Tuesday, March 23, 2010

wanna hear a story?

Last night I told a story. I got up in front of friends, my fellow classmates & their family/friends and performed... and it felt soooo good. Except for some radio bits I did several years ago & some workshops/classes where we would present our work in class, I hadn't performed in a long time. I honestly can't remember the last time I acted/performed on a stage. I can't say I wasn't nervous (let's just say I was nervous the minute I knew there was a performance at the end of the class) but as I heard my name being announced last night, I just took 2 deep breaths and got up and went for it. I felt really good with how my story went & I had people tell me that my story was really amazing & that I had the audience holding their breath & on the edge of their seats.

Last night I told this story. This is the full, written out version. (It's not the same as seeing it be told live, but I figure I'd post this for anyone who couldn't make it last night. I also might be getting the video footage too since someone was taping our stories.) I hadn't told this story in over 10 years yet I still remember it & feel it as if it happened only yesterday. I'm really proud of it as a written piece of my work & a story that I found buried deep inside me to have the courage to tell. This story may just have reignited the performer inside of me...


Contrary to what you've seen or heard, Lifeguarding isn't always as easy as it looks. I became a lifeguard when I was 17 and for 4 summers I worked at a camp that was located on a college campus in Westchester County, NY. Lifeguarding definitely had its perks: sitting outside in the sun all day poolside while my friends bustled their groups of campers in & out of the pool area. The summer of '99 though, I got more than just a tan.

It was a hot Friday afternoon in the middle of August. I was sitting at the side of the pool, probably yelling at some kids to stop running around the pool deck, when a male counselor comes up to the fence of the pool area yelling. I turn around and see counselors going over to see what he wants and he sees me and points. I go over to the fence & he says a kid is hurt down by the basketball courts and he looks pretty bad. I asked him what happened - he said he didn't see it happen but the kid is screaming & he's kind of bloody. I said ok I'll come down and see what's wrong. I bring a few things from the first aid kit; gloves, bandaid, gauze. As I go out the gate of the pool the male counselor and I go down the hill to the courts.

I can see some other counselors standing around the kid. As we get closer, I can hear him crying and screaming. Then I see this boy, no more than 11 or 12 kind of chubby, gripping his left arm, rolling around on the hot asphalt of the parking lot, dirty, kinda of bloody, sweaty & crying out for his mom. I also notice no one else is standing closer than 3 feet to him or doing anything to help the boy. I instantly shouted "I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NOW" Then another thinner boy of about the same age comes over to me and says "He fell". Without hesitation, I looked at him and said "Off of what?" I hadn't looked at the boys face until that moment and I could see the guilt & sadness mixed in his eyes. He points over my left shoulder and I see 2 dirt bikes laying off in the distance on the far edge of the hill. I immediately knew this kid had at least one, if not multiple broken bones. He needed to be stabilized and taken off the boiling hot pavement & out of the blazing sun.

I started throwing out instructions to the other counselors...
"go call 911 and the office"
"go get the backboard from the pool & tell one of the other lifeguards what's going on"
"someone please get all the kids and clear the basketball court - take them up to the pool or inside".

I go up to the boy and lean over him and ask "Where does it hurt?" but he won't stop crying or moving. Then, with a bit more force, I say to him "Listen, I need you to relax. I'm trying to help you and you can't keep rolling around because you could hurt yourself more." He looks up at me with his dirt stained face & tear filed eyes and yells "my arm my arm my arm" and then continues to scream. A counselor comes back with the backboard and I have 2 counselors assist me to get him on the board, I put the neck brace on him and we move him. Once in the shade, I sit overlooking him because he's still crying & freaked out and I need him to focus on something, anything else right now. So I start to talk to him. I ask him his name, where he lives, what school he goes to, what grade he's going into... and it seems to calm him down a bit. The counselor who I asked to call 911 & the office comes running back & says ok "an ambulance is on it's way" but before I can say thanks, she also says, "& The office is NOT happy" and I said "why? it was an accident" and she responds, "No, this boy isn't a camper". I immediately froze inside but I tried to not let it show to the boy who already was scared out of his mind. I gave the counselor who just told me this the "are you FUCKING kidding me?" stare. I tell the counselor to take his friend up to the office NOW and call both of their parents. I continue to sit with the boy who isn't crying as much anymore and ask him some more basic questions to keep him calm.

20 minutes can seems like forever when you are trying to convince a 12 year kid everything is gonna be ok and his mom is on her way. The ambulance finally arrived & started to unload a stretcher & gear. I explained to one of the EMTs what I knew and what I had done in the meantime. The Mother, who luckily worked in town, arrived a few minutes later. She was white as ghost when she saw him on the backboard and started asking a million questions so the other EMT took the mother aside to get her out of the way and ask her some questions. As they loaded the boy into the ambulance, the mother came back over to me with makeup & tears running down her face & looked me dead in the eye and she just said "Thank You" - I think that was the most heartfelt thank you I've ever heard. I was still wound up and on edge from what had just happened but that felt really good to hear.

As I start to head back to the pool, the counselor who took the boy up to the office came back and told me that they wanted me in the main office. I walk in to see both directors standing in the doorway of the office, waiting for me. Then the interrogation started.
"What were you thinking?"
"This child does not go to camp here!"
"Do you know the liability you have put the camp in? not to mention yourself?"
"This family can sue the camp, the college, and you!"
"We are very disappointed in you, Nicole. We never expected something like this from you."

After their tirade they asked me if I had anything to say. I explained exactly what happened, that I was not aware that he wasn't a camper, that NO ONE else wanted to help, let alone go near the boy and the last thing I did say was: "I was just doing my job". They said we would talk about this further next week once we hear back from the college & the family and they let me leave.

I walked out to my car, got in the driver's seat, put the key in the ignition and then just sat there and cried. I was sweaty, tired, drained & overwhelmed with emotions. I just helped this boy in need & did my job yet I just got the third degree from my employers, and their camp, my job, and my life is in potential jeopardy. I realized I had been sitting in the parking lot for several minutes so I collected myself & drove home.

The following week I found out from one of the EMTs who came back to return our backboard to the pool that the kid had in fact broken his collarbone, arm and fractured his wrist. They also said he was lucky, he could have hurt himself severely & permanently had he not been mobilized. I personally never heard from the family or the college about any lawsuits (the kids weren't supposed to be on the campus to begin with since they weren't associated with the camp) and I didn't lose my job. But I also didn't get an apology or any sort of recognition from the camp directors.

I didn't return to work at the camp the following summer but I did continue to lifeguard elsewhere throughout college, taught swim lessons and even coached some junior swim teams. That August afternoon made me realize for the 1st time in my life that not only am I a whole lot stronger & assertive than I had ever imagined, but you must always stand up for what you think is right.

N. Strawbridge

1 comment:

  1. Like it a lot. It is also amazing how people only think about themselves in situations like that. It's also those moments when we're young that define us, even if at times we keep them hidden.