"911 Operator, What's Your Emergency?" (Approx. 10 - 11 min. read)

Not sure where to start…

Last Friday shortly after my husband, Gary, went to bed he came limping out of the bedroom with a look of excruciating pain on his face. I immediately got up, went over to him and asked if there was anything I could do? He said, cramp, oh god, cramp, went into the bathroom and shut the door behind him.

I waited a couple of seconds, then went back and sat down. Gary had been complaining quite frequently over the last couple of weeks about cramps in his legs and his one arm, so I didn’t think much of it. I figured it had something to do with the fact that he was working so hard physically, and it had been really hot.

A couple of minutes went by and I heard this really loud thump and I knew in my heart that it was the sound of his body hitting the floor. I called out to him expecting him to say, it’s okay babe, I slipped, but nothing came back, except this deafening silence.

I think I was on my feet and racing toward the bathroom before he had a chance to respond, so when I got there I knocked uncertainly and called out to him again. I don’t usually call him Gary, I call him babe or lover and I heard myself say, babe, again, before pulling open the door.

The bathroom in our trailer is just under twenty-five square feet. The toilet is on the right of the door, the sink is on the left and the shower runs along the back wall with a floor to ceiling sized linen cupboard to the right of it. The shower stall is raised about six inches off the floor and has a track that holds three glass doors that retract into themselves, and there is a small bench, and I mean small, on the right side of the stall.

There lying half in and half out of the shower was Gary; my rock. His feet and legs were outside of the shower, and his upper body was slouched against the bench, with his head cocked to the side in an awkward position.

As I leaned over his lifeless body, I remember saying babe, oh my god babe, babe, over and over again, trying to get some sort of response from him. I put my hand on his shoulder and shook him gently, but he didn’t even groan. I remember thinking to myself that I must be dreaming, that there was no way that this could be happening, and then I slapped him on the side of his face (gently) like I’d seen so many other traumatized people do on T.V. and begged him to wake up.

I’m not sure how much time lapsed but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than a couple of seconds and I raced to where I’d left my phone. I picked it up and dialed 911 as I headed back towards the bathroom, all the while talking to Gary, so he could hear my voice. I’m not sure when I’d started crying, but the tears were spilling down my face and onto the screen of my phone and it was hard to focus on the numbers. I remember thinking that I needed my glasses, but I told myself there was no time, that I had to get back to my husband.

When I got back to the washroom, I tucked the phone in between my chin and shoulder so I could hear when the operator picked up. Then I put all my effort into lifting my husband out of the shower. I wasn’t really sure why I needed to get him out of the shower, because he looked pretty comfortable, but there was something telling me to get him out of the shower.

I knew I should be making sure Gary had a pulse, but instead, I was hellbent on getting him up. My thoughts went to all the times I’d been watching a movie where the actors weren’t quick enough to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation CPR, and I’d yell at them to hurry up! And it made me realize that I’d been way too hard on them.

When you’re seeing a situation like this one, as a bystander, it’s easy to stay calm and know what to do because you’re completely detached from the situation, but when you’re in it? When you can literally feel the adrenaline coursing through your veins, like lava streaming down the side of a volcano? It’s dreadful! I couldn’t seem to think rationally, I was pacing like a caged animal and I just couldn’t stay focused long enough to figure out what I was supposed to be doing. 

Then somewhere out of the abyss, I heard a voice say, “911 operator, what’s your emergency?” and I started rambling about a million miles an hour, telling this woman that I couldn’t get my husband to wake up.

Again, I felt like I was in a dream, that it was all so surreal; this man is all I have in the world. He’s my friend, my confidante, my rock, and here he was lying in a pile, completely void of all colour and not moving or showing any signs of life.

I’m not sure how much more time elapsed, because I was in such a state of panic, but Gary lifted his head up and looked up at me. I couldn’t have been more elated, and I smiled at him, but the look he gave me, stopped me in my tracks because he was angry. He heard that I was speaking to someone and when he realized who I was talking to he told me vehemently that he didn’t need an ambulance and that I needed to hang up the phone.

He told me later that he had absolutely no idea that he’d blacked out, and he was sorry, but at the time it almost made me lose my mind and I told him he was going to the hospital whether he liked it or not.

I heard the operator ask me if that was him; was it my husband that was speaking and if he was conscious. I told her he was, and she said to keep him comfortable, but not to give him anything to eat or drink. She went on to say that the ambulance was on its way and then hung up, but not before telling me to call back if anything changed.

