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where the answers come from, part ii

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(continued from where the answers come from, part i posted 8/8/11)

I spent that first year after Scott died living in what many have called magical thinking. Famous widows have written books about their first year of grief. Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates published memoirs about losing their husbands and they each said that they craved the answers, that they looked for them in odd places. Grief is a terrible thing—we all know that, and those who are lucky enough to have not experienced it pretend to know how terrible grief can be. What we learn when we lose someone close to us, though, is that our reality becomes skewed. We believe odd things. We believe that we can bring the dead back to life. We believe that if we listen just so we might hear them. We wake up some mornings and forget that the person we loved dearly is no longer next to us.

Scott died in November. The following July I wrote this:

On the way home today I sped up—even though there was a cop behind me—just to check the license plate on a car that looked just like Scott’s.  I knew it wasn’t him driving it; the back of the head suggested it was a woman.  But I had to check the plates, see if they said 200 JOX.  See if the car had been sold to her. 

Or maybe there would be Scott, sitting inside, waiting for me.

But the car was not his and he was not in it and it was then that I realized that I was following not his car, but the exact route he had taken 8 months and ten days before.  I was going south from Bothell, down to Greenwood, towards Gold’s Gym.

But in the end, I was too afraid to pass by it, so I took a different route, avoided the large red and yellow sign.   Decided to wait a while before I go that way again.

Not too many weeks later came the day when I would walk into that gym because I couldn’t bare not knowing exactly what had happened.

So here I am, seven years later, still not knowing, still wondering. The magical thinking has waned almost completely, though there are times when it returns and I find myself considering all the what-ifs. There are also times, like last week, when I find something I cannot let go of, and I have to follow that thing until I know more.

This is where this rambling story comes together.

After learning about Real Time 911, and then after seeing the ambulance that drove too close to my friend’s house, I realized there was a piece of information I could track down. I knew that, with this resource, I could find the exact moment the 911 call was made on that night nearly eight years ago.

As it turns out, Real Time 911 contains information that stretches back to November 7, 2003. Scott collapsed on the 17th. I don’t know if it is irony or fortune that this information is available to me. I don’t know if it means anything at all.

Here is what I learned:

At 6:23pm, E31 was dispatched to Gold’s Gym at 9701 Aurora.  At 6:31, M1 was dispatched to the same location. Then, at 6:37, L5 was dispatched. According to the log, each vehicle was sent for “medic response.”

So, three vehicles in eight minute intervals.

emergency log

911 log (click to view larger image

My friend Linda worked for 911 for several years and, weeks ago we had a conversation, sparked by a completely unrelated topic, about emergency vehicles. She told me that E indicates Engine. M indicates Medic One. L indicates Ladder.

That night three vehicles arrived at Gold’s Gym, each with teams prepared for different scenarios. The second team to arrive—in Medic One—were the most prepared. Medic One response teams have the skills and equipment to perform emergency medical services. I learned this according to the Real Time 911 website:
“Medic One directly provides the City of Seattle with Advanced Life Support activities that, in the past, could only be performed by licensed physicians.  The Department responds to approximately 28,000 Basic Life Support (BLS) alarms and 25,000 Advanced Life Support (ALS) alarms per year.  In addition to these alarms, the Paramedics respond on all working fires, hazardous materials and rescue responses” (Seattle Fire Department).

Days after Scott died, his dad told me that he was thinking of suing the city of Seattle. He told me that a fire truck was first to be dispatched to Gold’s Gym, and they could not provide the services Scott needed. He told me that it took a long time (though he didn’t know exactly how long) for the proper support to be dispatched. As Tom told me this, I imagined Scott’s condition worsening drastically, though I could not allow myself to imagine what he might have experienced physically, mentally, or emotionally.

Tom believed that whomever had made the error and dispatched the wrong crew had been responsible for Scott’s demise. After Scott died, I did a lot of research on AVMs and learned that time is of the essence with this particular type of brain injury. Edema sets in rapidly and as the brain continues to swell, cellular damage takes place. Brain cells die.

Years ago I could have told you many more details. I was in a place of magical thinking and poured over as many resources as I could find, trying to find the exact cause of Scott’s death. I wanted to be able to point to the exact spot in his brain that broke, the part that set forward a series of biological events that resulted in his death 75 hours after the first call to 911 was placed.

I came very close to finding the answers. I had more research to do, but never followed up. For example, I could have requested copies of his medical records. I could have asked the doctors and neurosurgeons more questions. There’s a lot I could have done. But there’s not a single thing I could have done that would change the outcome.

Flash forward to August, 2011. I am in a similar place. Researching again. Trying to find more answers. Trying to rationalize my way through something that will always remain irrational. Why am I doing this? Why have I looked for more answers? Why does it matter how many emergency vehicles arrived on the scene? Why does it matter what I learn today? None of what I know will change anything. No matter what I do, no matter how much information I find, Scott will still be gone.

And yet.

I can’t stop this. I can’t stop writing about it.

I’ve been working on this post over the course of several days, and I feel as though I’ve lost track of where I was going with all of this. But just now I found some notes I made for myself. I wrote:

The exact answers—ways of knowing and trusting knowledge.

Ways of not knowing. What knowing certain facts (dates and times) does and doesn’t do for us.

How this fits into the story.

How Acceptance is not about the experiences of that first year but, rather, the events of the following years.

 Where is Scott as I looked at RT911? What does that do for our relationship?

Here are more questions for myself. Here are things I cannot answer, but I can explore. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about for the bereaved. Maybe it’s about exploration: of the self, of the past and present, of the disembodied. Maybe it’s about holding these things in our palms, testing their heft and texture rather than pulling them apart and examining their insides.

I am feeling this need to move myself into a place of understanding so that I can write Acceptance. I need to return to some of the thoughts and questions I had many years ago in order to write authentically about all of this.

Perhaps that is it. Perhaps the answers lie in the authenticity of a story’s telling. If that fact is all I get out of the research, and if I am able to tell this story authentically, then it will be well worth it to have spent a Sunday afternoon looking at emergency call logs.

Works Cited

Seattle Fire Department. City of Seattle. January 27, 2008. 14 August 2011 <http://www.seattle.gov/fire/medics/medicOne.htm&gt;.

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Author: Kim Sharp

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