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Thursday, July 26, 2007

What is the nature of help?

There was a severed leg in the middle of the road.

I keep trying to deny it, but there was a severed leg in the middle of Rt. 1, near Odessa, Delaware on the way to Rehoboth Beach.

I’m on vacation. I had driven back home to New Jersey for a physical therapy appointment. My back continues to heal, albeit slowly, and not without the great care I am blessed to have with Brian, my Physical Therapist, and the adjustments afforded by my chiropractor, Drs. Mark and Guy.

The traffic had slowed to a standstill. It was clear the delay was due to an accident. I just hadn't expected it to be so gruesome.

It was.

I pulled over, yelling out to the young men who were scurrying about, “I’m a nurse. I’m also an Episcopal Priest. Can I help?”

“Hang on,” someone hollered at me. “Don’t leave. Just hang on.”

Hang on.

I didn't know what else to do. I watched as the “first responders” did what they are so carefully trained to do. They were a well-oiled but thankfully-not-so-often tested machine. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do, without a written script.

They were amazing.


The woman whose leg had been severed had a tourniquet applied to her leg. The bleeding had stopped. She was in shock but she was doing okay. The front of her car was in pieces all over the highway.

The woman in the other car was also in shock but every limb was intact. She was calm. Concerned. Those who cared for her just hovered. Waiting. Patient. Expectant.

Polished without an obvious shine.

I stood by my car and I prayed. Silently. Care-fully. Reverently. With as much power and passion as I could muster.

Out of the blue, someone yelled, “It’s okay, Rev. The paramedics will be here in a minute. You can leave. Just pray for us, okay?”

“You bet,” I yelled, as I started my car and got ready to drive away, not at all happy with my fate. I could see the paramedics pulling up to the scene.

I desperately wanted to have helped. To have felt part of the “first responders” who made a difference.

Perhaps I did. I’ll never know. Neither, in fact, will the first responders. That is part of the nature of ‘help.’

I find myself praying tonight. Two days later.

I am praying for the victims of the accident.

I am praying for those who ‘first responded.” I am praying the trauma will not adversely affect them. I am praying they have an understanding of the power of their ministry. I pray God will continue to bless them with the ability to respond . . . first . . . or whenever, to crisis.

There was a severed leg in the middle of the road.

I did the best I could to help.

Did I?

What is the nature of help?

Post script 07/27/07: The more I reflect on this incident and your prayers, the more I realize how traumatized I was by this scene.

I admit, I still can't get that image out of my head. It has triggered other traumatic images: of fire victims I witnessed as a new nursing student working the Emergency Room, other car accidents I have seen as an ordinary citizen, other situations of horrific domestic violence I've seen as a priest.

Situations like that can shock you to your core - shaking even foundational beliefs about prayer and the nature of help.

I know I did what I could. I know it helped. You have helped me to understand that. Which reconfirms my understanding of the power of prayer and the nature of help. Thank you.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, you prayed. You offered to help. That was powerful.

Now I'll pray for all, including you.

Cecilia said...

Prayer is help. Or, as someone wiser has said, there are really only two prayers: "Help" and "Thank you."

You helped, I am confident. Shocking though. Take care of yourself in the aftermath. We all like to be so strong.

Pax, C.

Caminante said...

You prayed, you offered yourself, you stopped. You did what you could and offered what people would receive. Ever since going past a fatal car accident en route from Vermont to CPE in Jersey City in 1992 (on a gorgeous summer day by a pittoresque lake), I have always carried my oil stock with me (everywhere, all over the world) for the time when it might be needed. Meanwhile, I pray for all involved, the injured woman, the responders and you who must carry in your heart and mind's eye the image of a severed leg in the middle of the road on a summer's day, an incongruous and aweful sight.

DaYouthGuy said...

I believe the answer is yes, you helped. How often do we feel better just knowing that someone is there "in case"? For those of us of faith (and we have no way of knowing if anyone there was, though I'll bet there were) how often do we feel comforted knowing that someone is praying for us?

One of my favorite stories from the Bible ends with the line from Jesus:

"She did what she could"

You did what you could. And that is enough.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

This was one of those times when prayer just didn't feel enough, even though I know it was what I could do - what I was called to do.

The horror of seeing that leg in the middle of the road in the midst of a beautiful Summer day shook me to my core.

Still does. Even those beliefs I have held (and have held me) for most of my life.

Thanks for your prayers. It helps remind and reassure me that prayer does help.

pj said...

I know that if I were a first-responder at that scene, and you got out of you car and told me you were a nurse and a priest, I'd have felt strengthened by your presence alone.

"They also serve who stand and wait." (I got that out of a novel, maybe you can tell me where it really comes from.)

Bill said...

Elizabeth, You did exactly what we teach people to do at the Red Cross. You stopped and offered assistance. You identified yourself as a nurse and a priest. That meant a lot to the first responders. It’s always nice to know that backup is right there in case it’s needed. That eased there minds a little. It also helps the victim to know that help is there and more is on the way. One of the methods of fighting off shock is to talk to the victim and reassure them. The other thing is that when these things are going on it’s nice to know that someone is talking to God. I think you did just great.

Muthah+ said...

I would have been so traumatized byt the leg in the road that I would not have remembered that I was a priest or I could offer any help. That you remembered both and offered the help allowed the Samaritans to do the work. There was no Levite or priest that drove on past. It was you and you did what was asked. Thanks be to God it was you.


Jenne said...

"You were there." Even if one's services were not needed, that's a very powerful thing. Seeing someone's pain... that's important.
Cynthia Rylant wrote a number of stories in her book The Children of Christmas. One of them was about a young person who was alone in the world, more or less. And someone reached out to them as they were about to walk into the path of a car by accident, and touched them, and said, Be careful. And that.. was a christmas present and a miracle for them.

(A friend of mine on LJ linked to your post... That's how I saw it.)

Suzer said...

I tried to compose a comment to this last night, but nothing I said seemed appropriate.

Suffice it to say -- yes, you did help. The sermon I heard a couple weeks ago about the Good Samaratin included the idea that often we help just by stopping when we see that someone is in need. I have no doubt that your offer of assistance, and your prayers, helped, perhaps in a way only known to God.

Blessings to you, and prayers for all involved.

Susan Russell said...

Wow! This sure puts a bad hair day and a couple of committee-meetings-gone-south in perspective! Bless you for your willigness to -- as my CPE supervisor used to say -- not just DO something but to stand there.

Caminante said...

Yes, and those moments do traumatise and return over and over. Fifteen years later, I can still see the dead woman's face, as we had to stop in the road by the wrecked car in order to make sure it was OK to go on by.... The memories do stay... and remind us of the fragility of human life. Prayers continue that in time you can get past the horror of the day.

johnieb said...


I was a police officer for more than three years; I have worked horrific scenes. I am a combat veteran with PTSD.

I think you acted in an exemplary manner; you did well. I'm glad you are wise enough to know you and the other first responders need healing from what you all saw.

My prayers for our healing from trauma: all of us.

Kate said...

Feel kinda bad just posting to say 'me too', but I agree with what people are saying: you did help.

Take care of yourself. That's got to be horribly traumatic; I can't even begin to imagine.

*offers prayer and hugs*

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