The people who saved my life ten years ago today
Gladness Day 11 is my tribute to the anonymous helpers in the greater collective. It’s that crucial group of humans (and animals) who come to the aid of someone utterly incapable of helping themselves. Here’s my story, but first, some context.
In the U.S., we are an incredibly self-centered culture. Even our positive communications are about how to take care of ourselves. “Self care,” “self esteem,” “self actualization.” It’s all aimed at the individual. Success, even, is most often defined as something achieved by an individual.
Also, not only are we supposed to make it, we’re supposed to make it BIG. Best Actor. Best Chef. The Olympics. Academy Awards, Emmys, Tonys, etc. Dream BIG! We are a population of striving “Ones” trying to outdo one another.
But way deep inside, there is an indomitable goodness, a genuine concern for the collective wellbeing that lives outside of thought. It gets summoned under extreme conditions — dramatic situations that hit so quickly no one has time to think about their own safety.
I was the recipient of that goodness several times, but one time stands out —mainly because I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it without several people cooperating to save my life.
December 18, 2013, I was out on my early morning walk with Tash, our beloved, hand-me-down Tibetan Terrier. (His original person couldn’t keep him anymore and lucky for us, she chose us to be the ones to care for him.)
It had snowed the night before, but it didn’t seem like the end of the world. There was hardly anything on the ground, so I put on my boots, warm clothes, big puffy coat — and off we went, at 6:00am. Having spent years in Wyoming, I was no stranger to harsh weather.
The first thing I noticed was that it was icier than I’d expected. We walked on the road, but that was even worse. So I just tried to be very careful. But after a couple blocks, I thought, “This is dumb. We need to go back,” and turned to cross the street and go back home. At that hour, no one was around, so I stepped off the sidewalk and — faster than I have any way of describing to you —
— my head cracked open on the sidewalk. I didn’t even know a human body could move that fast.
So, I did what I do when big things happen like this. I talked to myself. “Ok. You’re ok. It’s ok. I’ll just…” I tried to get up and promptly blacked out.
Every once in a while, Tash kissed my cheek. I panicked for his safety, knowing I couldn’t move, holding tight to his leash. Drifting back to sleep, I went into this lovely state of bliss. I felt the cool of the ice under my back, the cool of the air was so sweet. My worry for Tash faught with the pull into a deep sleep.
Then the sound of very slow car tires. I couldn’t see, because I lost control of my eyes (double vision), and I couldn’t turn my head, but I hoped they could see me. More sleep. Car doors, footsteps, people murmuring.
When I realized there were people there for me, all I could come up with to say was, “Dog! Dog!”
They reassured me right away. “We’ve got him. It’s okay lady. Your dog is safe.”
My memories of the incident are so spotty, pocked with unconscious moments, and the inability to move. I think there were three different people. Somewhere during the time I was on the ground, someone went into their house and got a blanket to cover me with.
There was some question about a phone. I couldn’t really say anything. Couldn’t rise to enough consciousness for something as complex as speaking. I felt some rummaging in my pockets. They found my phone. Called the top one on my list of favorites. Told her, “There’s a lady here who fell. It’s pretty bad.” I could feel the blood pooling at the back of my head.
A man held my hand.“Squeeze my hand, hon.”I tried. Almost nothing.“Try again. Come on. Squeeze. Squeeze hard.”I couldn’t bring any will to it. He kept checking for my pulse. I was losing blood fast.
The ice was treacherous in our neighborhood, and my wife had to actually drive the two blocks to where I was. It was safer than walking. They hadn’t really described the situation, so she thought I’d probably broken my arm or something. When she saw me, she thought I was already dead.
The people who found me had already called 911, but it was taking forever. I could hear Elena's voice reassuring me. A friend came and took in our dog.
And then I don’t remember anything until I was in an ambulance. A medic was performing a sternal rub and it hurt, but it kept me from slipping into a coma. I begged them (him? her? I don’t remember) to please leave me be and let me sleep, but of course, they kept me awake.
Much later, I learned that the ambulance had taken so long to arrive because on that same morning, there had been something like 19 or 20 collisions on the Long Island Expressway due to the icy conditions. It was complete chaos.
Then the hospital. Then oh my god, staples! Then stitches where the staples couldn’t go. The image will give you an idea.
My eyesight righted itself the next day. It took me about a month to be able to speak with normal fluidity. But I would have been dead, if not for three random strangers who didn’t even know each other, much less me. Those three people stopped and stayed with me, and found my phone, and kept my dog safe, and held my hand and called 911 and called my wife and spoke tenderly to me and covered me with a blanket.
This is what lives inside every single human being,
whether it shows or not, whether you believe it or not.
We tried hard to find who it was that came to my aid so we could thank them. We only found one. The “Squeeze my hand” man. I thanked him in person with a home made pie, as soon as I was able. But I was never able to find the other two.
So for me, the other two are everyone. Everyone I see, it could be them.
100 Days of Gladness, Day 11 is dedicated to the people who helped me, the ones I will never know about. It’s dedicated to other anonymous souls I don’t even think about who help me in invisible ways, the ones I’ll never be able to thank — the ones none of us can thank, because we have no idea who they are.
It’s dedicated to everyone who helps without thinking of themselves.
The guy who jumped onto the subway tracks to save a drunk who’d fallen down there. They both climbed out of there alive.
The tollbooth worker who just had a bad feeling and took the license plate of a person who’d turned out to be a vicious child abuser. Saved several children’s lives.
The cop who, instead of responding with violence at a bodega, sat down on the floor with the man who’d been flipping out, and talked with him quietly, respectfully until the situation had
It’s dedicated to everyone who ever did me a solid in ways I’ll never know about.
It’s dedicated to everyone who lets their own animal goodness come out and play in that nameless, instinctive way.
Let’s pray for that peace (the one that passes all understanding)
to come out and play with us all.
For us all.