An Awkward Moment

Believe it or not, I m kind of a quiet guy. Although most readers will find this hard to believe, it is true just ask my wife. She always complains that I don t talk to her or am always in some sort of a daydream. She calls me a man of few words. Obviously, this must refer to verbal communications, because I ve put millions of words onto paper but remain somewhat intimidated by crowds. And, despite having more than 750,000 EMS books in print, I m still embarrassed and humbled when people recognize me or ask me to sign their book. It really is an honor, and I am thankful that people enjoy my life s work.

One respite from the world of EMS is my practice as an emergency physician. To the majority of patients, I m just the doctor taking care of them until their family doctor comes around. Occasionally, somebody will recognize my name.

One day, several years ago in my home town of Fort Worth, I was attending in a large hospital emergency department (ED). The hospital didn t see a lot of trauma, but it did have a reputation for complicated medical cases. One evening, a middle-age man and his wife brought in their 14-year-old son. The son had been suffering 24 hours of abdominal pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting. He was not getting better, and their family physician referred them to the ED.

About 30 minutes after they arrived, the patient was brought back, and the chart came to me. I gave it a brief look and went straight to the examination room. On the hospital gurney was a pale 14-year-old male. He appeared ill but managed a smile. He was at least 6 feet tall. His father stood at the end of the bed with his arms crossed, and his mother sat in a chair near the sink.

I said, Hi. I m Dr. Bledsoe the emergency department physician. Dr. Clark called and wanted me to have a look at your son. The father said, I know who you are. You wrote my book for EMT school. It s nice to finally meet you.

I didn t want to correct him with the fact that all of my books were paramedic books; it wasn t the time for such discourse. I thanked him and told him I was sorry we were meeting under such circumstances.

I took the history and performed a physical exam on the teenager. I kept glancing at his mother s eyes. Why was she looking at me funny? Did I know her? Had I done something wrong? Was my fly unzipped?

I completed the examination and told the parents that I needed to order some lab tests and X-rays. In the meantime, the nurses would be in to start an IV and give him some fluid and medicine for vomiting. The mother s look was starting to unnerve me. I thought to myself, I know her. Finally, as I left the room, I turned around to the mother and said, Pardon me, don t I know you? She replied, No doctor. I don t think so. She immediately sat down and looked at her shoes.

Before long, the X-ray tech came and took the young man to CT. His father went with him, and his mother waited in the exam room. A few minutes later, I was walking down the hall to the suture room when the patient s mother stuck her head out of the exam room and softly said, Bryan. When I turned around, she said, You don t remember me do you?

I said, There is something about you that s very familiar.

She said, I am Kathy Rawlings my maiden name was Davidson. My jaw dropped. Kathy Davidson this was my first love my high school sweetheart.

I said, My goodness, Kathy. I apologize that I didn t recognize you.

She said, That s OK. I got kind of fat, and it has been 30 years.

No, you look great. I m the one who got fat, I said. I often wondered what happened to you. I saw in the paper several years ago that your father had died. I am very sorry.

She explained that she went to university in another part of the state and earned a teaching degree. She met her husband there, and they married almost 20 years ago. They had two children the one in the ED is their youngest. They lived in the country, and her husband was on the local volunteer ambulance squad and an EMT.

I said, Does your husband know you know me?

She said, No. I don t talk much about my high school days. She went on to say that the last she had heard of me was that I was working as a disc jockey at KLIF in Dallas.

I said, Yeah. That s true. My life took some strange turns, and here I am.

She asked about my family, my parents and my always-prodigal brother. I told her that I, too, had been married for more than 20 years and had a great wife and two children. We asked each other about old friends. We began to drift back to the old days, recalled some stories and laughed together.

She said that one day her husband, Chris, came home with an EMT book and said to her, Hey, look at this book. It was written by some dude who used to be a paramedic here in Fort Worth. She said, I saw your name on the cover and almost dropped what I was carrying. When Chris fell asleep, I got the book and looked through it. I read your biography. I m very proud of you.

I sheepishly said, Thanks. I really appreciate that. For a while, we just stood and looked at each other saying nothing. I really don t remember what it was that broke us up.

Then, I heard the familiar sound of Juan, the X-ray tech, whistling as he pushed the gurney back to the exam room. The father walked in and gave his wife a Coca Cola he had bought for her from the machine in X-ray. I said, He s looking better. Let me go have a look at his CT on the monitor before they print it out. I gave Kathy a parting look and slowly walked to X-ray.

The CT was OK. I had a low index of suspicion for appendicitis. The CBC was consistent with a viral illness, and the basic metabolic profile was normal except for mild dehydration.

I avoided going back to the room for the longest time. Finally, the nurses kept putting the chart in front of my nose. I grabbed the chart and walked into the treatment room. Again, my eyes caught Kathy s. I told them that I had good news. The tests were all negative, and the boy was looking much better after 2 L of fluid and some droperidol. He had viral gastroenteritis, and this was certainly going through the community at that time. I wrote a prescription for Phenergan suppositories and handed it to the mother. I said to the father, So you re an EMT?

Actually I m an EMT-Intermediate, he said, with the Glen Oaks Fire Department. We used your big white book in school. He continued to talk to me about his EMS work, and my mind began to drift while he spoke. I thought, He married my first love but surely I can t be jealous 25 years later. She used to ride on the back of my motorcycle. We were inseparable for nearly two years. I knew her most intimate secrets, and she knew mine.

I was brought back to reality when Bill, the charge nurse, tapped me on my shoulder and said, Bryan, MedStar is en route with a cardiac arrest. I looked at the family and gave Kathy another parting glance. I said, Let me know if your son doesn t improve.

The father said, Thanks, doc. We will.

I also said, Good luck in your EMS work. Are you going to paramedic school?

He replied that it looked too tough for him and that being an EMT-I was as far as he wanted to go. I quietly watched as they all walked out of the ED. The father turned around and said, Hey doc, would it be OK if I brought my book in sometime and got you to sign it?

It would be my honor, I said. Kathy smiled a knowing, yet proud smile. They left and my heart dropped. But as I was heading for the resuscitation room, the door opened and Kathy walked back in. She yelled to her husband, I forgot my Coke. I ll meet you in the truck.

She walked up to me, pushed me into an empty room and gave me a big hug and a kiss on my cheek. She said, It has been so good to see you. I m so glad you have done well. We stood there and hugged. The smell of her was the same as it was almost 30 years ago and I had to remind myself if I was there or here.

Like in the Harry Chapin song Taxi, she said, You know we ought to get together for old times sakes. I nodded, but knew it could never happen. Then, as she walked out of the ED and my life again, the MedStar paramedics roll into the ED doing CPR on a patient. I smiled and stared for a moment, lost in time, and then went to work.

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to get knee deep in the past. On this Thanksgiving, don t lament what your life could have been instead give thanks for what your life has been. I was left with many confused feelings after the encounter described above. However, after some retrospective thought, I can say with conviction that I have no regrets. There are very few things in my life I would have done differently. But, as I look to the future, I will keep one of my favorite Mark Twain s quotes in mind: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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