There are some people that come into your lives and touch it so deeply that when they leave, you know it’ll never be the same.
My uncle Fred was one of those people, he had an uncanny knack for making you laugh and simultaneously making you feel like the most special person in the room, he was selfless and he unknowingly held a special place in my heart from a very young age. Growing up I didn’t have a stable, loving father figure, so my multiple uncles took on that role, sending gifts for Christmas, taking me back to school shopping, and making sure we had what we needed.
In January of this year, that changed, my strong hilarious uncle, my aunt’s husband, my cousin’s dad, and the man that was loved by so many, suffered a massive stroke at home. The weeks that would follow became a blur of hospital time, tears, love, bringing him home, and eventually saying goodbye to the man we loved.
Now the part I’ve never told anyone, I’ve had this elephant sized brick of guilt sitting on my chest since his stroke, you see, at the time of his stroke I had been checking in with him a few times a week, sometimes more, sometimes less for a few months as he hadn’t been feeling well. In fact, I text to check in the day of his stroke and that turkey replied to my “how are you?” with a “dying slowly” that was his humor, and one of my favorite things about him. My immense guilt came from wishing I’d called instead of texting that day so maybe he wouldn’t have been alone in his room when it happened, maybe my aunt could have gotten to him sooner, and the maybes go on and on. But they’re just that, maybes…
So every call I get since that day has become HIS call and a couple weeks ago when I had a call for a possible stroke, I arrived in under 4 minutes, I hopped off the engine, grabbed my medical bag and AED, pushed the fear out of my head, and took a deep breath, preparing myself for what I might find. And when I walked through the door and saw the panic in the son’s eyes, I had to fight to stay professional, and when the patient wasn’t able to talk or move his left side,I fought through my own paralysis, and when the paramedics arrived after 15 long minutes and the patient began to regain feeling in his left side, I was able to breathe for the first time, and when I stood next to his gurney as they loaded him into the ambulance he smiled and gave me a bop on the nose and mouthed “thank you”. And in that moment, I saw my uncle Fred.
I held it together long enough to give report to the paramedic and say my goodbyes to the family, I held it together the 7 minute drive back to the station, I held it together as I backed the engine into the bay and once I put it in park I lost it. I wept that I wasn’t able to be there for him or my aunt that day, I forgave myself for the guilt I’d been holding onto and then I smiled, knowing that had uncle Fred been there he would have gone for a ham grab instead, but the nose bop was a second best.
I’m sure that family thinks I played an important role in saving their dad that day, but the reality is that his simple nose bop saved a little part of me and it allowed me to finally let go.