Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anniversary or Birthday?

I'm sure that doesn't sound like a hard question.  After all, the event is either an anniversary of something or the birth of someone.

In this instance, it is the 9th anniversary of my saving a friend's life.  So that sort of makes it his second 'birthday'.

Nine years ago today I left the house in search of a lightbulb for my back porch light.  I drove north toward Home Depot instead of south toward ACO Hardware.  It was a good move on my part.  I stopped three blocks up to talk to a friend who was jogging.  His daughter and my son ran cross country together at the high school.  He was commenting about the state championship meet being held that day, and how the girls' times at regionals seem to be slow.  In mid thought, he stopped and fell backward, not even able to brace himself.  It was a sudden cardiac arrest but I had no way of knowing this at the time.  He didn't have the 'TV' symptoms of profuse sweating or grabbing his left arm or complaining about anything.  He just fell straight backward, narrowly missing a car driving down the road.

I hollered to him through my window and got out of the car.  Stunned at his lack of response I said to myself, this is why I got a cell phone.  I called 911 and within a minute police were on the scene.  Lucky for Gary, they were returning from another run when they got the call.  The first police officer and a neighbor assisted with CPR while I spoke to the 911 operator and gave them his name, age, etc.  No one else on the scene knew who he was, and he carried no ID.  As the rescue squad and fire trucks arrived, I started over toward his house, three blocks away.  I was wearing a new pair of Doc Martens -- obviously not a pair of running shoes, plus it was only 40º degrees out so I was breathing hard as I ran to his house to get his wife.  She wasn't home so I headed back over to where Gary had collapsed. 

It was shocking to see the paddle marks on his torso where the rescue workers had applied the electric shock to get his heart going again.  He was intubated and they were hollering at him, 'Gary, Gary, stay with us.'

As they prepared to take him to the hospital I headed back to his house, along with a patrol car, to wait for his wife to return home.  She arrived just after us, grocery bags in hand.  You see, they were preparing to celebrate his 52nd birthday and family was set to arrive soon.  Dianna had headed to the grocery store to get a few things while Gary left for a quick run.  He remembers setting his watch for his run and nothing else that day.  Amazing.  He does not remember talking to me at all.  Isn't that the most shocking thing?  He was completely coherent when we spoke.  He was quoting girls' seemingly slow regional race times and everything.

I drove Dianna to the hospital -- we could hear the ambulance leaving the scene from her house.  I stayed with her for a while but eventually left once their family arrived.

Gary had 90% blockage in one his arteries and needed immediate surgery and subsequently an implanted defibrillator.  This is a guy who coached baseball for the high school and city league teams.  He had completed full marathons before.   Unfortunately he had loads of stress in his life and a poor diet -- he just didn't look out for himself like he should have.

When I went to the hospital a couple of days later to visit him, I could not believe my eyes.  He was standing in the hallway with his family, outside of his room, with an IV beside him.  Tears filled my eyes.  I was overcome with awe at the sight of him, standing, not prone, not dead, and so eager to greet me.  It's something I will never forget. 

Had I not stopped to chat with him that fateful day, but rather waived, and driven past him, he would have, in all likelihood, died that day.  He would have continued jogging, down a stretch of scarcely travelled road, collapsing either along the sidewalk or worse, once he did return home, there instead, for Dianna to find him when she returned from the grocery store minutes later.

Gary calls me his guardian angel, and maybe I was.  All the right things happened that day.  I drove up the street, stopped to talk to him, called 911 and drove Dianna to the hospital.  He still struggles with what happened that day and who can blame him.  There's nothing like 'dying' to make you question living.

Each year we exchange cards or notes on the anniversary of that fateful date, November 4th, and I always think of him on that day at 3:15 pm, when we stopped to talk to each other.  I received a Heart Saver award from the American Red Cross for my part in his rescue.  A glass plaque sits carefully on my dresser to remind me of that day.

We need to learn to slow down.  To appreciate everything that's going right with our lives.  To change that which isn't going right with our lives.  To love everyone who comes into our lives.

Everyone and everyday is precious -- we just need a reminder every once in a while so we don't forget.


Wendy said...

Wow - this is an incredible story. Thank you for sharing it today. This is Wendy Harman from the American Red Cross.

Harriet said...

Wonderful story - but, not a story - real life! Brought tears to my eyes just reading about it. You did good, girl.