I am no Florence Nightingale. In fact, while I am consistently spectacular in an emergency, I am not the one you want around when anyone is germy. messy or gross in any way. (Truth: during my pregnancies I prayed for a healthy child – preferably one who did not vomit. A wish that was granted.) Give me a surgical procedure, a broken limb or a frightening diagnosis and I am your girl. Apparently word is out about that skill as evidenced by my having come eye to eye with two medical emergencies in as many weeks (neither of which, thankfully, involved vomit, germs or anything gross).
The first happened two weeks ago early in my five-hour shift manning the registers at work. A woman who looked to be in her early 70’s (who told me, mid episode that she was 87…a lie) approached me and seemed to be a little bit out of it. I thought little of it (obviously I thought something of it) until she started looking like rubber and attempted to hold onto the counter in an attempt to remain vertical. I asked her if she was okay (doh) and she could neither focus on me nor speak a coherent sentence. My recollection of my father’s strokes* came into clear view and I asked her if she could smile. She could not. Nor could she repeat a simple sentence. I radioed for help (see, those headsets we wear in retail can come in handy) and proceeded to call 911. The dispatcher instructed me to ask the customer to smile (she could not) and to repeat a sentence (she could not)(but I already knew that). Within moments, the paramedics arrived with a crisp white-sheeted gurney quickly assessing the situation. I asked the woman if she had a cell phone and in a moment of complete clarity she found her husband’s number which I promptly called. I reported to him that I was with his wife and that she was having a medical emergency. Not surprisingly, he was shocked and began to shoot questions at me which I was unable to answer. I passed the phone to the EMT who explained to him that his wife was having a “neurological episode” and that they would be taking her to the nearest hospital. They scooted her off; I squeezed her hand and wished her well. They left and I became suddenly exhausted. I have not been able to get her out of my mind since.
In the time since this happened, her daughter has called the store three times trying to thank me. It was not until today that I was there when she called and had an opportunity to speak with her and learn how her mom was doing. She began the conversation by thanking me and telling me that I saved her mother’s life and, further, that I should understand what that meant: Her mother had four children, six grandchildren and an enormous cadre of friends and loved ones. Had she continued on her way without intervention, she would have been driving and it most assuredly would not have ended well. She went on to tell me that her mother was now home from rehab and doing remarkably well given the circumstances. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to her and felt tremendous relief in knowing that her mother is going to be okay.
As I returned to work, I acutely felt my father’s presence. I knew that he was proud of me for doing the right thing and still rocking an emergency with the best of them. He and I had had fun with my emergency skills when he was sick (as much fun as you can have with Stage 4 lung cancer, that is) and the memories of those times are sweet.
I wear a bracelet of his which my brother discovered just after his death. It, as it turns out, had been a Bar Mitzvah gift which he had never worn (he was not a jewelry-wearing kind of guy) but had, in his trademark sentimental way, held onto it all those years. It gives me constant comfort and reminds me that he is with me. Just the other day (again, at the registers) a customer of my parents’ generation noticed it and we had a conversation about what a meaningful item it is for me to have. I often forget that I even have it on, but, not infrequently, someone asks about it. I do not think it is a coincidence that this exchange occurred at the precise spot where so much seems to happen on my watch.
So today, after the phone call from Patient 1’s daughter, I went back to the selling floor, feeling uplifted and relieved. It meant more to me than I had expected to hear from this family and to know that I had made a difference in their lives. And…that feeling was quickly eradicated by my next victim, er, customer heretofore known as Patient 2.
I was at the tail end of ringing up her large order which included many small items. As I was bagging the products I noticed that she was growing pale (as in the color was draining from her face) and she, reminiscent of Patient 1, was looking rubbery as she was grabbing onto the counter for support. And then her eyes started to roll back in her head. “Are you okay?” I inquired again. I did not ask her to smile, but did run around to grab her before she hit the ground. I quickly radioed “I’ve got another medical emergency” and grabbed a chair for her to fall into. I placed my hand on her (sweaty) back and felt her heart pounding so hard that I was quite sure it was going to bust out and land in my hand. (Had that happened, I might not have been such a great person to have around.) I instructed her to put her head between her knees (who am I?) and secretly prayed that she wasn’t going to barf. (What? I am just keeping it real.) She told me that it was her heart and she was in AFib** which I knew as my father had the same issue, although had never had an attack like this. Fortuitously, there was a bag of chocolate behind the counter (it had been a late night at the store the night before and those working were keeping themselves sugared up) which I offered her for a sugar hit and she told me that would be perfect. She gobbled the mini Hershey bar, downed a pill with a cup of water that one of my colleagues appeared with and we sat together for fifteen minutes or so. She slowly regained her color and assured me that she was fine. (Glad she was fine!) I accompanied her and her purchase (all $303 worth) to her car where she thanked and hugged me.
As each of these incidents was happening I was cool as a cucumber. I was in control. I was grateful to my father (in a twisted sort of way) for having had both of these medical conditions and somehow preparing me for what to do. I was grateful that he was wrapped around my wrist, holding me erect and giving me the strength that I always seem to forget I have. I know he is with me all the time. He only knew George, but Jessie has the same twinkle in his eye that my dad did – something that is not lost on me. They both give me strength. They, and these emergencies, serve as a reminder to never underestimate the impact you might have on someone else’s life.
I am thrilled that both Patient 1 and Patient 2 are doing well. I am praying to G-d that there is no Patient 3.
*His first one saved his life, if only temporarily, as it led to the discovery of his lung cancer, the second took his life. Yeah, I’ve noted the symbolism.
**Atrial Fibrillation: a common heart rhythm disorder.
photo creds to Grace Guterman, my other daughter.