August 30, 2014

Ordinary Heroes Come Out of the Rain

Just another fallen angel
Trying to get through the night.

Step by step, one by one,
higher and higher....

Step by step, rung by rung,
I'm climbing Jacob's ladder.

They tell me to always try to do "more," but never do "too much." When you are recuperating from coronary arrest and a subsequent two week time-out in the ICU these are difficult quantities to judge. My solution is to try to add more to what I did yesterday. Once around the block equals once and a half around the block. Tedious but true. Never a lot. Always a little more.

And sometimes that extra step leads you to a moment of strange revelation; revelation in which you do not know what it means other than that it may mean something; that it must mean something. Maybe something labeled in invisible ink "To Be Revealed Later." Random encounters of matter moving randomly in the dark or something else designed in some subtle way to keep you moving-- climbing,
step
by step,
rung
by rung...

So anyway....

Last night I decide to push myself and attend a Richard Thompson concert in the University District. In a fit of optimism the previous week, having been released from the hospital, I bought two tickets. I didn't "feel" like going, but I don't "feel" like doing much of anything. I do it anyway. It's not really an option.

So anyway....

While waiting for Thompson to come on I find I can't really sit in the chairs comfortably and have to walk randomly about the Neptune theater. I do this every ten minutes or so. On one of these perambulations I decide to go upstairs to the balcony. Then I pause for a minute examining the CDs, t-shirts, and posters that make up the commercial back-beat of concerts today. Then I amble along the corridor and take the handicapped ramp down towards the main floor where the main entrance is. Outside it is a rainy night.

I pause for a moment and pick up a flyer listing future concerts at the Neptune. That takes about three seconds. I turn to go back into the theater and to my seat.

At that precise second he comes through the door of the Neptune into the concert....

.... From sometime on the evening of the 13th of October to sometime on the night of what I think was the 22rd of October I have no memory. Ten days are expunged from my life as if they never existed. These were the days in which I was first effectively dead; then the days in which I was, thanks to a team of extraordinary ordinary heroes in the ICU, returned to life itself. To say what you feel towards these people and all the others of your friends and family is a sense of "gratitude" does not even begin to get on the scale of what you feel.....

.... he comes through the door of the Neptune into the concert.

I take one look and know the man as well as I know my brother. This man was my "respiratory therapist." His was the first face I saw on waking from my coma. He was sitting at the end of my bed in the ICU with his chin resting on his hand like Rodin's Thinker. He was wearing blue scrubs and I think he had some broad bands of a Maori tattoo around his biceps. He glanced at me. I think he said, "I'm deciding whether or not we can take that tube out of your lungs now," and then I drifted by into my drugged haze.

He did decide to remove the tube and that began my ability to leave the ICU and then the Hospital and then my home to attend this concert on a rainy night in Seattle and walk past the door at the precise second....

What do you say to a man like that?

For my part I said, again, "Thank you for saving my life."

He said, "You're welcome but there were a lot of us involved. I'm glad to see you are doing so very well so soon. Don't try and do 'too much.'"

A bit more small talk and then a handshake and he moved off to find the person he was here to meet on his night off from saving the lives of strangers that get delivered to him high above the street at the Harbor View Medical Intensive Care Unit.

I make my way back to my seat and soon the main attraction comes out and begins to play. He's good. Surprisingly good. But at the same time I think I've already seen the main attraction of the evening and I leave about two-thirds of the way through the concert.

At three in the morning I wake in the dark quiet room and I think, "A couple of seconds either way and I would have missed thanking the man who saved my life."

And in that dim room with day still far off I think, "What did that mean? What could it possibly mean? Does it mean something or is it just random?"

The only answer I have so far is, "I. Don't. Know.

'Step
by step,
rung
by rung....'
"

[November, 2011]

Posted by Vanderleun at August 30, 2014 1:42 AM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

You know, I'll bet there are quite a lot of us out here who would like to thank that guy as well.

Also, in the unlikely event you haven't seen it yet, Bob has this today: "Blessed are those who tolerate the ambiguity of facts, that they may penultimately reveal principles, and principles that they may ultimately reveal their Origin."

Posted by: Julie at November 3, 2011 11:41 AM

I suppose amidst all the cautions to not "do too much," your experience must have you a little inspired to be certain that you do not do too little.

Here's to doing just the right amount. Welcome back.

Posted by: Andy at November 3, 2011 12:22 PM

There are events that never quite seem coincidental, even though we label them such. The hard-core materialist would simply say that even high-improbability events can happen. I tend to think that they don't "just happen." Without being forced or determined, they get a little help along the way.

Posted by: Bill at November 3, 2011 12:27 PM

He who knew us in the womb guides each step.

Posted by: Casca at November 3, 2011 1:03 PM

My own suspicion is that nothing "just happens".

Posted by: pfsm at November 3, 2011 1:33 PM

I call those "God's little jokes or tap on the shoulder"..."I'm still here , just in case you forgot. I knew this would put a smile on your face"

Yes, my agnostic husband thinks I'm nutty too. There are NO coincidences , I always tell him.

So glad you are out and about Gerard!

