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A Stranger’s Gift: Blood on my Hands [Plus: The absolute worst autocorrect of my entire phone life. To MY MOM.]

Posted Jul 08 2013 3:14am

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This is a gift that is ALWAYS appropriate to give…

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 Because skunk butthole.

Help! Someone call 911!! When you hear this on TV, people immediately come running to the rescue. In real life, as I learned on the 4th of July, sometimes it takes a minute to sink in. One minute we were happily taking an (inspired*) pre-fireworks walk with my friend J and her family and the next we were all staring dumbly at a man on the ground surrounded by his wife, young children, oh, and a rapidly spreading pool of blood. That was coming from his head. Specifically his ear. But not like a scrape on his ear. Like from in his ear. Did I mention there was blood everywhere?

That’s not good, I remember thinking. I’m no doctor but I’ve watched enough people fall off buildings on TV to know that blood gushing out of your nose and ears means massive internal bleeding. You know, the kind that means your character will definitely not be coming back next season. (Unless you’re on Pretty Little Liars. Nobody ever stays dead on that show. Not even the central character who is, by her very definition, a dead girl. I still watch. Feel free to commence judgement.) And like a TV show, it didn’t quite feel real.

I’m not sure how long the pause actually lasted (or if anyone else’s mind immediately went to silly ABC Family tv shows – please let me be the only vapid one in an emergency!) but then we snapped out of it and all went running to them. J’s quick-thinking son called 911 while J found a t-shirt to hold against the man’s head. My husband took over talking to the 911 operator and J’s husband sprinted back to their house for towels, water and a wagon that oddly came in handy more than once that evening.

What can I do?! I thought frantically as I tried – and failed – to suppress a shudder. I didn’t used to be such a wuss but for some reason ever since I popped my babies out I’ve gotten really squeamish around gore.  (Ironic, considering the gore fest that is childbirth. Or maybe not ironic? I swear I had PTSD after my deliveries. That ish is traumatic.) All the big important things were being handled so what did that leave for me to do?

First I tried doing what I do best: Asking dumb and slightly invasive questions. “Did he have a seizure?” “Did he slip on the wet pavement?” “Did he complain of chest pain?” “Is that your tennis stuff over there?” As I did my best to talk to his wife, I noticed their 6-year-old twins staring horror-stricken at their poor dad on the ground. I noticed the tiny bloody footprints on the pavement. I noticed one of them was still holding a tennis ball. Kids! I love kids! I have lots of them! I can help with the kids!

“Why don’t you come over here a little bit and give your dad some room?” I asked as I herded the boys a few feet away. “So… what are your names? How old are you? Where do you go to school? What’s your favorite subject? What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream? Do like tag?” I was trying to distract them so they wouldn’t be in the way when the paramedics arrived and perhaps trying to also shield them a little from the awful scene.

At first they played along but then I realized I might be doing more harm than good when their little eyes welled up with tears and they kept peering around me to their mom. Understandable. And as worried as she was, she held out her arms to her boys. “It’s okay, they should stay with me,” she said kindly. I felt bad that I was making her comfort me, the one without an injured spouse. Oops. ”You’ve done enough.”

But I hadn’t done anything yet! And I wanted to help! What could I do? All the other adults were doing smart, useful things. Next I tried running to the nearest street to help flag down the ambulance when it came but was quickly called back when it appeared on a different street. Which meant I really just spent several minutes running in circles in terribly impractical shoes. (I’ve totally convinced you that I’m the person you want with you in a crisis, yes?) Once back to the group, I noticed their things scattered on the ground so I started picking them up, placing them in the tennis bag on the ground. Cleaning! I love cleaning! (No I don’t.) I do lots of cleaning! As I reached around the man to grab his hat, I pulled my hands back to discover they were coated with dark, sticky blood. I’d put my hand right in a puddle. Of blood.

Blood on my hands. It felt strangely symbolic. There I was holding the life force of a stranger in my hands… and I had no idea what to do with it. What do we ever know of a stranger’s life until it is thrust into our hands?

But the blood. You guys, I can’t even watch the commercials for horror movies without dry heaving. Okay, okay, I tried to talk myself down from the freakout ledge. Sure you’ve got some strange guy’s blood all over your hands. There are bigger issues to deal with. 

I ran back to the wife. I successfully suppressed the urge to ask her if her husband had hepatitis as I held my streakily anointed arms stiffly at my sides.  ”Can I call someone for you?” my voice squeaked. “You’ll need someone to come get your boys so you can go with your husband in the ambulance?” Phoning! I love phones! I’m basically surgically attached to my phone I use it so much!

