Looking down at my hand this afternoon, I noticed that the large cut on my left palm has healed. It took a few days, but I’m relieved to know that it is much better. In the time it took for me to look it over, memories of the car accident my son had a few years ago began to fill my mind. It took months for him to recover. It was a trauma for him, for all of us. The process of changing bandages, keeping him comfortable and calm is all I focused on those few months. That was not as important as having had him survive it all. He was alive and had both of his legs. All he needed was to heal and learn to walk again. It is as far as my mind will allow me to return to that experience, so my memories push further back to a class I took in high school.
I remember sitting in an auditorium sized classroom, looking down at my health teacher, as he began to tell a story. It must have been a unit on first aid... I really don’t remember that part well. The memory of my teacher telling a story that day is like a photograph etched in my mind. He wanted to help us understand the importance of staying calm during emergencies. He could have easily gone down a list of things to do and things not to do, in case of an emergency. Instead, he chose to tell a story.
On his drive to work one morning, he encountered a bad car accident. The accident happened only seconds ahead of him and help would not arrive for at least another few minutes. He decided to stop to help. As he walked up to one of the cars in the accident, he found a woman in the driver's seat. Her face had either gone through the windshield or somehow the glass cut her face. She had serious and numerous facial lacerations. “The skin on her face hung off in pieces,” I remember him telling us. She was bleeding and the loss of blood would have quickly caused her death. “Am I going to die?” she called out to him at the sound of his footsteps. He was surprised to find her conscious.
At this point I remember he interrupted the story to explain the beating of the heart, and how blood pumps faster when a person is in fear or panic. He needed to calm her down to slow her heart rate and keep her alive.
“You are going to be okay,” he calmly told her. His words to her were assuring. He needed to calm her from panic. She began to breathe and calm to the sound of his voice. This, he told us, was most important. If he could not get her to calm, her heart rate would continue rising, possibly causing her to bleed to death. He removed her from the vehicle, positioned himself behind her, and used both of his hands to hold her face together and slow the bleeding.
The image of my teacher saving this person’s life was ingrained permanently in my mind. I sat, fully engaged, listening. I could easily visualize the accident. Accidents on the Los Angeles freeways were a daily occurrence. Each student in that classroom connected well with that fact.
And so, as the image of my teacher holding this woman’s life in his hands sat in my mind, my expectation for an ending was that he saved her. I immediately began to wonder if he kept in contact with her, the woman he saved.
Instead, the story continued. As he sat talking calmly to the life he held in his hands, a man walked up, took one look at the woman, and yelled out, “Oh my God! Is she dead?”
He may have continued a bit more with sharing how he wanted to punch the guy in the face, but that part of it remains a bit fuzzy. We would have all understood why he would possibly feel that way. Most importantly, we understood the importance of staying calm in an emergency.
I don’t remember my teacher’s name, but I do remember this story he shared about 34 years ago. What he did that morning prepared me for what was to come many, many years later. So, I am grateful for the story—grateful that my teacher decided to share this story that sunny spring morning, instead of a checklist.
My son, Adam, is all healed, like the cut on the palm of my hand. And I am grateful for that, too.