Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Epilogue

I received an unexpected call at work from Terri several months later that winter. She had found my full name in the accident report, and tracked me down through my company. It turned out that she was flown to Atlantic City Medical Center and had surgery to repair the artery in her leg. She had been admitted to the hospital for several days, but had a fairly quick recovery, with only a nasty scar as a permanent reminder. She mentioned how the surgeon had told her that she was lucky that she hadn't bled to death, and she repeatedly thanked me for stopping and coming to her aid. She said that she wanted to take me to dinner at a fancy restaurant in Avalon when I returned the next summer. I took Terry's number and told her that I was relieved to hear that she had pulled through without any complications, and we exchanged goodbyes with a promise to get together down at the shore in few months.

As it turned out, for a number of unrelated reasons I decided not to sign on again with the Avalon house that year. I thought I had detected a slight interest in Terri's voice during that phone call when she had asked if I was still single, but as it turned out I had just begun seeing someone several weeks before she called. I would have definitely been interested in seeing her if I had been unattached at the time. I've only made it down to Avalon on occasional weekends over the past couple of summers, and I've never had any contact with Terri since. Thinking back on it now, I suppose that is just the way things were meant to happen. Timing plays a role in everything, especially in how and when we come into people's lives. Sometimes it can force us to take an unexpected detour, and then there are times when we may find ourselves simply passing each other by.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Crash (Part 2)

As part of my job, I knew that airbags deploy after their internal sensors record that the car has been in an accident at at certain speed, usually over 45 miles per hour. Her car had to have been doing around 60 mph at impact, and I began to wonder just how touchy the airbag sensors actually were, and if some movement in the car might trigger a kind of delayed reaction. I had read that an airbag explodes at about 150 mph, reaching full inflation within fractions of a second. With my head necessarily in the position that it was in, my neck would've been broken in an instant if the airbag did go off. I had no choice but to remain right where I was until the medics arrived, but I do remember thinking that somebody should patent some device, like the Club, that could be slipped over a steering wheel to prevent delayed airbag deployments. I had thought that I might really be on to something with that idea, and to take my mind off of the explosive power located just inches from my head, I began to imagine the many beach houses up and down the Jersey shore that could be bought with all of the royalties from my new invention.

After about twenty minutes, a state police officer finally arrived on the scene. He ducked his head inside the passenger window and I shot a knowing glance at the blood-filled towel when I asked how soon the paramedics would be there. He hurried back to his radio, and after about 10 more minutes an ambulance and fire truck finally arrived. The head paramedic assessed the situation immediately, and ordered me to remain still. My dreams of financial wealth were dashed when he slipped a steel device just like the one I had imagined over the steering wheel, and then they began to use the jaws of life to pry open the passenger side door. Once they were able to gain access to her, they took over and I could finally relax my grip on her leg and pull my upper body out of the car, standing up straight for the first time in half an hour.

I moved several yards away and began to give my information to the police officer who was writing up his accident report. The paramedics had removed the passenger door completely and began lifting Terri out on a stretcher, after having put a cervical collar around her neck and properly bandaging her leg wound. Suddenly there was a heightened flurry of activity, and they began to call out orders in urgent voices. I could see now that Terri had lost consciousness, and I noticed that all of the color had drained from her face, and her skin appeared pale and waxy. They quickly lowered the stretcher directly onto the grass, and checked her vital signs. She must have gone into cardiac arrest, because they slipped a ventilator bag over her mouth and began to shock her with two paddles directly over her chest.

The events of the past thirty minutes finally caught up to me. I had been so focused on stopping the arterial bleeding and keeping Terri calm that I hadn't had time to react to the situation emotionally myself. Once the paramedics had arrived, I could step back and become more of an observer. I finally noticed my bloodstained shirt and hands, and then watched as the life seemed to drain out of Terry's body on the stretcher. Suddenly it all began to overwhelm me, and I could feel the tell-tale signs that I was about to black out. My vision was clouded by thousands of tiny black and white dots, like the UHF channel on our old TV set at home growing up. A loud buzzing filled my ears, and I remember just trying to lower myself down under my own power until the moment passed. I was able to drop down quickly into a sitting position on the grass, and remained upright until my vision and hearing returned a few seconds later. The medics had apparently stablized Terri again, and they were placing her into the ambulance. I heard someone speaking into the radio requesting an immediate medivac helicopter pick-up at a rest stop a few miles down the highway.

