Monday, August 10, 2009


My mother has made a life out of saving others.

From the time I was very young, I remember her leaving the house donning her white shirt embellished with the Star of Life patch on the sleeve. As a career paramedic in rural Kentucky, she gave new meaning to medical care. Responding to the hurt became a way of life, not a day job. When she surprised me by redecorating my room for my seventh birthday, a little boy whose family was in a car accident slept in my new canopy bed before I even saw it. I returned from camp to find a stranger bouncing around saying, “Look! A bed with a roof!” More than once, she offered the extra spaces in our farmhouse to distraught out-of-towners seeing to a hospitalized loved one.

Aside from the unplanned houseguests, life with a paramedic was pretty normal – unless you factor in the work stories that would make Wes Craven’s skin crawl. And the lectures…How could I forget the diatribe on people too dumb to wear a seatbelt or her reference to “donorcycles.” No child ever grew up with a greater sense of mortality than the offspring of a paramedic. If prevention is the best medicine, my mother could’ve run the W.H.O.

For 18 years, I watched as Momma trudged through an endless cycle of working 24 hours straight, sleeping through the next day and spending the third day getting ready to go back to work. I gained a healthy firsthand appreciation for sacrifice, and witnessed an unparalleled dedication to duty and the preservation of life. In retrospect, my mother probably served as my inspiration in joining the Air Force, however subconsciously. Okay, so maybe I’m a bit more interested in breaking things than putting them back together, but by gum, I’m dedicated.

In my 32 years, I’ve never had to take advantage of the service my mother spent her life providing – until now. Last Monday, my little boy choked on his own spit-up. He strangled so badly on vomit so thick, that I couldn’t get his little airway cleared. I turned him over my arm, lowered his head and slapped him on the back, a technique I learned in an infant CPR/choking class SuperHusband and I took just before his birth. When that didn’t help, I pulled the bulb off the shelf and gingerly suctioned his mouth. Bitty Boy’s eyebrows pulsed scarlet with the strain of trying to breathe, and I finally moved from crisis management to a mild panic of my own.

My first call was to Momma. Everyone calls Momma in an emergency. It’s what she does – she just handles things. When her mother had a stroke in the night, my aunt was visiting for the weekend. When she found Mam-maw unconscious in bed, she called my mom first. Perhaps it sounds silly to others, but like my aunt, I guess I just thought she could “fix it,” even from 1,100 miles away. After a few frightening seconds on the phone, we agreed I should call 9-1-1. Tears began streaming down my face as the seriousness of the situation hit home. If Momma thought I needed to call for help, especially the kind with really loud trucks, then the urgency of our circumstances just ratcheted up.

As I spoke with the dispatcher, my baby’s color began to fade to white, and his struggling became weaker. I sincerely thought nothing could be more frightening than the look on my son’s face a few moments earlier when I walked into the room to see his tiny body wriggling with his frantic struggle to breathe. How horribly mistaken I was. More frightening than watching your child fight for air is the realization that he’s beginning to give up. As Bitty began to fade in my arms, his little eyes closing despite my desperate attempts to keep him awake, the dispatcher told me to place him on a flat, firm surface. In my mind, I knew she was prepping me to do CPR. My head told me I could do it. My heart screamed for help.

Poor Big Boy began to cry in earnest – his little two-year-old mind confused and afraid – as he sensed something was terribly, terribly wrong. Just as I laid Bitty on the floor, the greatest part of the sludge dislodged and my baby began to wail. At that moment, Bitty Boy’s earsplitting, terrified cry sounded better than the sweetest aria…then the rising pitch of sirens coming down the street. Rescued! I felt such an enormous sense of relief as the emergency personnel rushed onto the porch and through the front door. After handing Bitty over to the medics, I sat on the dining room floor and held Big Boy – who, by now, was mostly concerned with all the equipment being flung around. While they continued to suction Bitty and give him oxygen, Big Boy looked up at me seriously and said, “Man…make a mess!”
Every first responder in the Tri-Lakes area must’ve come to our house. At one point I swear I saw at least 10 or 12 guys standing in our study. And even after the commotion began to subside, two of the crew stayed behind for nearly an hour. Bitty couldn’t get the crud out of his sinuses, so he couldn’t nurse. When he couldn’t nurse, he couldn’t calm down. With him so terribly distressed, we found it difficult to tell whether he needed any more medical attention. The two medics stuck with us until we were sure he’d be fine to ride to the pediatrician or the hospital. One of the guys devoted himself to keeping my eldest calm and entertained, replacing Big Boy’s racetrack to the middle of the floor. (Not sure if he was taking one for the team, or more likely, just a big kid himself.) I’m pretty sure my son talked his ear off about cars and I can say with certainty that they ran about 30 or 40 races down the toy track. (If I’d known they were so good at babysitting, I might’ve called sooner.) Even after SuperHusband arrived – thanks to a quick call placed by the dispatcher who coached me until the crews arrived – one of us had to phone our pediatrician while the other continued the futile attempt to soothe our terrified baby. We were grateful for every pair of hands, all the better if they were attached to cool, clear heads.

I don’t know if Bitty would’ve been alright if they hadn’t come. Our house was a war zone, and the crew the much-needed troop surge to gain control over the turmoil. Before Monday, I couldn’t imagine calling 9-1-1. Once I had, I couldn’t stand to imagine what might have happened otherwise. Granted, our baby boy managed to open up just before they arrived, but he was already so weak, so ashen. And with their arrival I gave my child and my emotions over entirely. My faith in their ability – a faith born of a lifetime of watching my mother – was exceeded by nothing. If I’m honest, I suppose in that moment even my faith in God took a backseat to the trust I instantly placed in the hands of these men. However, I hope no one will think that my belief in divine power faltered. Instead, I believe God calls people to service – all kinds of service – even if they themselves are not aware. Each and every one of those emergency workers is a Godsend, a Godsend to every person they help, on every run they make.

We cannot thank them enough. We thank them for their skill, their response time, their reassuring words, and we thank them for responding not just to our calling, but to theirs.


  1. we are glad all is well. we have waded thru the terror and are thankful for the gifts and talents of those who commit their lives to the well being of others, as we know you and keith are. sing their praise. sing HIS praise.

  2. That sounds absolutely terrifying, hon. I am glad to hear that Dash is doing okay now. I'll call you soon.

  3. How horrifying. Thank God he's okay! It's a nice reminder about the medical professionals who are fantastic and save lives every day. Makes up for having a job dealing with the few who aren't.


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