Monday was just one of those days – the kind where it seems every time you turn around, something else goes wrong, no matter how you try to be upbeat or keep a positive perspective.
It all seemed to start on Saturday morning, when I found myself in the untenable position of being forced to cancel my classes due to an unforeseen conflict in scheduling at the church where I teach my Kindermusik classes. Trying to work around an influx of 90 high school students using the church as a stopping-over place on their journey is never easy for anyone, neither for the church nor myself.
By the end of multiple phone calls to Kindermusik families and satisfied that I had, at least, reached everyone before they left home, I gave myself a mental shake and resolved to just put it behind me. But I have to confess, it did haunt my thoughts throughout the weekend, popping up from time to time, as if to say, “You don’t really think you can forget this that easy, now do you?”
Well, there’s nothing like a life-threatening situation to put things into perspective.
My daughter, Rebekah, is 17.5 years old and enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College. She wants to be a doctor and worked herself through high school at an accelerated pace in order to finish a year early. In her words, she’s going to be in school for “years to come” and she wanted to get a year up on the timetable for med students to complete their education, internship, residency, etc.
Bekah currently attends classes at the Georgia Perimeter’s Dunwoody campus which requires her to drive three days a week from our house located outside I-285 just south of I-20 East, up I-285, the Perimeter Highway. To anyone unfamiliar with Atlanta traffic, let’s just say that it’s never a relaxing drive on 285, no matter what time of day or night you’re driving on it. It requires alertness and concentration, both for yourself and other drivers.
Monday afternoon, as Bekah left her last class, she had not yet had lunch, and, stopping by one of the many vending machines found on just about any college campus, she chose a package of plain M & M’s to munch on and tide her over until she got home and could raid the refrigerator. At that time of the day, she can usually make it home in less than 30 minutes.
As she drove down I-285, the traffic came to a halt at Lawrenceville Highway, due to the road construction there and the onslaught of drivers entering from both LaVista Road and Lawrenceville Hwy. She decided to open the M & M’s up and nibble on them while the traffic crawled on through the area. Four exits later, at Covington Highway, she realized that she was having an allergic reaction as she began to itch and her throat began to swell shut. Somehow, she made it home safely the remaining five miles to pound on the back door, wheezing “Al-lergic … re-action” as I opened it.
Less than two minutes later, with the use of the epipen, some Benadryl, and the nebulizer loaded with Xopenex, she was still struggling and fighting to breathe. Bekah is an experienced asthma patient. After almost six years of dealing with asthma attacks and allergic reactions, she is a pretty good judge of when it’s slacking off and when it’s not. We’ve had more ER runs than I’d ever wish on anyone due to unexpectedly severe attacks.
Because of the inability to speak easily during an asthma attack or an allergic reaction where the throat is closing up, we have created a code we use just for situations like this – one finger for yes, two for no. After waiting for the Xopenex to kick in as it usually does in a matter of minutes and realizing that it didn’t seem to be working as effectively as in the past, I asked her if we needed to call 9-1-1 and waited anxiously to see how many fingers went up. At first, she raised two fingers, but then waved her hand “no” and raised one finger – “yes.” 9-1-1 it was.
I honestly don’t know how the Emergency Response people cope with individuals who are calling in, frantic to get care for their loved ones who are in distress. I’ve done it several times in my life now, for my children, my sister, for parents and grandparents, even for strangers that I’ve seen involved in car accidents on the road. Each and every time I’ve called, there has always been someone on the other end who responds very calmly “DeKalb 9-1-1, what is the location and nature of your emergency?” This time was no different.
After giving our information to the dispatcher, we began to wait and listen for the sirens, knowing that there is a fire station within two miles of our home. But as the seconds became one minute, then four, then five, I began to worry as Bekah’s breathing was not easing up and we weren’t hearing any sirens. Trying to stay calm while your child is struggling to breathe and struggling to keep herself stay calm by wheezing “I’m going to be okay, I am going to be okay” from time to time as she was able to is not easy. Just as I reached for the phone again and spoke with the 9-1-1 dispatcher, our youngest daughter called out from outside, “I can hear them. They’re coming!”
In less than a minute, the EMTs pulled up outside our home, came inside, and assessed Bekah’s situation. They reassured her (and us) that everything we had done so far was the right thing to do, and it was a matter of waiting for the Benadryl to kick in completely and do its job. The only thing they added at that time was to give Bekah another Benadryl capsule to ensure that she had enough in her system to get the job done.
Even after the extra Benadryl and further assessment by the DeKalb EMT’s, Bekah still was having trouble with her throat being extremely tight. It was at her request that we decided to head for Egleston Children’s Hospital, now known as Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Riding in an ambulance might be the height of excitement for a five or six-year-old, but, for both Bekah and myself on Monday, it was not what you’d call a “fun ride.” Thankfully, we both were riding with two individuals that I personally would term “angels.”
The two EMTs would probably not consider themselves “angels”; they’d probably just say that they were just doing their job. However, when you have one in the back with your daughter, joking with her and teasing her to keep her mind off of what she’s dealing with, and another one driving, thinking of finding a rock station on the radio to pipe through to the back and talking with her mom to keep her calm, I personally would call them angels.
I learned through our conversation that the driver had only recently returned from armed service overseas, protecting our nation. He’s a young man who has seen a lot of combat through multiple tours of duty, yet he’s dedicated to what he does here – helping and rescuing others on a 24-hour shift, spending 22 hours at a time in the truck, driving wherever the need arises. DeKalb County has the highest response rate of any other in the greater metro Atlanta area.
In our case, they were miles away from us when the call came in. The unit from our neighborhood fire station was already out on another emergency. This team had been out responding to other calls in their own area and were approximately 8 – 9 miles away from us when they received the call, in an area of town that was not even close to the interstate. They had to snake their way through sideroads and surface streets to get to us. The fact that they made it as quickly as they did attests to the driver’s skill, the willingness of other drivers to get out of their way, and, yes, probably a good dose of “angel wings” to get them through some congested intersections.
Thankfully, in our situation, all turned out well. As Bekah was moved into a treatment room at Egleston, I turned to the EMT driver to thank him – both for responding to our call for help, but also for his service to our nation. As I tried to express how grateful I was for his help with Bekah, he kind of ducked his head, saying, “Oh, you’re welcome.” But it was when I added, “And thank you for your service to our nation, too. I am grateful” that I saw a small smile on his face in reply. When I thanked the EMT who treated Bekah and cared for her in the ambulance, his response was “no problem! Glad we could help.”
It’s such a small thing to do – saying “thank you”. Many of us do it without thinking; it’s a part of our heritage, here in the South. You’re taught by your parents to say “please” and “thank you” from a very early age. But to truly mean it when you say it, I think, embues your voice with a greater intensity and meaning. I hope that was the case when I said thank you to both of these men. I hope that they did comprehend the full extent of my gratitude Monday.
And if you’re a DeKalb county tax payer, thank you as well for paying your taxes, high though they may seem. It is through them that families like ours benefit from the care and expertise of DeKalb EMT’s such as we had Monday. We are grateful.