The firefighters had already doused her car with chemicals to prevent any fire, and one of them noticed me sitting there sporting what I'm sure was my own pretty pale complexion. He came over to check on me, and to make sure that none of the blood on my clothing was coming from any wound on my body. I was pretty embarrassed at the attention, in light of the real injured person that needed to be focused on, and quickly got back to my feet and assured him that I was okay. He remained with me for another minute, and after the color returned to my face, I convinced him that I would be able to safely drive the remaining couple of miles to my house on my own. He looked into my eyes one more time to make sure that my pupils were no longer dilated, and then paused and said, "You know,
you saved that woman's life." I told him that the paramedics were
the ones who had saved her, and that I had just been in the right place at the right time.

I walked back to my car, sat there for a little bit until I felt completely okay to drive, and then headed on to Avalon. Thankfully I was the first one to arrive at the shore house that weekend. I really didn't want to relive the whole experience all over again by talking about it so soon, and I'm sure the sight of me walking into the living room covered in blood would have only caused even more unneccesary excitement for the day. As it was, I threw my shirt in the trash, took a long hot shower, and made myself a strong drink.
I always thought that it seemed a bit cliche whenever some movie character would pour a drink in solitude after a particularly stressful situation, but right then it felt like just the thing to do at the time. Due to the resulting traffic jam that had backed up along the highway for miles behind the accident, my housemates already en route from Philadelphia wouldn't begin to show up at the house for a few hours. I went up to the third floor and settled into a chair out on the deck, which provided a perfect view of a spectacular sunset that was just beginning to appear out over the ocean. I sat back and put my feet up on the deckrail, and as I tried to come to terms with the events of that day, I thought about my reply to the firefighter for a moment.

The right place at the right time. It struck me that if the day had gone as I originally had planned, I would have already arrived at the house in Avalon a good hour or two before the accident had actually occurred. And if even one seemingly meaningless event had unfolded differently, I never would have been at that particular spot to witness the accident in the first place. If the court reporter had shown up on time, or if I had decided to ask one more question before concluding the deposition, or if I had stopped to change my clothes or get a quick bite to eat--I would have been miles further away on the highway when the accident took place. And going back even farther, I wondered about the likelihood of a different outcome if I had decided to choose some other activity years ago instead of learning first aid. The amount of coincidence and probability involved in bringing two people together at a particular time and at a particular place can be staggering sometimes. I really do believe that things happen for a reason, even though it's not always entirely clear why at the time. I realize that my belief could just be my way of rationalizing otherwise random occurences, but it's what works for me.

It was that sense of comfort that enabled me to set my empty drink aside without the need to pour another for the evening. Instead, I continued to watch the blazing orange sun fade slowly beneath the deepening blue horizon for the next hour or so, as I sat out on the deck by myself in silence. Where, for the second time that day, I found myself again in just the right place at exactly the right time.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Crash (Part 1)

I rented a very good movie, Crash, over the weekend. It focuses on the interactions between several people in Los Angeles over a two-day period, and its main theme is the stereotypes and racism that exist in all cultures and at all levels of society. Again and again in the movie, minor actions turn out to have major consequences for most of the characters, connecting them in ways that make random chance seem like destined fate.

One of the key scenes in the movie involves a car crash, and as I thought about the movie's theme of fate, it brought to mind an experience that I had several summers ago. From Labor Day to Memorial Day, almost all of the single population in the city of Philadelphia virtually empties out on Fridays as people head to the Jersey shore for the weekend. Shortly after being hired at my current job, I finally was able to arrange to join a shore house myself. I wound up going in with some very cool people in a great house in Avalon, New Jersey, about a 90-minute ride from Philly, and soon I couldn't wait for the end of work each Friday afternoon to begin my weekly migration down the shore on the Garden State Parkway.

