Unfathomable. Unthinkable. Unexpected Violence

What can I say about the horrific attack in a Colorado theater? Is there anything, really, that can make sense out of something so senseless? Meanwhile, I offer an encore post, a memory of an event that brought on a similar state of mind when it happened. The tragic event took place in early November. This post went up in December, after I’d had a chance to process what happened and the accompanying emotions.

The talk, not necessarily in this order, floated around the office as drama unfolded on a wet and snowy day.

 “Why haven’t they used an AED yet? By the way, where’s ours? On this floor or first?”
“Shouldn’t someone be directing traffic?”
“I don’t like the looks of this. The ambulance isn’t moving; it’s not rushing away.”
“I mean, they’re giving CPR in the road and people are just driving by!”
“They just dragged her out of the car.”
“It’s snowing. The road is so wet. Couldn’t they at least…”
“Oh my God. We just watched someone die.”
It was a sobering experience. From our point of view, it happened quickly. From the victim’s point of view, it didn’t happen quickly enough. On an ordinary day at the office, we heard a siren that stopped nearby. This wasn’t enough to attract attention; sirens are not uncommon in the neighborhood. But then my coworker, one who actually has a window in her cubicle, called out, “Oh my God, there’s a body in the street!” Well, not a body – yet – but a person in need of help. The car had pulled over, the person was laid flat on the road, and a paramedic gave rapid chest compressions. We didn’t know if the victim was male or female; somehow, the feminine pronouns took over.
The fire truck with lights on was parked behind the patient’s car, but the opposite lane wasn’t blocked. Cars kept driving down the street, coming within a few feet of the action. The wet snow, almost a rain-snow mix, floated down on all involved in this surreal and tragic scene. The road was soaked, as were the sidewalk and the nearby strip of grass. No matter where they’d taken her, she’d have been soaked as they worked to revive her.
The ambulance pulled up with its EMTs and a stretcher and an AED. Too much ABC for you? Emergency Medical Technician and Automated External Defibrillator. Many public buildings now have AEDs, schools included. Updated CPR training often includes using an AED. My last training did.
Back to the drama. The ambulance pulled up. In less time than it takes to write it, the EMTs had their AED in hand and were on the ground getting it set up and attached to the patient’s chest. They lifted her (him? we would never know) onto the stretcher and backed off to let the AED do its shocking job. The patient was still getting shocked as the stretcher was lifted and rolled into the back of the ambulance.
And then the ambulance stood still. We did, too, horrified by the scene and yet unable to pull away. From the moment the fire truck rounded the corner with its siren on, we weren’t needed. The professionals were here. They would save this person. It’s what they do.
“I don’t like the looks of this.”
“It has to be a bad sign that they’re not rushing away.”
“They just went in the building to get the other people from the car.”
“How long do you think it was?”
“Long enough to realize she was sick, call 911, and get the paramedics on the scene.”
“Several minutes. Oh, my.”
And then: “Oh my God, we just watched someone die.”
It was a sobering thought. As we turned to practical workplace matters, our thoughts strayed to the person in the street. Who was with her? Were they friends? Did she leave close family behind? Did she know they were trying, trying hard to revive her and save her life?
What would we do in that situation? Could we pull over and call without panicking? How many of us knew CPR well enough to get it started? Where was the AED in our own building, and how many of us knew how to use it?
We still wondered why no one had arrived to direct traffic. After all, there was a space reserved for a police car in our own parking lot. It was common to have an officer or two nearby. By this time, though, traffic no longer mattered. The large emergency vehicles drove off slowly, lights no longer flashing. We imagined they moved sadly, as if the trucks themselves grieved for the death they had failed to prevent.

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