Tag Archives: compassion

People and Their Stories: Working Hard, Saving Lives

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a portrait of a paramedic in the style of photographer Chuck Close.This is my portrait of – let’s call him Working Hard. W.H. for short. He admits he’s a workaholic. Proud of and dedicated to his calling as a paramedic, W.H. would probably not be impressed by this quirky style I chose to experiment with for his portrait. Inspired by the works of artist/photographer Chuck Close, I, myself, worked hard turning my original photo of W.H. into a grid, and then twisting the individual squares to demolish his identity.

W.H. deserves to have his image treated with a lot more respect. He should be portrayed with monumental dignity. After all, he saves lives. As opposed to me. I gave birth twice, but miscarried twice, aborted two lives, and pulled the plug on one life. Not to mention the countless pets I’ve put down over the years. I don’t think I ever saved a life.

Years ago, I tried to keep up with a speeding ambulance as it rushed my daughter from a hospital in Ithaca to one in Rochester. She almost died on the way. But the EMTs saved her. So, I’m in awe of EMTs and paramedics. Touring a nearby fire station last week, I literally jumped at the invitation to enter their ambulance. It was my first time inside one.

“What’s it like to save a life?” I asked W.H., as I examined every inch of the neatly accommodated van with its medical supplies secured behind straps and doors.
“Sobering,” he replied, “It’s a large responsibility to shoulder. We cannot predict when something life-threatening happens. When we do save a life, it’s a moving experience.”

“What did you lose and what did you find?” I asked. He struggled with this.
“What I didn’t lose was my compassion,” he finally said. “It’s very easy in emergency medicine to become hardened to the circumstances of the people around you…. Emergency medicine tends to lead practitioners to feel that people are essentially suffering from their own bad decisions, driving drunk, smoking … but I have not lost my sense of compassion.”

He’d said, “Sobering,” about saving a life. “A moving experience.” I wanted to hear something more like Soaring. Something related to glory, jubilance, elation, and ecstasy. Because “sobering” is kind of what I felt watching my beautiful girl take her last breath. And compassion? That’s what I eventually found, after becoming a mother who could not save her daughter’s life, when I discovered too many others experiencing the same sorry thing.

I’m grateful to W.H. and all practitioners in Emergency Medical Services, for working to save lives. It can’t be easy, straddling the cusp between life and death.

 

What did you find and what did you lose in your life? Who or what saved you? Who or what did you save?

 

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Doing the Best we Can

Driving home in the rain, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, finds a homeless person in rush hour traffic.

Driving home from picking up the pizza & wings takeout my son ordered for our dinner, I passed a girl standing on the corner with a sign that said HOMELESS and HUNGRY. Just then the light turned red. So I was stuck next to her for what seemed like hours. I could barely look at her. Was it her shame or mine that kept me staring blankly ahead in the stopped traffic? Alone, by the crammed street during rush hour, the girl was about the age of my daughter who died. I wanted to hug her, take her home and feed her. If the box of wings had not been stashed, unreachable, in the trunk of the car, I would have shoved it out the window and into her arms. Instead I avoided her eyes and turned, as soon as I could, onto the busy street beyond her. My own eyes filled with tears.

These days it doesn’t take much to make me crumble, crying. But what does it take to stand on a corner announcing to the world that you are desperate? I wondered. What had this girl lost? Did she have some safe warm place to go to at the end of the day? What would happen when it rained or snowed? Did she have a mother? Did the mother know where her daughter was?
“Mom, there’s a bunch of them. They live together and take shifts holding the sign,” my son said. Yes, I’d seen them before. I’d scorned the disheveled young men with their attitudes of entitlement, laziness, and lack of ambition or self-worth.

Currently reading Brene Brown’s book RISING STRONG, the part that suggests we give each other a break because maybe we’re all doing the best we can, I decided to return to the corner with a Wegmans gift card. I would let this girl know that someone cared. But that was later, after I’d gone home and found I could not get her out of my mind. First I allowed myself the small joy of sharing pizza and wings with my son. We’d both been through hell. That’s why I knew I had to find the girl again. Because, who knows what she’d been through before getting stuck on that corner.

 

What aggravates you and yet grabs your sympathies? Do you believe most people are doing the best they can? Are you doing the best you can?

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