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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 16, 2009

Last Friday things changed.

The day started like it always did for me: shuffling around in the dark, feeding the cats, making coffee and breakfast, and getting ready for work. It was Friday, which meant I, like most people, could look forward to going to work and getting through the day because we had the weekend to look forward to.

It is still very dark in the morning when I leave the house, and my route takes me one block up and one block over to catch the bus to the train station. I have this route and time down to a science. If I leave the house at 6:18 I can dwaddle along. If I leave at 6:20 I walk a normal pace. If I leave past 6:22 that means I need to start jogging.

At nine months pregnant I have now realized I cannot jog or run successfully even if someone offered me large wads of cash money.

So I make sure I leave the house by 6:20.

The bus always comes at 6:29 and drops the five of us early passengers off at the light rail station between 6:35 and 6:37. The train comes at 6:38. Like I said, it is all usually running with German efficiency.

I get on the bus and sit in the first forward facing seats. On metro buses, the first 4 seats on each side of the aisle face the aisle, allowing for wheelchairs to be positioned by the first forward facing seats, which flip up. This is where I was sitting, on the passenger side.

The bus driver is a nice old man who subs in on some Fridays for the regular driver. He reminds me of Santa Claus.

We drive east on 42nd street, stopping to pick up passengers, then we head south to 46th. The driver turns left on 46th and heads two blocks to the light rail station. The stoplight to turn into the station is red. The bus opposite us is also waiting to turn into the station.

I see a woman standing on the curb. I see this woman almost everyday. Just like us, she has her morning commute down to a timed science. She always stands across from me on the rail platform because she takes the southbound train. She is waiting for the walk sign to cross. She is headed east toward the rail platform.

The light turns green. The walk sign is lit up.

The woman begins to cross the street.

My bus driver hesitates, then starts to turn. They do this sometimes. I wonder if he is looking at the other bus driver to see if she is going to let him go first, as her bus is also turning into the station. The other bus driver isn't turning (she isn't turning because she sees the woman in the crosswalk). I see the woman in the crosswalk. Then I can't see her because she is in front of the bus. The bus driver is still accelerating forward.

The deep animal part of my brain is telling me this: The driver doesn't see her; he is going to hit her. He is going to hit her... It is something I know, before I can even say I know it. I sit paralyzed in my seat.

The other logical part of my brain says this: Surely he must see her. The other bus driver is honking. Surely he is looking; I must be overreacting. He has to see her.

Animal part says: No, he doesn't. And now you will have to deal with this. You are the witness and you will have to do something.

I don't see him hit her, but I hear it. The sound is something I will not describe because it is terrible. And I will remember this sound for the rest of my life. I don't recall what the bus driver says. He is completely shocked, but I am not.

He stops the bus halfway up the drive. The door is open and I'm already out of the bus. The woman is laying in the street, close to the curb. I put my bag and coffee mug on the sidewalk. I feel absolutely nothing; dull but calm. The other bus driver is almost to me. I fumbled around for my phone to call the ambulance but I look back and see the driver sitting in his seat. Something in my brain works. "Call the ambulance," I tell him but it looks like he is already on the phone. I go back to the woman and kneel down next to her. I hold her wrist, looking for a pulse. I can't find one. I bend over her face, but I don't say anything; I bend closer to see if I can hear her breathe. Her face is turned away from me and I don't want to move her.

The other bus driver says as much. "Don't move her."
I look up. My voice sounds strange. "I don't want to move her, but if I can't find a pulse I'm going to have to start doing chest compressions. You might have to help me move her to do it."
The other bus driver nods. "Then you do what you think is right."

It is strange to me, to understand that I'm now supposed to be in charge of the situation. I look around. It's just the three of us. The other passengers have disappeared and I wonder how much time has passed.

I turn the woman's face to mine and feel for her pulse on her neck. I find it. My left hand is underneath her head; it is warm and when I bring my hand away it is bright red. She is bleeding a lot and I don't want to be too graphic with what I'm seeing so I'm not going to describe much about it except that I'm praying it is not as bad as it looks like. Because I think it's bad. I don't have many thoughts in my head; I feel strangely disembodied from myself. I don't feel the wind or the ground I'm kneeling on. But I hear things. I hear sounds that I know will stay in my brain forever, the way things sound and maybe I will forget about them after awhile but somewhere down the line, maybe years from now I will hear something or see something and I will be right back here again, staring at this woman's face and hoping that the sirens that are growing in the distance are coming for us.

They are coming for us. I see a parade of 4 squad cars coming screaming down Hiawatha. My relief at this is immense. I'm losing this woman's pulse and I'm telling myself that I have to start compressions now. But then the cops are here. They move slowly, deliberately getting out of the car the way I know they are supposed to. Still, I want to yell at them to hurry. I call to one of them, "I can't get a pulse now. You have to start chest compressions."

