When dealing with the daily challenges of chronic illness one never truly escapes the grieving process. We may, given enough time after diagnosis, learn how to cope with our new lives but glimpses of the past can seep in time and again, when we least expect it. Let me share with you just one such example of how this can happen, or at least how it happened to me recently.
Last Tuesday, I went to the regular weekly meeting of our local writer’s group. As usual it was a near perfect mix of socializing and writing and was otherwise a relatively unremarkable night, save a few of our regulars not attending so it was a smaller group. Nothing special, right? Well, here is where things take an interesting turn.
A friend was giving me a ride home, and we were within a mile or so of my house when I noticed headlights coming towards us, in our lane! As I was telling my friend to watch out, that there was something going on up ahead, both lanes in our direction came to a near sudden stop as other motorists proceeded what appeared to be a multiple vehicle accident. Yep, they all seemed to just keep right on going.
We chose to stop to check for injuries as I proceeded to call 911, as there was obvious heavy damage to both the front and rear of one vehicle. We proceeded past the scene and parked as far to the shoulder of the bridge as we could, and I proceeded to ask bystanders if there were any injuries to relay to the 911 emergency services operator.
One person told me there was a dead female in the heavily damaged vehicle. Another told me that she was unconscious. Yet another just stood there screaming to help “her”. At that moment, I noticed a tow truck arrive at the tail end of the four vehicles furthest from me. As he approached I had already hung up with the 911 dispatcher and was trying to gain access to the reported victim in the heavily damaged vehicle. The doors were locked, and all the side windows were still intact. It was very dark but it certainly looked like there was a female in the back seat, with her legs between the two front seats, and she appeared to be unconscious.
At this point, the tow truck operator returned to the car with a mini sledge and proceeded to break the passenger side front window. Eventually, he was able to land the blow that succeeded in shattering the window and he turned to walk away as if his job were done. I stopped him and asked him for the mini sledge so I could use it to finish clearing all the huge chunks of glass from the window frame before trying to reach in through the window.
As I was doing this the woman in the back seat regained consciousness and became hysterical and she was acting as if she had no clue as to what may have happened. I eventually got enough glass cleared to lean in through the window. As I tried to reassure the woman, who was obviously bleeding from her face in multiple areas, I reached towards the steering column to try to find the ignition to turn it off and also to feel around the dark vehicle for an unlock button for the doors to try to gain better access to the woman sprawled across the front and back of the vehicle. I found the ignition, turned it off, found what I believed may be an unlock for the doors, and tried to move the gearshift into park to secure the vehicle.
I tried repeatedly to reassure the woman and calm her down as she was writhing around trying to get out of the car, which was not yet possible the way she was laying. As I was trying to further calm her and assure her that help was almost there, she nearly kicked me in the face trying to situate herself in some way to get out. She was not having anything to do with being calmed down whatsoever and I’m sure it is terrifying to ‘wake up’ in a demolished vehicle with no clue what happened is terrifying.
I heard the approaching sirens suddenly stopped up and saw the local paramedic unit pulling up on scene. I quickly briefed the two medics as to what little I knew as I back out of the way to allow them to do their job. Next fire and police arrived, and the woman was eventually placed in the ambulance as they began treatment. My friend was still parked in by the emergency vehicles so I talked to one of the witnesses as one of the police officers gathered our info for his report.
She profusely thanked us for stopping to help and actually doing whatever we possibly could to help. I was kind of taken aback by how shocked she seemed that we stopped. She proceeded to tell me that immediately prior to us arriving, a gentleman reportedly stopped, looked in the car, told her that the woman inside was dead, got back in his car, and left. Never checked on anybody else, never called 911, just said ‘she’s dead’ and got back in his car and left.
It absolutely boggles my mind how people can have lost all semblance of any sort of humanity for their fellow human being to not even call for help? I totally understand that not everybody is in a position to try to help, or do anything beyond calling for the appropriate emergency services, but to just keep going, not stop, not call for help, shrug it off that ‘she’s dead’ and just get back in your car and keep going???
Anyhow, back to the point of the story. I have spent a very large majority of my teenage and adult life in both volunteer and professional emergency services in a wide variety of roles. Right up until about four years ago, when I was struck by a vehicle in the performance of my duties, which has led to my ‘retirement’ from emergency services.
I thought I had really come to grips with the void it left in my life post-accident. I really did, right up until Tuesday night. After my friend dropped me off at home and nearly every day since it has haunted me in terms of how much I miss doing what I both loved and was good at. It was a daily part of my life for decades. Then, it suddenly wasn’t any longer. I didn’t let myself acknowledge how much I missed it and apparently I was rather successful at hiding it from even myself, as it wasn’t until lying in bed Tuesday night that it really hit me how much I still miss it. Each and every single, solitary day.
I mean, I knew I missed it, but didn’t realize how much, or let myself think about it, until this past Tuesday. Even though I didn’t get a chance to do much at all to actually help the woman since everything transpired in a matter of mere minutes it brought back the same feelings from when I was involved in emergency services on a regular basis. I miss the feeling of being able to help others when they are the most vulnerable or need it the most.
Some of you may not be able to relate to this in the aspect of emergency services but try to put it into context of your own preferred career, occupation, or even hobby that makes you feel good inside. What would you miss if you could never do it again? What aspect of your life would leave you feeling empty if it were to disappear?
Grief is a resilient beast that will sneak up on you when you least expect it. It can sneak up and remind you of things past when think those issues are dealt with and behind you. It’s sort of like hearing a song of experiencing something that reminds you of someone you’ve lost. It can sneak up on you and take you on a ride down memory lane despite whether you want to go on said ride, or not.