One Friday in particular, I had purposely scheduled a deposition early in the day for 1 p.m. Our office had a way of becoming a ghost town on Friday afternoons, so the plan was for me to run through the usual one-hour of routine questions and then head right from the office to the beach, getting an early start on the weekend and beating the horrendous rush hour traffic. It began to feel like the planets were aligned against me that day, because nothing seemed to go as planned. The court stenographer was late, and the witness being deposed would not give a straight answer to my questions to save her life. I would have to ask three or four questions just to pin her down to the simplest details, and her attorney kept objecting and placing meaningless, time-wasting statements on the record. By the time we finally finished, it was past 4 o'clock. Still in my suit and tie, I jumped into my car and headed for Avalon, figuring that I would change into more casual clothes once I got to the shore house.

At least I had been able to get on the road before rush hour really hit, so traffic was moderate but moving fairly steadily. I had been driving for over an hour and was just 15 minutes from my exit when I noticed a commotion in my rear view mirror. I saw a white compact car spinning wildly, and watched as it veered across three lanes of traffic, slide down a slight embankment, and slam into a row of trees that lined the highway. I continued driving for a second as my mind took in what it had just witnessed, and then I pulled my car over to the side. I ran a hundred yards or so back towards the car, which was now wrapped around a tree at point just behind the driver's door. All of the windshields were blown out, and white smoke was coming from the engine. A woman in her mid-forties was behind the steering wheel, and as I leaned in through the driver's window, she slowly started to come around.

She began to cry, and kept repeating that her neck hurt. The impact had broken her driver's seat, and she was leaning back at an awkward angle. I brushed the shattered windshield glass off of her and told her not to move. There wasn't any obvious sign of injury to her neck, but I had learned in first-aid training that the head should be kept still to prevent further injury just in case. The other point that had been emphasized was that if the victim is conscious, you need to keep them alert and talking to prevent them from slipping into shock. She was worried about the smoke coming from her engine, and began to panic that her car was going to catch on fire. I reached in and turned off the ignition, and assured her that the white smoke was just steam escaping from the broken radiator. Optimistic that her neck and back didn't appear to be broken, I asked her if she hurt anywhere else. She got silent for a moment, and then said that her leg did feel a little warm. I leaned further into the car for a better look and soon saw the reason why.

About halfway between the knee and ankle on her right leg, a steady stream of bright red blood was pumping from a 1-inch gash, and had already formed into a small pool on the floormat beneath the gas pedal. I knew from my earlier training that this meant that an artery had been severed in her leg, and that if left unchecked a person can bleed out in minutes, well before death from a lack of oxygen due to stopped breathing. I also knew how important it was not to alarm her any further, as shock would only complicate things even more. I quickly scanned the inside of the car, and grabbed a beach towel from the backseat. She asked what was wrong and I casually said that she had a little cut on her leg, and that I wanted to keep it covered to prevent infection. I slipped my tie off and tied a makeshift tourniquet around her leg, and put pressure directly over the wound with my left hand, while using my right hand to squeeze a pressure point in her upper thigh above the knee, hoping to slow down the blood loss until help could arrive.

With all of the hundreds of cars whizzing past on the highway, only one other person had pulled over and come up to the car. An older man appeared by the passenger door to offer help, and when I found out that he had a cell phone I told him to call 911. I didn't want to alarm the injured driver any further, so I kept my voice level and calm. But I caught the man's eyes and glared for emphasis when I mentioned that it would be a good idea if the ambulance got here soon. He ran down the road to get his cell phone and I went back to engaging the driver in conversation.

Her name was Terri, and she lived year-round in Wildwood Crest, a few towns further down the coast from Avalon. A good way to keep someone from slipping into shock is to take their mind off of the immediate situation, so I began to ask her all sorts of mundane questions about her job and her background. She was single and had recently moved up here from Florida, and was working in real estate sales. When she asked what I did for a living, I told her that I worked as an attorney for an insurance company defending people in auto accidents. It turned out that her car was insured by my company, and I joked that I would personally see to it about getting her a refund on her $100 deductible. As the minutes continued to pass, I had to stretch to come up with more innocuous small talk, and began to slip into a sort of first-date mentality by asking more questions about her background to keep her mind off of the present circumstances. I complimented her on her tan and asked about her favorite musicians that were represented by the CD cases now scattered all around her car. She began to ask the same types of questions of me, and at one point asked me directly why I was still single. I teased her about being a big flirt, and jokingly accused her of staging this whole thing as a novel way to meet guys.

