My mom, seen here dancing with Ted at our wedding, came upon a wreck one morning this week on her early-morning drive to work. Cars ahead of her were swerving off to the shoulder to avoid the wreckage, so she did the same. Once she stopped, she saw that one young woman was standing outside her car next to the body of a man curled in fetal position on the side of the road.
My mom told my little brother to stay in the car (he rides to school with her) while she got out to check on the man. The paramedics had been called, but this man was in bad shape, and Momma said she couldn't just stand there and do nothing.
She's been a registered nurse for more than thirty years, so she knew what to do but felt frustrated by her lack of equipment. She'd had experience in trauma cases like this before, but only in an emergency room, not on the side of a freeway. She found that he had a pulse but his breathing was very labored. The young woman standing next to him had seen the accident and said that she counted ten times that the man bounced on the pavement before stopping. He'd not been wearing a seatbelt and had been thrown from the truck. Obviously, he was in bad shape.
So my mom weighed the options, and she knew that, despite her lack of gloves and anything sterile, she couldn't live with herself if she didn't at least help him breathe. So she said a prayer, asking God to protect her from the risk of contaminated blood and with her bare hands, cleared his air passageway. He took a deep breath then, but his pulse was weakening, and by this time firemen had arrived and could move him onto a board.
After they'd done this, my mom could see the full extent of his massive injuries and started doing chest compressions. She continued doing this while hearing the local news stations' helicopters flying overhead. (She told me today how angry she felt then, thinking 1. how intrusive this was to the injured man and his family and 2. how ridiculous it is that news stations have the money for helicopters but hospitals don't and that things could have gone much differently if a medical chopper could have whisked him away rather than having to wait for an ambulance to make its way through miles of stalled traffic).
The medics finally arrived, but quickly after getting him into the ambulance, they pronounced him dead. My mom turned and saw the same young woman standing there watching all of this, so she went to her, put her arm around her violently shaking shoulders and asked how she was. She had never seen someone die before. My mom then got back into her car and realized for the first time how cold she was--she'd not noticed until getting back into the heated car that it was only 32 degrees outside. She and my brother drove back home so that she could clean herself up.
I was so proud of my mother and get teary every time I think about what happened. Of all the people who could have happened so quickly upon this accident, my mom couldn't have been more perfect for that situation. Not only did she know exactly what to do, but she did it with compassion. Upon first feeling the man's pulse, she had a bystander go find some I.D. so that she could address him by name. She leaned next to him and spoke directly to him, calling him by name and letting him know that he wasn't alone. As awful as this accident was, it's also good that hopefully he knew that a caring someone was there with him in his final moments.
He was 27 years old, with a wife and son.
We were talking today about what happened, and one thing Momma said was that she was making sure from now on that she had a box of latex gloves in her car, plus a first aid kit and a blanket. We were also talking about the importance of more people having at least a basic understanding of CPR and first aid. She was telling me how simple it can actually be to keep someone alive in the crucial minutes it takes for help to arrive and how any average Joe could do it. Apparently most fire stations will give free classes on CPR if you can organize a group of people to come. This has inspired me to try to get one of these classes together in our neighborhood.
All this got me thinking about the practical side of being a good samaritan. It's not just having compassion and generosity, though those things are certainly important. If I have a giving heart, I should also have in my car things like a first aid kit, latex gloves, a small box of nonperishable food, a list of all the shelters in my area, a blanket to give to someone who is cold, an extra hat and coat too.
I'm not sure how to wrap this up except to say how proud I am to be my mother's daughter. She's been a hero to many, like the countless special needs foster kids she's taken care of through the years and the family whose father she gave one of her kidneys to (yes, you heard me right--she gave away her kidney, and she's a bone marrow donor too). This week, she rose once again to the occasion, being the comforting hands and voice to someone crossing over, to someone who would have died alone had she not been there to gently say his name.
Please wear your seatbelt.