He comes toward me carefully, pulling on blue rubber gloves. He asks me to repeat what I've said and I do. There are four officers suddenly around me and I stand up and back away. My hands are sticky and I turn away to let them work and the other bus driver gives me a tissue to wipe my hands. It doesn't work very well, but I say, "Thank you." Because that is what you do when someone hands you a tissue. I still am a dull robot and another officer leads us away, as he says, "We don't need to see this." But I do see it. They have the AED out and are hooking it up. The officer moves us toward the cop cars and the flickering lights are making me see stars in the dark and he asks me if I have I.D. and I give it to him and he asks me several times what I saw and where was I sitting and what happened next. I answer everything and then he asks me if I need a ride and am I okay? I tell him I will be okay, because this is something else you say when someone asks that question. Yes, I will be okay. I walk slowly toward the train station; I don't look as the gurney comes out of the ambulance. I look at my hands. I need to clean them. The grass is still very wet with dew and I wipe them in the grass and use the rest of the tissue to dry them.

Then I go and stand on the platform and wait for the next train.

I spend most of the day catching myself looking at my hands. It was strange to me; to realize where my hands have been, of all the things I've come into contact with. Not just today, but my whole life, and it starts to boggle my brain the way it did in math class when I would try to understand the concept of infinity. I never could. I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know what this was supposed to mean. Why did this happen? What was the point of this? Why was I there?

A lot of people like to say that things happen for a reason. I know they mean well but that expression has always made me gag. Some things happen for no reason at all. Horrible things. Things that people don't deserve to have happen.

I also realized that despite being nine months pregnant, I moved off that bus and did what I did without even feeling a thing. I have always been hyperaware of my body, especially now, with every little twinge and ache and thump and itch. But during that short time I felt absolutely nothing. I felt like a ghost.

I spent the rest of the weekend wondering about the woman I'd seen almost everyday but didn't know. I wondered about her family; sometimes I had seen her with a teenaged boy who I assumed to be her son.

Sunday morning I found out she had passed away.

Her name was Rebecca.
She had a family.
She was someone's wife.
She was someone's mother.
She was someone's daughter.
She was someone's friend.
She was 43.

7 comments:

Christina E. Rodriguez said...

I'm so sorry for that poor woman's family. I really hope proper action is taken against that other driver, if at least to help bring closure to her family. What a horrible tragedy.

Mike Savage - Savage Press said...

Excellent reporting Mindy. Great clear depiction of the reptile brain vs. the conscious...and reportedly...sluggish mind. I'm grateful for your courage to report this trauma with such courage, it was a healing of a similar trauma of my own to "share" yours

Anonymous said...

Hello Melinda, my name is Monica and I am the sister to Rebecca whom you helped on this tragic morning. I still can't believe she's gone but yet I feel comfort in knowing she was not alone during her last moment on this earth. You answered questions that nobody was able to do and with that, you were able to provide some closure into what actually happened on that horrible morning. On behalf of Rebecca's son and the rest of our family, we thank you very much. My e-mail address is pigs4moni@q.com. I would love to stay in touch with you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Melinda, My name is Debbie Pitts and I am Becca's oldest sister. Our family just recently found out about this blog and after reading your story I had to let you know how grateful I am that Becca wasn't alone in here last moments. I know that your gentle hands comforted her. Before I read your blog I had many unanswered questions as to how this could have happened. I am now comforted with the answers you have provided. Please be assured that you will forever be in my prayers and that after reading this I have peace of mind. Our family has a better understanding of this fatal day and are eternally grateful to you. I know that this was a life changing moment for you also and I would very much like to meet you someday but no pressure.
My e-mail address is pittspen1@netzero.net
Thank you from the depth of my heart.
Debbie Pitts
Richfield, Mn.

Anonymous said...

Dear Melinda, My name is Liz Garcia and I am one of Rebecca's sisters. I am writing to thank you for writing this blog, and giving our family somekind of understanding of what happened that terrible morning. I am eternally grateful to you for being with Becky in her last moments, as it reminds me of what she would have done herself in the same situation. I know this had to be very hard to relive, and I do commend you for doing this. You will always be in my prayers. Again, Thank you so much, it would be nice to hear from you. My e-mail is lizgarcia09@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Dear Melinda: Becca's father & I are very grateful for all that you did for our daughter. It is a tragic thing to experience in anyway! We are thankful that you did not walk away but decided to help her. We also know that God was there to pick Becky up and take her to heaven! Time will heal everyone. Tho I wish we could have a do over for that day. We miss her alot but thank you again for all you kindness. Good luck on your up coming family! Bob & Terry Cruzen, Las Vegas, NV.

Anonymous said...

She is missed beyond belief...Sometimes it just doesnt seem real, still. I think about her in the littlest things I do. When I stand in the shower and feel the water pouring over me, when I bend down to tie my sons shoes, when I take my first sip of coffee in the morning...its the little things that make me realize she will never be with us again, that this is all so permanent. And how those little things define the lives we lead yet we take them all for granted, we take each so much for granted. She was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, cousin, and friend. I feel blessed to have been a part of her life. I will never forget because of all of the little things. Thank you Melinda...