I Believe in Answering a Stranger’s Call
Around three forty-five on a rainy Saturday morning, I was startled awake by the sound of my pager beeping. As a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, I can never count on a full night of sleep. I groggily pulled myself out of bed and staggered toward the desk to grab my radio. Our crew was being dispatched to a nearby home where a man was in cardiac arrest.
We found the man lying on his kitchen floor with his hysterical wife beside him. My partners initiated CPR, while I hooked-up the defibrillator. We rushed the patient to the hospital, but despite our efforts we were unable to save his life.
In my line of work, I rarely get any recognition from the patients we treat, or their loved ones. But this night, the man’s wife approached us and through her tears, whispered, “Thank you,” and hugged each of us. She knew we answered her late-night call for help, and even though the ending was not positive, she was grateful for our efforts.
There is something deeply rewarding about helping people in vulnerable circumstances. Sometimes, I’m able to make their worst day a little better: Like seeing the tears of an injured child turn into a smile when I gave him a stuffed animal; watching a terrified mother’s screams turn into tears of joy when she realized her baby was going to be okay; or sitting beside a woman in her mangled car talking about funny TV shows long enough to take her mind off her situation and actually eliciting a laugh from her.
I have also been screamed and cursed at. I have been pepper-sprayed, and I watched a mentally ill patient assault my partner. I have seen the terror in a friend’s eyes while I performed CPR on her father, and I still get chills when I recall her desperate cries of “please tell me my dad is going to be okay.” Despite all of the sad things I have seen, and the nasty people I have encountered, my desire to help people has only grown stronger.
Experiences like these allow me to see the impact my work has on others. At the same time, I also know the effect it has had on my own life. As a teenager, I felt awkward when my dad hugged me and said he loved me. I was equally uncomfortable telling him, “I love you.” But then I envisioned him being the man lying on the kitchen floor that rainy night, and realized that my opportunity to say those three words could - at any moment - be taken away forever. I’ve learned to appreciate every relationship I have, to tell people I care for how I feel about them, and to never take anything in life for granted.
So my work as an EMT has confirmed what I believe: I will continue to roll out of bed in the middle of the night to answer a stranger’s call for help.