A nugget of Big Medicine every day. #44 Be gracious when recognized
If you’ve been a paramedic as long as I have, you’ve rolled on thousands of calls and interacted with people in communities near and far and, in my case, in other countries. Often your calls have included lengthy interaction with the patient and their families. On other scenes, your face time has been brief or non-existent. And sometimes, you were literally in the face of someone at a critically difficult moment of his/her life.
For me, the faces of patients melt into a tumble-dried-faded-jeans section of my brain where they quietly remain all these years later. They don’t interact with the conscious me and as far as I can tell they don’t even step-in as extras in dreams that require large supporting casts. They just settle into a thin-slice pile of faces sinking into the mental mud.
And every so often, less so now that I’ve been off the road for a while, a face comes back for a visit – usually at the most unexpected moment or in the least likely place.
Once while riding in an elevator in Montreal, a very well-known celebrity stepped on and immediately began to stare at me. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was absolutely locked on me. The other people on the elevator noticed and I put my head down. I knew why he knew me but I didn’t want to say anything.
Somewhere between the 20th and 19th floors, he said, “I know you.”
I looked up. “I’m sorry, you must be mistaken.”
“No, I’m certain. I know you. Have we met in the studio, were you a guest on the show, did we play together – I know I know you. Where do I know you from?”
“I’m sorry. You must have me confused with someone else.”
He wasn’t deterred. “I’ll work it out.”
And then he got quiet, looked at me a long while, and then turned his gaze to the floor. When we arrived in the lobby, he motioned me over to a quieter corner. “I do know you, don’t I?”
“Yes. A while ago, when you were younger, my partner and I helped you through a very rough moment. Do you remember where you know me from now? I just thought that maybe you didn’t want to go there in the elevator in front of all those strangers.”
His eyes moistened with the memory. “Thank you for that. I’m sorry to have intruded on your mental space. And, I expect I never did say thank you years ago. Thank you and please reach out to your partner, too.” And he was gone.
A few days ago, I was meandering down the pasta sauce aisle in a supermarket in Magog. Magog is the next big town over from our place and it’s where our daughters attend high school and play soccer. So, after dropping Sophie off at soccer practice, I had headed over to Loblaw’s to pick up some groceries.
It was fairly crowded and I was trying to find our preferred pasta sauce while simultaneously dodging other shoppers and avoiding death-by-shopping-cart-pushed-by-out-of-control-child. I looked up and noticed a 60-something-year-old man staring intently at me. There was something oddly familiar about him but I just couldn’t place it. Had we met him in our travels around our new home town? Was he a neighbouring farmer? Was he part of the soccer program? I moved on to selecting the appropriate pasta.
When I looked up and stepped towards my cart, he was standing right in front of me with his family just behind him. I noticed they were all speaking English – a rarity in this part of the world – and I noticed they all looked somewhat familiar like relatives I hadn’t seen since I was a kid.
The man spoke, “I know you.”
Uh-oh. Maybe they were relatives. I was sifting through that pile of faces in my mind trying to mesh the person with a memory.
His wife looked at me. “You were in our home. Do you remember the boys – of, course they were much younger then.” There was a soft smile.
Uh-oh. The conversation seemed to be between long-lost friends except I couldn’t remember these friends.
His eyes searched mine for recognition and he realized he needed to help me along to the next step. “You resuscitated me after I had a heart attack. You were with Cote Saint-Luc EMS then. Do you have a country home down here now?”
Ohhhhh. And then the faces and the voices suddenly clicked together with the memory of the call. He was in his late 40s and had collapsed at home. His wife had found him and called 911. We were just around the corner at a local park. He was defibrillated within minutes of his collapse and here he was, talking with me, in a supermarket in Magog – a couple hundred kilometres and a lifetime removed from that long dormant memory.
“Yes, I remember. This is where we live now – actually a bit further down the road out in the country. It’s great to see you looking so well, Michael.” It was funny how I said his name before I consciously remembered it. It was just there as if a sparking synapse had thrown it onto the tip of my tongue just in time for delivery.
“Take care of yourself, Hal. Best to your family.” How did he know my name? I suspect like me, his brain had catalogued all the tags of the day for future use just in case he ran into one of his rescuers while shopping for groceries in the town closest to their summer retreat.
Be well. Practice big medicine.