Beware the Ides of March 3 18 2009
A nightly walk often reinvigorates the spirit. One spot I like to walk to Big Bay Park, on the shore of Lake Michigan. No matter how often you go the scene is never the same. Whether it is the color, reflection or surface of the lake or the cloud patterns as they combine with the sun or the seasonal color and texture of leaves. Something in the scenery is different as if a puzzle for the artistic mind.
About this time last year there were green circles of ice about two feet in diameter floating next to the pier. The waves were small that night and the motion of these emerald disks was a surreal moment as they churned and creaked. I wished I had brought my camera that time but hoped to see them again tonight and also determine if the pier was clear enough of ice to take a few casts with a fishing pole.
So it was with this anticipation that I walked the eight blocks from my house on the mid March night of 2009. I feel at home with nature and the breath of fresh air was well needed.
As I walked down the two sectioned scissors pattern ramp, I shone my flashlight every so often on the path to make sure no ice was approaching. I find it adventuresome not to have the flashlight on the whole time.
Half way down the lower portion of the walkway someone appeared from out of the blue at the base of the ramp where the stairs started. It was a woman and blurted out, “Can you help me find my bag?”
She looked like a ghost and startled me. Not hearing what she said I clarified, ”I didn’t hear you.”
She said, “Can you help me find my bag.”
It was about 8:30PM and I shone my beam at the base of the architectural brick wall and we saw her bag there not far from where she must have been standing before and she went to go get it.
Finding the situation strange I did not consider it rude to shine my flashlight up and down on her and then continually at her face. Her jeans looked a little sandy and wet. Under her hooded jacket her face was pale of emotion. Her bag was made of leather like a scooper with a big strap. She had a narrow frame maybe about a half a foot to a foot shorter than me and what looked to be strong hands.
It was just the two of us there in the dark and we started talking.
“Are you homeless?” I asked her.
She managed a chuckle and said, “No.”
She reached in her bag while gauging my reaction for weakness, but I had no fear of this cold stranger.
“What are you doing here?” she slurred.
“I wanted to check the pier and see if enough snow had melted so that it was safe to fish off of. You look like you fell in the lake.”
“I did.” She replied.
“Was it hard to get out?” I asked as I looked at the slippery ice banks.
“You bet it was.” She replied somewhat comically,
“You look cold, would you like me to call 911.”
“No. I have a car parked up on Oakland Avenue, maybe you could drive me there.” She replied vehemently with slurred speech again,
“I didn’t bring a car, but I can walk you to yours.”
It was obvious to me what went on, and I knew the risk that she posed. The pier was covered with high banks of ice. This year someone took the time to take some sand and spread it over the ice. I quickly and carefully walked out a little ways to see what it looked like, and try and determine how long it might take to melt. When I turned to look for her back at the base of the pier, she was not there. As I shone my light I saw she was halfway up the lower part of the walkway ramp.
She yelled, “Come on.” Running I caught up with her. She then continued, “You must be an angel to find me like you did.”
I might have replied with a self serving comment, but told her, “We should find the nearest house and ring the bell.”
“Those people won’t want to be bothered.” She told me.
“Where on Oakland are you parked?” I asked her, knowing that it could probably be as little as one block.
There are more than one Walgreens on Oakland so I asked, “You mean the one by Pick and Save south of Capital?”
“Yes.” she replied.
This was at least a mile to me, so I again asked, “Would you like me to call 911.”
“Maybe you could call me a cab.” She replied.
“You are strung out on something and I don’t think you’re safe to drive.” I told her. I found her alive and I intended to keep it that way and said, “My house isn’t too far maybe eight blocks from here. I can turn on the space heater and fix you a cup of chicory tea.”
So we started to talk on our way to my house. A few times she stumbled and swung her step out to compensate her step and keep from falling. I did not smell alcohol on her breath, if she had had some I would have known.
“What have you taken?” I asked her.
“Just some Xanax.” She told me nonchalant expression.
“How much did you take.” I sternly asked her.
She pursed her lips to think and replied in a discerning tone, “Maybe 5.”
“How much do you usually take?”
“Have you ever done anything like this before.” I asked circumspectly.
I fell in the lake a mile out circa 1984 on Memorial Day weekend and swam to shore. I shook from the cold like I was being electrocuted when I reached shore. I know firsthand the dangers of hypothermia, so I kept my cool knowing the walk would help metabolize whatever she had taken and keep her blood circulating. As we walked I decided to keep her talking so as to gauge her cognitive state. She was quite coherent.
She was in middle aged and lost her husband to cancer several years ago. She had worked in the health care industry but was unemployed now. She was of similar nationality to me.
“You are a lifesaver.” She said.
“When I was young and in college I went up north with two friends for a drinking trip. I became alone and lost in the woods. I was drunk and climbed the tallest tree so that I could look down and see in which direction the cabin might be in. And that way I did indeed find the cabin. That’s where you are now.”
When we got to my house the door was locked and oddly enough I did not have my keys. I rang the bell.
My mom opened the door and I introduced her to her.