All the while that I was talking with her, I remained bent over through the driver's side windshield with both hands clamped down on her leg. The towel had become soaked with blood, but the puddle on the floor had stopped growing larger. I couldn't move at this point, as I didn't want to release the pressure and risk more blood loss, and the car had been twisted so badly from the impact that neither door could be opened anyways. After about 10 minutes or so into our light-hearted conversation, a thought suddenly occurred to me. Because the cut on her leg had been so low, I had been forced to lean most of my upper body through the windshield to reach the necessary pressure points. As a result, my head was directly next to the steering wheel. I asked matter-of-factly if her car had airbags, and she said that it did and joked that I should represent her in a lawsuit against the manufacturer because they never went off. I said sure, but privately was more concerned about the fact that the airbags might still go off after all.

(Part 2 to follow tomorrow)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

(belated) thanks

I just wanted to thank everyone who took the time to comment about my post on Sunday ("perennial"). Since I've started this blog, I've been debating just how much of my private life I should write about. But it was pointed out to me that in the end, writing about that experience would be a positive thing, and that it would give everyone a better understanding of where I was coming from.

A couple of times this week I wanted to respond to each person individually, but either couldn't find the right words at the moment or was interrupted by one thing or the other.

So Ruthie, wdky, sky, velma, sara, check, mara, nwc, sherri, annalis, nym, jill, mystickat, and ladylongfellow--thank you for your comforting words and making me feel good about posting it in the first place.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Friends, bloggers, countrymen--lend me your ears...

When I heard that Nukie310 from Miniscule Thoughts was looking for more submissions for his audio blog project, I got it touch. He asked me to record my entry about the speed dating event, "Hurry up & date" from last month.

(God, did you ever notice how strange your voice sounds when you actually hear it...??)


Sunday, November 13, 2005

perennial


Towards the middle of last week, I couldn't shake the feeling that something important was approaching. The week had begun with a flurry of activity at work, which had occupied most of my attention. But I still had the sense that there was something else that I should be remembering. It wasn't until I was heading home from the office on Wednesday night while listening to a news report that I suddenly realized that the date was November 9th, my wedding anniversary.

I had met Elizabeth in my third year of law school, on the very first night of rehearsals for a theater group that I had just joined, the Savoy Company. It's the oldest group in the country that performs Gilbert & Sullivan musicals, and it has the added distinction of being a very social group. Its members often refer to it as a 'drinking club with a singing problem.' Over its 104 years, it has been the basis for dozens of marriages, which themselves have produced second and even third generation members. I saw Liz sitting in the soprano section-- petite, blonde, with striking green eyes and the most beautiful smile. After rehearsal, a bunch of us went to a nearby bar, and as the night went on, she seemed to laugh more and more as I began telling jokes and quoting scenes from my favorite movies. I walked her to her car and we wound up kissing for over an hour. We dated all through that season and were married the next year. Several members from Savoy were there to serenade us at the reception.

I have always had trouble remembering particular details like dates and appointments. I can quote entire scenes from movies that I saw in high school, but I can't remember something as simple as my mother's actual birthday. That used to bother her to no end. I remember trying to explain to Mom that there was no question that I loved her and appreciated her and that my actions throughout the year should be a sign of that instead of a $2 card from Hallmark. Her equally valid response was that, considering that she had to push an eight-pound baby out of her body in the course of ten hours of difficult labor, a $2 card from Hallmark once a year was really not asking a whole lot in return. Point to Mom...

It was too late to get flowers or do anything significant for my anniversary on Wednesday night. Rather than try to cobble together some half-hearted gesture that evening, I thought I would try to come up with something more meaningful for another day. I dug out our wedding album and found a picture of her bridal flowers, and went to a florist to order a similar bouquet for Friday. As she had arranged the white and pink roses, the florist explained that they were a type of perennial flower--one that can survive the harsh winter and continue to grow year after year. She handed the flowers to me, along with the original photograph that I had provided for reference. Looking through the pictures from the wedding had brought up alot of memories, and the photo of the bouquet had called one moment in particular to mind.