Her face told me she hadn’t even thought about that yet, even as the paramedics pulled up. (Not only did we get an ambulance with flashing lights and sirens but we also got a huge firetruck too! My kids were in truck heaven.) The rest happened so quickly: She borrowed my phone to call the kids’ grandmother. J managed to keep both the wife and the man calm as the paramedics checked him out. I’m not going to sugar coat this, the paramedic said. This bleeding out of your ear, it’s bad. It concerns me a lot. The wife went with her husband. My husband and J’s husband helped the EMTs scrub all the blood off the pavement with bleach and a huge broom. I watched the twins until some neighbors showed up to take the boys to the grandmother.

And that was it. As the last siren wailed away, not so much as a blood spatter remained on the pavement. There was only a damp spot as a testament to what had just happened. Well, except for the blood that had congealed on my hands and forearm. I’d tried to wipe it off with a bloodied towel but while most of the red was gone, the sticky still remained.  There was blood under my fingernails. There was dried blood on my cute-but-still-terribly-impractical shoes. How was it that the man was long gone and I’d only just realized I’d stepped in his blood? The blood that should have been safely inside him but instead had split open like a water balloon. Or an aneurysm. In front of his kids. Who also carried his blood, yet safely inside them.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to not cry and appear brave and blasé. I wanted to know what had happened to him to make sure that it could never happen to me. I wanted to tell J all the times in my life I’ve been close to a death. (I think I actually told her the story of watching the guy die in my gym last year. ) I wanted to call my mom – first, because she’s a nurse and would know exactly what to do but mostly because, well, she’s my mom.

I went with texting my mom. (The emotional equivalent of calling mommy but still allowing me to appear brave and blasé.)

After explaining everything to her, I texted her dejectedly: “I didn’t do much.”

And this is where the universe stepped in and made everything awesome. I’d sloppily left out the space between “do” and “much” and my jerk phone auto-corrected it to “I didn’t douche.”

Silence. And then my mom: “HAHAHHAHHHHHAAAAA!!!!! I hope you didn’t!” Because that actually would have been the least helpful thing I could have done. Here I was worrying about how I didn’t know what to say to little kids watching their dad bleed out when in reality I could have done a lot worse. Like starred in my own Summer’s Eve commercial. So yeah, my first aid skills were lacking but hey at least I DIDN’T DOUCHE.

Laughing at myself helped but the feeling of wrongness stayed with me all weekend. I kept replaying the scene over and over. What could I have done differently? Why did everyone else know how to help but I didn’t?

And then the answer came to me today, while I was doing dishes. I was listening to a TED talk “When Is The Right Time To Give?” by Mark Bezos, a volunteer firefighter with an amazing (and kind of similar) story. I can’t do it justice so I’ve embedded the video below. It’s a must-listen. It’s hilarious. It’s profound. It’s only 4 minutes!

This is what changed everything for me: In the clip Mark says, “It’s so easy to dismiss the opportunity to do something good because you wanted to do something great.”

He was so right. I’d been beating myself up for not knowing the perfect Great! thing to do to help when all along there were plenty of good things to do. I didn’t need to be a hero. I didn’t need to save his life (thank heavens for the awesome paramedics!). I just needed to be there. And I was.

Mark answers his own question – “When is the right time to give?” – by saying, “If you have something to give, give it now.” Even if what you have to give isn’t the exact right thing. Even if giving ends up being messy. Even if the giving doesn’t result in the end that you expected or wanted. It all matters. The real miracle is in the giving, not the gift. As soon as I realized this, I immediately felt relieved – relieved of my guilt and fear and confusion. And relieved of my inability to be perfect.

Mark concludes his speech by saying, “Not every day will offer us the chance to save someone’s life but every day offers us the chance to change one. “

And so I learned: It isn’t the size of the gift that matters, just that you were willing to give it. I’m just grateful that I had the chance to help someone else, even if it meant getting blood on my hands.

Have you ever been in a situation like this – are you good in a crisis? How are you with blood? Do you ever feel like what you have to give isn’t enough and so maybe it’s not worth giving at all?

*We were just sitting around J’s house, digesting a delicious meal when out of the blue she announced we should take a walk to a nearby park. No real reason was given but as soon as she said it, it felt very right so we all immediately stood up, gathered the kids and walked out. J is a remarkably sensitive person and I personally believe she was inspired by the same God who doesn’t let a single sparrow falling escape His sight. We were the only other people in the park at that time. Which happened to be the perfect time. Some people say miracles don’t happen anymore but I’d say that while this wasn’t a lightning bolt from above or a sign in a burning bush, it was a miracle nonetheless – albeit a small, quiet one. I also believe God often works His best miracles through other people and I’m grateful I got to play a tiny role in this one, imperfect as I am. It is things such as this that compel me to say: I believe in miracles.

**When I recounted the story to my sister she said, “Why does this stuff always happen to you?!” And she’s right – it kinda does. Maybe the universe is telling me I need to get certified as an EMT?

***No, I don’t know what ended up happening to the man. I don’t even know his name. I left the grandmother a message, from the number left on my cell phone but I haven’t heard back. I hope it all ended well.

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