The shrill scream of the siren tore through the air while red white lights flashed…filling that sunny afternoon with an eerie dread. My fingers were knotted together so tightly that my hands were hurting and my knuckles had turned white. Still, I could not pull them away any more than I could stop the silent prayer that was echoing in my head.
“No, no , no, no, no! Please God, let him be ok. Please God, let him be ok. Please God, let him be ok.”
Hot tears streamed down my cheeks, not that I could feel it. The grainy coarseness of the sidewalk was a huge improvement from the hard gravel that had cut at my bare feet as I ran down the block, rushing to be where I stood now. I didn’t feel that, either. My attention was focused on the little 10 year old boy laying in the middle of the road, his bicycle crunched up in a heap, five feet from where the three men in blue polyester uniforms worked on him.
Intellectually, I knew I wasn’t the only person there. A lady had come out from her house on that corner. She’d seen it happen from her kitchen window. Two other young boys were standing near me. I think they were talking to me, but I couldn’t really hear them.
A nearly inhuman wail broke through the eerie blanket of litanous prayer I’d covered myself with. Looking over, I saw my younger sister had arrived. Her entire body shook as she cried and wailed and did the things I was too afraid to do. Somehow, in my mind, I thought…”if I don’t focus, if I let go, what then? I’m the oldest. They’re counting on me.”
My friend, Judy, was standing by my sister as I took her in my arms. “What happened?” she asked, “What happened to Jonathan?”
Pointing to the vehicle pulled to the side of the road I said, “He was hit by that minivan when he and the two Michaels went to cross the street to Michael B’s house.”
One of the men from the ambulance walked in our direction as the others moved my brother onto the immobilizing board before shifting him to the stretcher.
“Are any of you family?” he asked, looking at our little group.
“We are,” I said, still holding my younger sister in my arms.
“Where’s your parents?”
“My mom is at work at the local hospital. You should take him there. My dad lives in the Philippines.”
“He needs more help than they can give there,” he said, eyes sympathetic. “We’ll be taking him to Loyola. Would one of you like to come along to the hospital? They’ll need information.”
I looked at my sister, prepared to send her so that I could call my mom and give her the details. She was hysterical. She would be of no help to them…and she was shaking her head vehemently, not wanting to get into the ambulance.
“Go ahead,” my friend Judy, said. “Mom and I will take care of your sister and call your mom.”
I nodded my head…suddenly feeling much older than my 15 years. Looking down at my feet, I tried to take a deep calming breath. It didn’t help.
“I don’t have any shoes on,” I mumbled.
“Here,” Judy said, “Take mine.”
And with that, I walked toward the longest ride of my life. No, not physically. But mentally. Emotionally.
Why am I bringing up this 20+ year old memory? Because yesterday, on my way home from a quick run to the grocery store I saw an ambulance flashing it’s lights driving in the opposite direction. As I’m prone to do when I see those things, I pray for whoever is in that ambulance. But what really struck me was that the ambulance was headed to a big intersection and there were several cars in front of it. I heard them flip on the siren, so I looked in my rearview again. Those cars had NOT moved out of the way. In fact, it wasn’t until the ambulance was several feet behind the car in his lane that the person decided it would be prudent to move.
Things like this frustrate and make me angry because time can make a difference when talking about saving lives. The sooner the proper medical staff can work on a patient with the proper tools and in the proper environment, the better their chances. That person is somebody’s family member. How would you feel if it had been yours? Would you take your time? What if those couple minutes made the difference between life and death? How would you feel then?
As I continued my drive home, I noticed fire trucks and police cars, all with their lights flashing, on one of the side streets a couple blocks from mine. I couldn’t be sure if something had happened in someone’s home or if it was a car accident. Either way, those people got a prayer.
In the end, my brother didn’t make it. He was brain dead on impact when his body hit the road. But while I sat in the passenger seat of that ambulance, staring out into the rush hour traffic of Chicago I was thankful for some of the people in our lives…and for these quick moving, quick thinking paramedics and emt’s who did everything they could to try to save him. I was also thankful for the brotherhood of firefighters and police officers. You see, one of the Michaels that was with my brother was the son of a local fire fighter. He was known all over the area for his work as an activist for Veterans and POW/MIA from Vietnam (the war he fought in). When he heard what happened, he put a blanket call out asking for help to clear the way for us. They responded…blocking off as much traffic and clearing the way for us as best as they could.
That day was devastating, but it was made easier by people along the way….sometimes friends, but sometimes strangers. So when you see an emergency vehicle coming and their lights are flashing, please…move over and let them through. You never know when the life they may be trying to save belongs to someone close to you.