We had wanted to say our vows to each other during the ceremony on our own, without the prompting of the priest saying 'repeat after me.' We had practiced and practiced, but Liz would always get hung up on a word here or there. Her maid of honor wrote out all of the lines on a small piece of paper for her and tucked it into the bouquet as a sort of cue card just in case she needed it when the moment came. She looked absolutely beautiful that morning, and everything had moved along without a hitch. But when it came time for her to recite her vows, she faltered. The excitement and stress and nerves of the morning were finally taking their toll. She looked down at her bouquet, her eyes searching for the words, but her hands were shaking so much that she couldn't read the writing on the paper.

I reached out and closed both of my hands around hers and held them gently until they became still. She looked up at me and her eyes met mine. A smile that I can't describe spread across her face and her whole body relaxed. She took a breath, and without even looking down once, recited her vows in a voice that grew stronger with every word. I repeated my part of the vows back to her, and the sacrament of marriage was complete. The rest of the day is a blur but it was filled with happiness and joy.

On Friday the situation was reversed, and now I was the one standing there with those same flowers in my hands, searching to come up with the correct words to say. Sometimes I've found that it's better to just go with exactly how you feel right at the moment. "I'm sorry that I forgot the date, Liz. I hope you know how much that day truly means to me." There was no response. I hadn't been expecting one. Elizabeth had died three years after we were married, from a sudden reaction to a food allergy.

The day was cold and the November sky was covered beneath a blanket of grey clouds. The wind was blowing the pale leaves from the trees, which just a short time ago had been alive with color. I stood there beside her grave at the cemetery, thinking back on our lives together. She had been the first person who I knew had truly loved me for just being myself, and I loved her with all of my heart.

I thought back to that moment again on the altar, and tried to remember the words that I had said when it was my turn to recite them to her:

"I, Tom, take you Elizabeth, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward... "

Standing there, holding her hands in mine, I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have finally found someone who loved me so deeply.

"...in good times and in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health."

We were both young and starting out from scratch, but we were filled with excitement about the good times that we knew lay before us, together. Neither one of us could have imagined just how short that time would actually be.

"I will love you, honor you, and cherish you--all the days of my life."

I knelt down and brushed away the dead leaves to clear a spot, and laid the bouquet against the tombstone. My finger traced her name along the cold marble. I stood up and said a few more things to her in private. In exchanging those words to each other on the altar that morning, we had been doing more than just expressing the love we had felt right at that moment. We were also making a promise to each other to keep that love alive within us every day going forward. I may not be able to remember a particular date from time to time, but that is one vow that I will never forget.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Saying thanks

I was already running late to a deposition in the suburbs this morning, and was still about ten minutes away when traffic slowly began to grind to a halt. Up ahead, I could see half a dozen police cars parked around one of the main intersections in town, and began to hear the unmistakable sound of a marching band approaching in the distance. Soon, an endless row of high school students began to march past, playing their instruments and tossing their batons into the air. The sidewalks were filled with people and it became clear that traffic would not be moving anytime soon.

"This is just god...damn...great," I muttered to myself, thinking that there was no way I would be able to make it to my opponent's office before he just went ahead and cancelled the whole thing. And all just so East Bumble High could get psyched for tonight's football game against their crosstown rivals, or some equally pointless reason. As I sat there brooding, I noticed a change in the make-up of the participants in the parade. Instead of young students in bright yellow band costumes, the street began to fill with men in their seventies and eighties, slowly marching past in all types of military dress uniform. Then I sheepishly remembered that today was Veteran's Day, and quickly pulled my car over and walked up to join the crowd. I could see that the parade stretched on for over one mile, and all along the procession were dozens of various high school bands and veteran's groups lined up, representing all of the major actions from World War II through the current Iraq war.

The parade came to a momentary stop while the traffic was cleared at an intersection further ahead along the route. Right in front of me was a 1940's-style jeep, with a sign indicating that the occupants were veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Just before Christmas in 1944, the German army had launched a desperate, surprise attack at the Allies, and the individual soldiers suddenly found themselves overwhelmed by about 600,000 crack German troops, completely cut off from reinforcements or supplies. Try to recall the coldest day you ever experienced, and then imagine living in a frozen hole in the ground without winter clothing while artillery shells exploded in the treetops all around you on a daily basis. The soldiers in the Bulge endured that, and more, and eventually turned the tables on the Germans and chased them back over the Rhine then straight on through to Berlin. Between both sides, over 1 million men were either captured or became casualties during that battle.