Once inside my house I put some old jackets on a chair in the living room and then had her sit down. I then aimed the quartz heater at her and found two blankets one of wool and one of fleece. I went into the kitchen and threw a cup of water in the microwave for two minutes and filled a tea strainer full of ground roast chicory which I knew would help detoxify her. I also quickly grabbed and polished a golden delicious apple from the bag in the wicker basket.
I brought the hot tea to her on a plate with the apple and went upstairs to get some dry clothes. Grabbing a pair of warm ups, some big knit socks and a red fleece UW pullover. I had her change in the bathroom. She took what seemed to be the longest time. I knocked on the door to make sure she was not passed out on the floor several times and she wasn’t.
“I’m going to look in on you now.” I finally said.
“I’m coming out.” She replied.
When I opened the door I saw her trying to tidy up any sand on the sink. It made me sad that she would worry about that after what she had been through.
We talked for about an hour and a half and her speech was not getting too much better.
“How long do you think it will take for the Xanax to wear off?”
“It usually takes four hours.”
As we talked my modus operandi was to try and direct the conversation so as to develop new interests for her; to give her something hopeful to think about. In the future it might rekindle latent artistic or creative interests in her. People need interests and hobbies, something other than themselves to think about, to be creative of themselves. To me an artist is someone who puts something of themselves into, for lack of a better term their creations. When I look at art I do not see the art but rather the character and being of the artist whom made it. Sometimes when I look into people’s eyes I see something relative to me. I saw this in her as I talked to her.
She did not want her braided black leather belt to stay in the red grocery bag with the wet clothes and rather suggestively put it on the coffee table, I made, between us.
“I made this laminated strip coffee table out of recycled wood. It has three hidden threaded rods that hold it together internally. I make things strong so that they cannot come apart.”
I showed her my 18”x24”s framed nature photographs hung on the walls of my living room and dining room. I showed the ones titled, “The Present of Autumn”, “The Rift”, “Two Geese”, “Light Pads”, “What the Tin Man Lost” and “Poised”
“You have an eye for photography.” She said as she seemed to stare at each one forever.
“The “Present of Autumn” was titled so because it was taken in the fall is has a red leaf in the upper right hand corner that looks like a package bow.” I said as I pointed.
I was tired of standing and we sat back down.
“How much do you want for that one.” She motioned to the “Present of Autumn” as she opened her wallet.
“I usually sell them off my website www.thomasmurphy.lifepics.com.” I was more concerned about her than money and did not feel like making anymore picture frames.
As we talked, after awhile I looked at her opened V-neck and noticed she had a black tank top on underneath the dry fleece pullover I got her.
“You still have on a wet t-shirt under all that. You need to put on a dry base layer close to your skin.”
I got her one and she put it on in the bathroom again. The two jackets I placed on the chair where pretty wet. I removed them and became a little more concerned.
Getting a thermometer I took her temp. It was on the low end of the electronic thermometer but I had an inkling she was not holding it in her mouth as tightly as she could. I took it again and told her to put it way back under her tongue. She did not clamp down on it this time either but the reading was the same. I felt her hands and they were not as cold as I thought they would have been though.
“You are in danger of dying of hypothermia. Can I call 911.”
“Are you sure?”
“Who would come?” She willfully prolonged.
“I will be calling for the paramedics.”
“Maybe you could call the hospital and see what they say?”
Calling Columbia Emergency line and I spoke clearly and slowly, “I found a woman that feel in the lake and I brought her home to warm up and her temperature is 91.1 degrees. Is she in danger of dying from hypothermia?”
“Yes, she is.” The man replied.
“So I should call for an ambulance?”
“You need to do something about that.”
“You could die.” I said as I called 911.
Five or six paramedics arrived in the fire truck and one police officer in the squad.
Her face was now pale with fear as the paramedics sternly asked her questions as they are supposed to.
The paramedics poked her finger with something. I think I heard them mention some kind of metabolite. It looked like a blood sugar monitor to me. They also put what appeared to be a blood oxygen gauge on her finger and did not get a reading. I repeatedly asked them what her blood temperature was and they would not tell me. They assured me twice that she was in no danger of hypothermia.
It was then that the police officer started talking to her. He basically told her you can voluntarily commit yourself or we will forcibly take you. She told them that she was out of work and didn’t want to pay for it. Although she also said she had a health insurance, but could not produce and insurance card when asked.
She left with the whole gang voluntarily and gave me a big hug. I told her, “I want you to be well.”
People exposed to cold and drugs often have uncertain outcomes. I worried what happened to her throughout the first half of the next day, before I picked up the phone. Six phone calls later I was talking with her. Her speech was fast and articulate. She wasn’t cold and incidentally a little spiteful at me because she was at the hospital as a result of me calling 911.
Many judgment calls were made and the bottom line is that she is alive today. Everybody I talked to from the paramedics to the police tells me that I was a Good Samaritan and did the right thing, except for one neighbor who remarked before letting me tell the story, “I would have called the police right away.”
It is better to have one friend when you need them than have a thousand come to your funeral.
Copyright 2009 Thomas Paul Murphy