I reluctantly put down the phone because now I was alone, and I was so afraid that something bad was going to happen to my man before the paramedics got there. I turned to Gary and asked him to wrap his arms around my neck, and then I gently lifted him out of the shower and onto the toilet. He sat there for a few minutes to make sure he wasn’t going to pass out again, and then I helped him stand up.

I wanted to just hold him at this point, but I knew that I needed to get him onto the bed, just in case he lost consciousness again, so I put my arm around his waist and guided him towards our bedroom and onto the bed.

I covered him with a blanket, gave him some ice chips because he said he was thirsty, and then went to look out the window to see if the paramedics had arrived yet.

Once I realized that I was alone with my thoughts I really started to cry. I was so afraid that I was going to lose my soulmate and I needed to talk to someone, but I was all by myself. I picked up my phone and dialed my oldest daughter, but before it rang, I hung up. We hadn’t talked for months and I was pretty sure she wouldn’t answer, and in my present state, I knew I couldn’t handle the rejection.

Here I was, once again, completely alone with my thoughts; wracking my brains out, trying to figure out what I had done to end up where I was in my life? I just didn’t get it …even if I didn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and it was Munchausen’s syndrome like my biological family keeps saying it is, what family would abandon their own because of a mental illness?

I took another look outside and then headed back to check on Gary. He had absolutely no colour in his face or his body and I was so worried. The thought that something was seriously wrong with my husband entered my head for what seemed like the hundredth time since I heard him hit the floor less than ten minutes earlier. I had never seen him look so deathly pale and I mumbled something about checking to see if the ambulance was here yet and left the room again to go and check.

I was beside myself. I kept pacing back and forth, I couldn’t stop crying and poor Laddie was following me so that he could do his job, but I was too worked up to do anything other than pet him and tell him to go and lie down.

I realized at some point that I’d need a ride back from the hospital, so I called a friend who ironically moved up here from the city, last year; just before we purchased our property. She was still awake, even though it was after midnight and she reassured me that they would be right over. She was true to her word and within five minutes, she was here with her husband and youngest daughter to offer their help and support.

I checked on Gary again, then went to see if the ambulance had gotten there yet, but it hadn’t, so I went and sat on the bed beside my man. He said something to me, but I had to ask him to repeat himself because I couldn’t understand him. He was slurring his words and it sounded like he was wasted but I knew that he wasn’t. I reassured him that he was okay; more for me than for him, and then went and checked to see if the paramedics had arrived yet.

It took a total of twenty minutes for the paramedics and the fire department to arrive and by the time we got Gary to the hospital, I was fully triggered and in fight or flight mode. It turned out to be heat exhaustion and after giving him two bags of I.V. fluids, an Ativan to stop the incessant cramping that taken over his body once he got to the hospital, some potassium, and some calcium, they sent him home.

He’s been doing amazing since he got home and he’s making sure that he’s drinking the home-made electrolyte juice I’ve been making for him. He’s also promised to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and is back working on building our house, but my head is totally messed up.

All I keep seeing in my head is my man lying unconscious, pale as a ghost and not responding to the sound of my voice. I keep feeling the fear around the fact that he could’ve died and I’m having trouble functioning. I’m terrified to go to sleep at night for fear something might happen, and I’m afraid to nap just in case he forgets to drink and take care of himself and the heat kills him this time.

Yeah, yeah, I know that he didn’t die …clearly, I can see that! Trouble is I’m having a huge issue trying to get my brain on the same page. It keeps showing me what went down, like clips from a movie and I’m having a really hard time trying to convince myself that he’s okay and that this won’t happen again. Worse yet, my brain is trying to convince me that the outcome will be so much worse next time.

…but, and as always, it’s a big but, I will get through this. I know I will because I have always gotten through it in the past. I just need to stop listening to the nay-sayers and cut myself some slack. This is just my PTSD taking over and I need to keep telling myself that I’m having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation and keep moving forward.

Stay safe and stay strong. Thanks for following.

P.S. Thanks to the local paramedics, volunteer fire-fighters and 911 operators – you guys rock! You helped us through a traumatic time, traversed our construction site like you’d done it a dozen times and you were so kind and compassionate. I know its part of your job, but I want you to know how much we appreciate how well you took care of my man and me!

P.S.S. Thanks to my friend and her family for her kindness and compassion as well. I’m not sure I will ever be able to repay her for treating Gary and I like part of her family in our time of need, but I will definitely try.