Those 18 year-old kids who held their ground while surrounded and outnumbered were now 80 year-old men who had endured, triumphed, and returned home to build their lives in peace. You could see the humble pride in their faces as they waited before the thankful crowd. I caught the eye of two gentlemen sitting in the backseat of the jeep and just waved my hand and said "Thank you." I didn't know how to even begin to properly acknowledge their sacrifice. They smiled and waved back, and soon the parade was off and moving again.

Every year there are fewer and fewer veterans from that era still living. Time succeeds where the Axis armies failed, and they go off to join the friends that they lost in the forests of France, or on the islands of the Pacific, or in the deserts of North Africa. It's a shame that their service is officially honored only once a year. They should be thanked in some small way every single day that we are lucky enough to still have them here with us.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Two quickies...

I'm trying to cut down on my online blogging during the day at work, so I thought I would start by posting something that didn't require too much time on my part. I found these two quizzes on blogthings.com, after seeing them on ladylongfellow's site.

Of course, they have endless quizzes and polls at blogthings, so it was hard to just pick two and not spend all day there. Willpower is a struggle sometimes, and I've found that when the topic turns to sex, I usually have a hard time saying 'no'....


Your Seduction Style: Au Natural
You rank up there with your seduction skills, though you might not know it.That's because you're a natural at seduction. You don't realize your power!The root of your natural seduction power: your innocence and optimism.
You're the type of person who happily plays around and creates a unique little world.Little do you know that your personal paradise is so appealing that it sucks people in.You find joy in everything - so is it any surprise that people find joy in you?
You bring back the inner child in everyone you meet with your sincere and spontaneous ways.Your childlike (but not childish) behavior also inspires others to care for you.As a result, those who you befriend and date tend to be incredibly loyal to you.

What Kind of Seducer Are You?

__________________________________________________

You're an Expert Kisser

You're a kissing pro, but it's all about quality and not quantityYou've perfected your kissing technique and can knock anyone's socks offAnd you're adaptable, giving each partner what they craveWhen it comes down to it, your kisses are truly unforgettable
What Kind of Kisser Are You?

Monday, November 07, 2005

zero to sixty, and back again.

Sorry for the extended absence--it seems that all of the excessive hours spent writing and editing this blog at my desk during the workday had caused quite the backlog of overdue reports and unanswered emails, and I really needed to spend all of Friday and most of the weekend in the office playing catch up.

And then on Monday afternoon I got a call from the court saying that one of my cases in the November trial pool was being called for jury selection first thing on Tuesday morning. That set off several hours of scrambling trying to get things lined up--notifying my client, arranging for my expert, and getting coverage for all of the commitments on my schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday. As it turned out, my client had recently moved and never gave us any of her new contact information, my expert was unavailable due to a personal matter, and there was only the bare minimum of insurance coverage available for protection. I've gone to trial with less before, and won, but since there was a risk of a runaway verdict, my company felt it was safer to settle. So after all of that, things wound back down to a normal pace and I had to go back and reconfirm everything on this week's schedule again.

I had mixed feelings about the outcome. Settling the case in that situation was the safest thing to do, and my ultimate responsibility is to do what's best for my client. It was a little stressful trying to get everything done under the wire before trial, but I actually look forward to that type of stimulation and work well under pressure. It's been some time since one of my cases has actually gone to trial and reached a verdict, so I kind of miss the energy of being in a courtroom. Ever since my recent discovery of blogging, I've been using it as a way to get my creative fix during the day, because I would climb the walls if I just had to churn out legal opinions in an office all week. But I think I might have to pull back a little and balance things out, or maybe do most of my blogging at home early in the morning or late at night. I can see that it's going to be hard to quit cold turkey during the day and that I'll need a distraction to help cope with the withdrawal.

Maybe I'll just have to take up smoking or something. Do they sell a patch for blog withdrawal?