did stop and a woman in scrubs rolled down her window and said, “Hey I’m a nursing student at some other Saint Something or Other Hospital, do you need any help”?  I heard myself practically yell an order back to her, “YES! Block that lane with your car and help us with this guy! She turned her car sideways and jumped right out into our little mess in the middle of the road.  I couldn’t find a pulse anywhere; she didn’t detect a pulse or any breathing either.  Strangely, I kept thinking, he’s still warm, we might have a chance, but I knew he was already gone.  Just as we finished assessing him, Dean returned with the breather mask he kept in his car’s first aid kit.
           The 3 of us were working together, taking turns performing CPR and continually checking for signs of life when suddenly there were sirens, flashing lights, a fire truck, ambulance and paramedics. As John got connected to the EKG we passed along all the details about how we found him, and what we did, to the paramedics.  I kept watching the EKG display for anything that even closely resembled a heartbeat.  There was a lot of shifting around and movement of the wires which caused the EKG to register some crazy zigzag lines, but I didn’t see anything that indicated any real cardiac rhythm.
Once the paramedics had taken over there was nothing left for us to do but get out of the way. I thanked Dean and the nursing student (never got her name) for stopping and went back to where my dog had been waiting. Considering all the noise and commotion he had done well.  We both had some nervous energy to burn off and I didn’t really know what else to do, so we continued on our run.  A few minutes later the ambulance that had come for John, passed us, rushing to his hospital less than 2 miles away.

I called the Emergency Room a couple of hours later to see how “John” was doing.  I figured they could at least tell me his condition.  When the ER charge nurse heard that someone was calling about “John” she asked to speak with me right away, “Are you family, are you next of kin?” “We can’t locate any of his family and we don’t know who to call”.  As it turned out, John lived alone and his cell phone had been left behind in his car. His friends at work had no idea who else to contact.  “No,” I told the nurse, I’m not family, I’m the one that found him and called the ambulance. I wanted to check on him to see how he was doing”.  She told me he was in critical condition and that they were desperately trying to contact his family. She asked me to pass along any information if I found out anything.  I told her I would, thanked her and hung up.  

I next called a friend that worked at that hospital and asked her if she could casually drop by the ER to check on someone for me.  By the time I got to work that day, my friend had checked, and called me back.  “John” had died.
I heard later that in order to contact his family some of his co-workers had to break into his house and dig through his desk to find some phone numbers…

Scott had been listening intently to the entire story.

I concluded, “So, that’s why I finally broke down and bought the Road ID.  I lived alone at the time and I didn’t want anyone to have to search through my things to contact my family”.

As I finished I noticed that tears were welling up in his eyes. He put his head in his hands and started sobbing.  I thought perhaps it was due to exhaustion and asked him if he needed anything else. He sat back up, wiped his eyes and started shaking his head in disbelief. Finally, he said. “Oh my God, that was you”?  “You were the one that found him”?  He told me that, “John”, had been a close friend. While attending his funeral, a few weeks prior, he said that he had been told someone out running with a dog had found him and tried to save him.

There are no islands.


Aunt Vivian said...

Excellent. Kept me enthralled all the way. You have a great style. Keep 'em coming....

ehowton said...

Me too!

anita said...
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