Friday, November 19, 2010


I know why I do what I do.

For years I've always thought that I worked in EMS because it was the default. The default to my less than stellar performance at school. But I finally figured it out. And it was a comment from my brother, of all people, that made me realize it.

A while back he made a comment to a friend of mine that I'm always "Out saving the world." At first I thought of it as a vague reference to my Superman idolization. I then figured out that it had little or nothing to do with Superman.

I've always blamed myself for the death of my grandma.

Before I get into this I don't want any "I'm so sorry" comments or anything. This event in my life made me who I am today. Its carried me into this field and I realize this is where I am supposed to be.

It was 1992 and I was 9 years old. I had come home from school and started on my homework. I remember mom calling my grandparent's house a couple times and getting no answer. She told me to hurry up with said homework and then we'd go over there. I do recall the homework was math. (This might also be some underlying reasons as to why I still hate math to this day.) After nearly 2 hours I finished my homework and we drove the 6 miles to their house.

At the time my grandfather was already terminally ill with cancer, but had decided to stay at home for his final days. The home that sat in front of the business he and his father had started nearly 50 years earlier. Grandma was his primary caregiver and I'm almost certain some form of a hospice nurse came a couple times a week. Time has taken its toll on all of the memories.

I remember having to pee.

As we came in the door I saw Grandma sitting in a chair staring at Grandpa. He appeared to be sleeping. I recall mom saying something to Grandma and getting no reply and then hurriedly trying to get to the phone. I blocked her way, thinking that she was trying to get to the bathroom before me. I ran to it and locked the door.

It wasn't until I heard mom crying that I realized something was NOT right. Everything after that seemed to move so slowly. We waited for the ambulance to arrive and mom kept saying "Momma, no! Please, Momma no!" And I remember Grandpa, in his frail state, standing and walking across the room to touch her face. I don't think I ever saw him stand again. But not only did he stand, but he walked. Walked in the same "Grandpa" gait he had when he was healthy.

I remember the cot.

A flood of vehicles soon arrived at what I now jokingly call the "Gardner Family Ranch". I don't even recall seeing the ambulance but I do remember the stretcher. And I remember seeing my cousin Jeff. As we are all members of the Fire Dept/Ambulance it is still not uncommon for us to have mini-reunions at the scene of a car wreck or our weekly meetings. Though it's rare that I'm home anymore to attend them.

The thing I kept thinking the entire time though was "I wish I'd gotten done with my homework quicker." I now know that most stroke victims have about 3 hours to get to the hospital. After that 3 hours most "clot busters" won't work or permanent brain damage has already taken hold. And as I sit here and type I think about the state of my grandma's health. Surely she wasn't taking care of herself to well because she was worrying about Grandpa.

I can't remember the exact time frame, but it seems like she died about 4 days later. She did wake up in the hospital. I do remember that. I remember mom telling the story of my great aunt coming in the room and the nurse asking "Do you know who this is?" And my grandma giving the nurse a "Duh!" look. She wasn't able to speak, that is the other thing I remember.

Lastly I remember dad picking me up at school and telling me she had died. A task which he was forced to repeat almost exactly a month later when Grandpa died.

But overall I remember that damn math homework.

Math has long been the bane of my existence. Its not that I'm actually that bad at math. Most of the time while studying it and doing practice problems I'm fine. But the pressure of a test was normally too much for me to take. I'm likely to just put an answer down so I can get done.

But I digress. The reason I do what I do is this:
I never want to delay the care of anybody's loved one for any length of time. I've dedicated myself to working at places where time is of the essence. Minutes count and so does the treatment.

The outcome of my Grandmother's stroke would not have been any different had I not had least I think.

And that inkling of doubt is what makes me do what I do.

Many years later I worked in a nearby ER, as a tech. One day my Grandfather's uncle's wife came in. Technically Great-Great Aunt (I think). She was confused and upset. Shaking uncontrolably. As I triage her in I noticed her last name was the same as my grandparents. I made comment to her son (a cousin of some form?) that their last name was my mom's maiden name. After telling him who my mom was he informed me of the family connection.

My grandpa had 3 uncles who were much younger than his father (my Great Grandfather). Of the three of them one is still living and WELL over 100 years old. The other two died in 2000 and 2003. One in his late 90's and the other was about 102.

The Great Great Aunt, who was hard of hearing, was assured that she was in the hands of family and we'd take care of her. Later that night her son had to go home and I sat beside her bed to talk to her. I asked her if she knew Earl, my great grandfather.

She replied: Girl Scout Cookies!?!?!
M: No...Earl G***** (louder so she could hear it)>
GGAunt: Yes, he was my brother-in-law.
M: Do you remember Raymond and Verna Vee?
GGAunt: *Smiles really big and says* We used to play cards with them!
M: They are my grandparents. I'm their last grandchild.
GGAunt: "Oh...goodness. I'll bet you are a good boy. They were good people."

Yes. They were.

I hope I am.



  1. You are. They would be as proud of you as a grandson as I am of you as a brother.

  2. Of course you are. So glad you have a blog, and I can't wait to see what other stories you have to share :)

  3. It's about time you got one of these going! Good job on this - looking forward to reading many more.


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