Posted by: pink lady at November 3, 2011 1:39 PM

I don't know you. We've never met. But, we've had a similar health event and thus share fightingly similar experiences in climbing each rung. I've concluded total agreement with the aforementioned enough to re-state it: "There are NO coincidences." It is funny how life is; it is even funnier how it isn't. Relish ever moment.

Posted by: Tom at November 3, 2011 2:57 PM

You are blessed.

Posted by: leelu at November 3, 2011 4:03 PM

"His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone." Job

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at November 3, 2011 4:49 PM

But you know, I bet that guy walked a little taller after you thanked him, too. And heck, maybe stopping him to talk to you kept him out of the way of his own accident.

But mostly it's great that you saw him, and thanked him. It's great that the world is small, and that a city is full of people we know. We need each other. No man is an island.

Posted by: Maureen at November 3, 2011 5:07 PM

Perhaps he's an angel.

Posted by: RedCarolina at November 3, 2011 6:21 PM

Karma. It's sweet! Most of the time.

Keep moving, but not too much.

Posted by: Jimmy J. at November 3, 2011 9:09 PM

"At that precise second he comes through the door of the Neptune into the concert.... I take one look and know the man as well as I know my brother. This man was my "respiratory therapist." His was the first face I saw on waking from my coma. "

A signpost and stark reminder during your re-entry back to life.

What a gift.

Posted by: Cond0010 at November 4, 2011 12:12 AM

Very glad to see you are back. Things always happen for a reason, even if we don't see it at the time.

Your chance meeting at the concert was your opportunity to show gratitude and not just to feel it.

Gratitude is one of God's greatest gifts. It's a gift to the recipient but unexpectedly also to the giver.

Take care.

Posted by: Eric Gagnon at November 4, 2011 4:13 AM

I am so glad you are well and we will have more time to spend together. Stay fearless here and in your life, because as I was told when I was a younger man, the only easy day was yesterday.

Posted by: Tyranno at November 4, 2011 6:13 AM

You missed the last third of a Richard Thompson concert? Man, you must have been shook up

Posted by: Ed at November 4, 2011 6:01 PM

It means something to you. And it means something to us. At a minimum. And that's a lot!

I'm glad you had this experience.

Posted by: Sarah Rolph at November 6, 2011 3:45 AM

Glad to hear you're doing better, and prayers for your continued recovery, Gerard.

Slowly and patiently is challenging, no doubt -- but it sure beats the alternative.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at November 7, 2011 12:05 AM

"Negative capability...is being capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." ~ John Keats

It, all of it, starting atleast on the 13th, but probably way before - maybe it was a December day decades ago - it is all supposed to have meaning. I love how the treads which are our days are woven together with those of others around us. It seems to me that we participate in something majestic, too big for our little eyes. It's neat to "wonder" with you. It's neat that you share.

Posted by: DeAnn at August 30, 2014 3:51 AM

Often, "I don't know" is the best answer, and the only answer. The fun part is getting comfortable with, and keeping a look out for some semblance of an answer.

Posted by: leelu at August 30, 2014 8:18 AM

Quite a story, Gerard!

When my infant son was in ICU, I saw in the dark the white shapes of nurses who seemed to float soundlessly from one infant to another. Once in a while I'd hear a strangled breathing. A nurse would come to the baby, pull a plug of mucous out of its throat (saving its life), and float away.

Come the morning, they'd be be jabbering as though they hadn't done anything special.

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at August 30, 2014 11:12 AM

Gerard, perhaps the meaning was for him to hear, "thank you".

In more than a decade of working ICU, I only had the pleasure of meeting one patient (and his lovely wife and child) later and their heartfelt thanks is one of the brightest memories of those chaotic years.

People work ICU for a variety of reasons, some of them simply because of the pay differential or the flexible hours, some, like me, worked ICU because of a deep need to "set things right"; it meant that as long as I was helping save others, I was OK.

Whatever their reasons, people who work ICU will all say, no one does it for accolades, but when you get to meet someone whose life you've saved, it is the sort of thing that not only lifts your spirits then, it is one of those treasured memories to recall years later.

Perhaps, in another sense, it was something that helped you. Gratitude is one of the noblest of our emotions, isn't it!

Posted by: cymbeline at August 30, 2014 5:37 PM

I read the post and wept, yes wept. I'm grateful for your honesty about "what does it mean?" I apparently inhabit a parallel universe, in that I also recently asked that question.


I'm mid-fifties, have never had much use or need for "modern medicine," but choose to work IT at a hospital for altruistic reasons. Then in APR2014 *I* was diagnosed with cancer.

Those same doctors, nurses, and clinicians that I'd served and respected now cared for me and respected me as a person. The very people that I walked by for years, sharing a "good morning" and a smile now held my very life and future in their hands.

Oh, and did I mention that my world-class care cost me ~$100 because I work for the hospital? Do I think a benevolent and kind God planned the whole thing? Yes, I most assuredly do.

Did I thank my caregivers for their efforts? Most assuredly! And now I've returned to work, walking by those same people, still saying "good morning" and smiling. I very much recognize that my doing so continues to say "thank you," providing them a daily reminder that what they do matters.

Bottom line, hold fast to that "not-really-a-chance-encounter!" It *does* mean something for you, that caregiver, and many others.

Posted by: Bill at August 31, 2014 9:07 PM