This story is not about me.
I’ve spent the past week feeling a little overwhelmed by the response to an article that ran in the Aurora Beacon News, part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group. The local Fire Department alerted the newspaper that my husband and I would be bringing dinner to the crew at Station 8 on the 10th anniversary of the night I was nearly killed in a car accident.
I owe my life to their efforts and those of countless other people.
For years after my initial recovery, we said we’d celebrate the 10-year mark with a big party in the backyard, inviting all those who have helped us—doctors, EMTs, the pharmacist, neighbors, friends, family, etc., etc. But as September 2018 approached, it became clear that there were far too many people to whom we felt gratitude.Plus, my life of recovery, medical appointments and medications had broadened in the years since the night my independence was taken away by traumatic brain injury and epilepsy. I now had yoga classes to schedule as a volunteer teacher, others to take as a student, and a network of friends I’d made along the way. A “career” as a brain-injury blogger and occasionally published writer had somehow happened and, aside from that, I’d become immersed in volunteering for political causes.
This might not seem like a busy life, but for someone whose former neurologist had advised her to keep all her “ducks in a row” to avoid seizures (See “Brain Injury Is Just Ducky”), it can be overwhelming at times.
But enough about me. (Oops.)
My husband, Ted, had the idea of honoring the firefighters and EMTs at Station 8 who responded on Sept. 9, 2008, so he spoke with the captain, telling them we wanted to share our gratitude and let them know they’d made a difference. It turned out that none of those crew members still worked at that location—some had retired, some transferred—but emails went out to all my heroes.
Ted arranged for a local Italian restaurant to prepare enough food for everyone on duty at the firehouse, plus those alumni who had helped me so directly. He wrote a little speech. As he drove to pick up the food and then fought rush-hour traffic on the way to the station, I nervously tapped out something on my phone’s Notes application to say. None of those words ended up being necessary.
It turns out firefighters can be a talkative, raucous bunch. They even laughed at my Monty Python impression of Eric Idle shouting, “Bring out yer dead!” as he hauled the corpse cart through the village during the plague. (I’m the poor chap who says, “I’m not dead yet!” as he’s being thrown onto the pile.)
The crew at Station 8 got it. An EMT said you’ve gotta laugh to keep it together in tough circumstances. These guys specialize in gallows humor.
They’re also great huggers. I’ve never hugged so many rescue personnel in my life–as far as I can recall, anyway. I’d reach out to shake hands, and I just couldn’t help it: I’d hug those guys, even the ones who weren’t around 10 years ago.
My heroes, four of the eight responders from the accident scene in 2008, who returned to the station for dinner with my husband and me
For the record, here’s part of what Ted was going to tell the crew:
“She’s a miracle, one of her doctors says. And she is. But the miracle didn’t happen on its own. If there’s one thing I realize, it’s this: We’ve gotten a lot of good breaks in pretty tough circumstances. We’ve been so, so fortunate to have been helped by people with good hearts, doing good work—including every one of you at this station. Ten years ago—and all the times in between—you didn’t just respond to a call or help a person in need; you saved our family. Thank you.”
I was going to say (and I guess I did, because it’s in the newspaper story): “I don’t guess you get to hear from many of the victims you rescue. So I’ll just say it for all of us: Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for my life.”
Oh, and one more thing for anyone who’s reading this: Don’t forget to hug a firefighter.