My friend Brenda posted on Facebook the other day that her firefighter husband had helped save a life. He and his shift at the Oklahoma City Fire Department were first responders on a call. Darryn performed CPR and kept a man, a father, on the earth for at least another day.
Most people don’t run toward emergencies and crisis. Most of us freeze or take a step back or gawk.
There’s a scene in 127 Hours, the movie about Aron Ralston’s fight to survive after a rock climbing accident, that haunts me. Ralston has been through the worst, the realization of his own carelessness, the physical suffering, and the struggle to free himself that results in his cutting off his own arm.
As he makes his way out of the rocks and toward civilization, desperate to get medical care before he runs out of time from blood loss and dehydration, he stumbles upon a family out on a hike. He is filthy, smelly, covered in blood, crazy-eyed with pain and fear.
He asks them for help. One parent draws the child closer and they all recoil. For me, this is the key scene in the movie. Ralston finally understands that he needs other people, but at the same time the person he has become overwhelms the people he needs. And he needs them immediately. Desperately.
I imagine that he sees in their eyes a reflection of the state that he’s in. Ralston is rescued and, as I recall, talks these folks through what they need to do to keep him alive.
There are those among us who wouldn’t recoil from this situation. They would, instead, run toward it. Some among us push forward, sink their hands into the muck and do what needs to be done.
They train to be the kinds of caregivers and problem solvers that look past horror and danger. They make themselves available to folks in need, and to folks like Aron Ralston who’ve put themselves unnecessarily in harm’s way.
I am grateful to the first responders, the firefighters, the cops, the physicians and nurses, the thousands of people who make hospitals work for running toward the chaos.
When I was hospitalized and diagnosed with bladder cancer, I was horrified by my symptoms. I delayed going to the doctor partly because I was scared, but partly because the blood was disgusting.
I didn’t want to see in my doctor’s eyes a reflection of the state I was in. For all of the trauma of the experience and the many frustrations I had with physicians in the ER, I have to say that no one in the hospital, from nurses to technicians to doctors to administrative staff recoiled from me.
None of them were overwhelmed by my symptoms or my emotion. They did what first responders do so well. They reached toward me when many others would have pulled back.
So, to all of you out there who are first responders of one kind or another, thank you. And, thanks especially to Darryn and the other firefighters on his shift, who in the course of doing their jobs, saved a life.
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