Now that the east coast is in recovery mode from Frankenstorm, it seems an appropriate time to highlight two very special firefighter paramedics I was honored to meet in August. Since we are starting to hear of some of the many stories of bravery and heroism in the wake of the storm, and since so many acts of bravery go unnoticed or unknown, I hope this serves as a sort of personal mini-testimony to how much it does matter when people choose to save others as their life’s calling.
I was involved in a serious car accident almost three months ago that injured my right hand. I have purposely not shared the medical or personal details of my injury for a lot of reasons, but I did write a rather elaborate essay about the religious aspects of the accident and my surgery and recovery, which is still ongoing.
What I feel ready to share about now is that about three weeks ago, I visited the first firefighter paramedic who was called to the scene of my accident. Last week, I visited the second of these brave and even-tempered men who tended to me in a horrible traumatic situation and got me safely and gently and lovingly to the ER.
I made a point to ask both firefighter paramedics their names in the midst of the fog and pain and chaos of my accident, and I made an even more deliberate point to look at their name tags, since I have a strong visual memory and feared that if I passed out, I might need a visual memory as well as the auditory one to really solidify the memory (neuroscientist, anyone?). I never ended up passing out, and a few days after the accident, I asked a friend of mine whose husband is a firefighter to track down the guys who saved me.
As soon as I was able to do anything culinary (which took about six weeks), I made a batch of granola. For the record, I have only made granola and mac and cheez casserole since the accident, since I am still very limited as to what my right hand can do, hold, or mix (see my ice cream sundae post for more on that). My husband helped grind the walnuts and almonds for the granola, he opened the maple syrup and the vanilla extract, and helped me put it into bags with little twist ties. Then I waited until I was well enough and able enough to go visit the two heroes I hadn’t stopped thinking about for weeks.
It took three more weeks to find a day John was at his station in Van Nuys. My accident was in Hollywood but John had worked a double shift that day and found himself in Hollywood. I wanted to hug him when I saw him, but we shook hands instead. I had my husband and kids with me, and they got a tour of the fire trucks while John and some other firefighters who, from the way they stared at me, seemed to be Big Bang Theory fans, looked as I removed my splint and compression glove and showed what my wounds looked like.
John recounted the accident as I remembered it, which made me feel very, I don’t know, validated maybe. It proved that I wasn’t exaggerating or mis-remembering all of the gory details. He remembered me refusing drugs by saying, “I had two kids with no drugs, I’m ok!”
He also remembered that he asked my pain on a scale of zero to 10 and I declared I was “a strong seven.” John told me almost everyone he could think of would have been screaming “I’m at 10!” and asking to be put out right then and there. He remembered that he told me I was a very strong woman. I remember that, too.
Then the fire announcement alarm went off and my little guy Fred started shrieking (he’s sound sensitive and emotionally very tuned in to all of the talk about and displaying of my injury). I handed the granola to John and handed a box of chocolate-covered pretzels to him for the station. Then he left to go be someone else’s hero and we left, Fred screaming all the way home.
Visiting Adam was similarly emotional. Fred wanted nothing to do with fire engines so we waited in the fire station kitchen for Adam to meet us while my older son and husband toured the station. Adam also recounted the accident as I remembered it, and again I felt so validated. I gave him his granola and the chocolate-covered pretzels and he thanked me and said no one hardly ever comes to see them after they save them. Since I had more wits about me than I had when I visited John, I looked him square in the eye and said:
“Thank you: for saving my hand, for risking your life every day. For all the times no one comes back to thank you, I’m thanking you.”
At that moment, I felt really grateful to be an emotionally tuned in person who is comfortable (after years of therapy I should say) to speak what’s in my heart and to be honest with words even if it’s uncomfortable or awkward or not typically done. I’m not trying to write this post to show you what a great person I am. I am sharing the sentiment I just mentioned in hopes that I can show you that small gestures like this are not only make others feel good, they make us feel good, too. They’re important gestures. Words are powerful.
Says John Mayer:
Have no fear for giving in
Have no fear for giving over
You better know that in the end
It’s better to say too much
Than to never to say what you need to say again
Even if your hands are shaking
And your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing
Do it with a heart wide open
A wide heart
Say what you need to say
I hope I get a lot of practice saying what I need to say when it’s not dire or critical so that when, God forbid, it is, I’ll have had some good practice at it.
Thank you, John and Adam for saving me and for giving me hope. And to all of our firefighters and police men and women and those who risk their lives for the rest of us, it’s not taken for granted. Thank you.