That Other Time I Saved Someone’s Life

Then there was the other time I saved someone’s life. It wasn’t nearly as high-stakes or as dramatic as the other one, but in the interest of fairness and preserving this story, here it is.

(Oh, and welcome to my blog, viewers from District of Columbia, Georgia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania who all showed up on my flag counter today 🙂 )

This time, it was 2009, and I was living in Israel. It was pretty much an ordinary Monday morning (or whatever day it was, I think it was a Monday but that’s not important to the story) and I was walking down Rechov Rivka in Bak’a, just past Ba’kafe, when an Asian girl ran up to me, screaming for help. Her plea was something like “help, help, English, my lady fell, she fell, my lady fell.” After I got her a little calmer, I found out that her name was Sharon and she was a mitapelet, or caretaker, for an elderly lady that lived in the apartment building adjacent to Ba’kafe. She was pretty new at the job, and it became obvious when she told me what happened. She left the apartment for a few minutes to get some cigarettes or gum or something from the handy-dandy makolet. In her absence, the lady she was supposed to have been watching fell, somewhere in the apartment. When Sharon returned, she heard the lady yelling out in pain and beating on the floor, And then she realized that she had left her keys in the apartment after locking it from the inside. And to make things worse, the apartment was on the second floor, so there was no way for Sharon to pry or break open a window and enter from the outside.

And that’s when I showed up.

We ran up the stairs, and we could still hear her mumbling in Hebrew, although her voice was pretty faint. Sharon was panicking and on the verge of a total meltdown, and I knew that kneeling at a locked door in a stuffy stairwell wasn’t going to solve anything at that point in time, so we went back downstairs into the open air. I was pretty new to Israel, having been in the country for maybe two months or so, but fortunately I knew enough to call 100, which is Israel’s equivalent to 911, which apparently Sharon had no idea existed. I encountered a dispatcher who couldn’t speak any English, so I had to rely on my Hebrew skills to describe what exactly had happened, ask for an ambulance, and let them know the exact address and some local landmarks in case they got lost. I also told them I’d be wearing a red sweatshirt and dancing around in the street so they’d know where to find us.

I hung up the phone, looked behind me, and saw that Sharon, at this point, was a total mess, because not only was there a lady howling and kicking in pain, but she was probably going to lose her job and be sent right back to the Philippines with no paycheck and probably not a sparkling recommendation for future employment. I asked her if she wanted a hug, and she got up from the stoop where she was sitting and threw her arms around me, sobbing, so I ended up holding her for awhile, first on the sidewalk, then out in the middle of the street while we waited for the ambulance to come. I felt horrible for seeing her like this, even though I had only met her moments ago. I patted her hair and whispered to her that help was on the way, so we shouldn’t cry or worry because everything was going to be okay. While we waited, I struck up a conversation with her, learning that she did not speak any Hebrew and had just arrived in the country relatively recently from Iloilo, Philippines. I  told her than I was from America. I said “mabuhay” and told her that I knew some words in Filipino, which made her smile a little bit. She asked me where I learned them, and incidentally, I happened to be wearing my APO letters sweatshirt, so I asked her if she’d heard of Alpha Phi Omega (APO) when she was back in the Philippines. She had heard of APO before, but didn’t really know what it was about, so I told her that we were friendly people devoted to the service of others, and she nodded in agreement.

Then, the ambulance showed up, with two firemen inside. Unfortunately, one of them had a broken hand and couldn’t hold or climb the ladder, so guess who had to go out in the middle of the street where suddenly a bunch of cars were going by, help lift the heavy ladder off the truck, and set it up so that the fireman with two functioning hands could climb up, pry open the window, and get into the apartment. After the fireman disappeared into the apartment, Sharon, for some reason, decided that she would do the same, and I was immediately all “nooooo, don’t even think about it,” at which point I actually put grabbed her around the waist and physically pulled her off the ladder because with her luck, she’d trip and fall into the bushes surrounding the building, and we already had one out-of-commission fireman on the scene and I did not want to have to call another ambulance an explain why there was a stupid girl bleeding from the head.

So then, the fireman leaned out the window, reporting that everything was okay. He climbed back down the ladder, saying that there was no blood, and that the old woman was conscious, responsive, able to walk once he got her back up on her feet, and he’d gotten her to sit on the couch. He then told Sharon that she could go back inside (via the now-unlocked door, not through the window). so she could sit with her while he prepared the stretcher to take her to the hospital to get her checked out. We thanked the fireman, and Sharon thanked me for saving her hide in the nick of time, asking me to exchange numbers so that she could repay me by taking me out to dinner one night (when she was off duty, if she still had the job). We did, and had one more big hug before she disappeared up the front steps and I went on my merry way.

Later, she called me from the hospital, thanking me again and letting me know that her lady was fine, with just a few light bruises on her head and that the doctors were getting ready to send the two of them back home for the night with some over-the-counter pain meds. We promised to meet up sometime, but we didn’t until she showed up at an audition I was proctoring because she wanted to see me one more time before going back to the Philippines because the job was over. Maybe her lady died, or maybe she got fired from her agency or the family for some other reason but either way, it was clear that she’d remained in the country and working – and incredibly lucky, given the circumstances of what happened. She and I were Facebook friends for awhile until she deleted her profile, and her full name is pretty common so it’s unlikely we’ll ever cross paths again.

Oh, and I also got my bus pass that day, which is the reason why I was walking down Rivka in the first place.


The First Time I Saved Someone’s Life

I was hoping to save some of my best stories for later in the month, and this is one of them, but I figured that it’s a pretty important one, so I’d better have a written record of it.

Once upon a time, it was 2004 and I was in Alaska. More specifically, on a cruise through Alaska with my dad, sister, and aunt, but in Alaskan waters just the same. It was the third day of the trip, and since my body clock was completely messed up with the lack of the sun setting, I was awake at 8 AM. I wanted to get out of the room for some reason (probably because my dad was snoring) so I decided to grab my sketch pad and head to one of my favorite parts of the ship, the top deck, where there was a bar called Biergarten and a small seating area. I liked this area because it was generally quiet, and it had the best view.

After a short conversation with the bartender, a Polish woman named Marta, I settled on a chair set a little ways apart from the bar area. I was drawing the mountains of the Inside Passage in pencil when I heard some coughing erupt behind me. I ignored it and went on drawing. Then I heard it again. Then I heard it a third time, along with some gurgling/vomiting sounds and someone saying, “Are you okay?”

I turned around and what I saw made me drop my sketchbook on the deck, inadvertently drawing a dark pencil line right across the middle of the picture. An elderly man in a fishing helmet was sitting at the bar, convulsing and drooling everywhere. He was rocking back and forth, flailing, spilling his drink, and generally acting very strangely. His friend was sitting on his right, and I got on the stool on his left. I learned that the guy’s name was Frank, from his friend, so I held his left hand and shoulder to stop him from shaking and kept repeating “Frank, Frank, can you hear me? Frank, can you hear me?” The milky look in his eyes was one of pure terror. Yeah, he didn’t know who I was, but his eyes were stretched wide open and he couldn’t look at me straight. He responded briefly to the sound of his name before going back into the fit. While the bar waitress went to call for help, I pushed the ashtray (still with his smoldering cigarette in it) across the bar, away from him, and his and his friend’s glasses into the sink, so Frank wouldn’t hit his head on them. His friend told me that he’d known Frank for years and nothing like this had ever happened before. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

After what seemed like ages (but was probably all of five minutes) a guy in a white Texas A&M Medical School sweatshirt showed up. He said he was a med student and that we needed to lift him off the stool and lay him down flat, but on his side so he wouldn’t choke on his own bile and vomit. Frank was a big guy; it took me, the friend, Texas A&M, and another guy to pick him up and lay him on the deck. I had his upper body in my hands and his head in my lap. By now, people were starting to emerge onto the decks and watch what was going on. I was wondering when the paramedics would arrive. A few minutes later, they came in with a stretcher, and I helped lift him up and place him on the stretcher, and then they carried him away and the crowd dispersed. I was by the pool when my dad and aunt showed up, and I told them what happened and what I did. They were proud of me and said I did the right thing. I felt like a hero.

Later that day, I found out that the ship’s infirmary was on the same floor as our staterooms, so I went to the infirmary to see how Frank was doing. When the paramedics were at the scene, they asked me and the three others for our names and passenger ID numbers for some reason, so when I told them my name at the counter and asked how he was doing, the ship’s doctor came out, along with another lady, who I learned was his wife, Kate. The doctor thanked me for my help earlier and told me that Frank had had a seizure, but that he was going to be okay. Kate also thanked me, and told me the two of them were from California and on the cruise with some friend. She also said that they had tender tickets and they were planning on going into Juneau at around 9 or 10 to do some sightseeing and probably getting drinks at the Red Dog Saloon. The doctor then told me that he was glad that I had been there and glad that it happened on the ship rather than in Juneau, which is when I learned that the ship’s paramedics were not allowed to leave the ship at any port, and if the incident would have happened at the Red Dog Saloon or anywhere else in Juneau, there was a good chance that Frank could have ended up in the local hospital, missing the ship, or he could have even died right there in Juneau, Alaska. Both, horrible ways to spend your vacation.

It was one of those moments in life where even though I didn’t do too much, I was proud of what I did, During my bouts of depression and self-pity later in life, my dad would always remind me that without me, “Frank would have died in Alaska,” which usually made me feel better about myself.

It also made for a killer college admissions essay, what with the whole “rescue on the high seas” angle.