A helping hand, a familiar one, every step along the way

To the Editor:

This winter I had my first ride in an Edgartown ambulance, not a joy ride, but the real thing. I was the patient.

As the team arrived, I was so happy to see that I knew all of them, and this began a most exemplary experience of how wondrous it is that we live in a place that is so naturally compelled by a strong sense of community.

First came Alex Schaeffer, the team captain. I could not fight back the tears as he knelt down and comforted me, me having been his teacher, and now this little boy all grown up was caring for me and doing it with exceptional skill and tenderness.

Next appeared Elmer Vanderhoop, an old buddy of mine through the times he had carried my own mother down to his ambulance, and he being the stepfather of three of my former students. It felt like my favorite cousin was at my side, he so doting, so caring, so assuring, and so familiar to me.

Then there was young Taylor Eppers, who said to me, “My mother will have a fit if I don’t do everything right with you.” His mother and I have been good friends for years, and everything he did was with an earnestness that was touching.

Last, but certainly not least, was Tommy Smith, the police officer on duty for this run. Tommy and I go so far back, I could be his mother.

Soon they were carrying me in the stretcher down the back stairs of my apartment, the protocol calling for me to be strapped in, cervical collar, arms folded and made immobile. Fear set in, literally consuming me. I was reminded of the mind games I had to play to go into a coffin-like MRI machine, so scary to be confined, unable to move at all, and battling the overwhelming feeling of claustrophobic terror.

So, there I was, searching for any mental exercise that would stave off my incredulous fear, my own safety at stake. Or, at least, that is what I felt. The back stairs down to the yard were covered in accumulated ice, the snow piled up on top of that, and the snow falling from the sky onto my face also felt ominous. I was horrified at the prospect of this trek down the stairs, so sure of how could they not drop me?

But then came something that was an amazing transformation. My horrid fear began to slip away. At my head, Alex began a chant, “Trust us, Doris, trust us.” I instinctively tried to free a hand so I could reach out and hold the railing; but then at my feet, Tommy gingerly admonished me and picked up the chorus, “Doris, you have to trust us.”

Elmer and Taylor were somewhere near. I could not see them, but I could hear them, “Doris, trust, just trust.” I kept thinking of my horse who weighs 1,200 pounds, yet every day I can get on his back and ride him because of one thing, trust.

It seemed to last forever, this trek, but, by the third step, I gave in to them, at peace because of these chanting, devoted friends who, without reservation, were so completely secure in their task at hand and so surefooted every step of the way. I could feel it, my fears quelled by this great tribe of chanting kinsmen. Of course, we made it all the way to the bottom of the stairs, across the ice-covered backyard, and into the big white and red box, the little hospital on wheels. Oh, the power of trust.

The ride was all about them still at my back, as the expression goes, and they even cleverly used the balm of humor to make the ride as pleasant as possible, skillfully starting an IV, but I was still so jammed into that stretcher.

When we arrived at the hospital, there were even more people I knew, all of them saying, “Doris, no worries, we are here.” The sense of community was still working its magic. Blessed community.

My experience in the ER was as good as the ride in the ambulance had been, and I was thrilled to be in the company of friends, the magic of life. The ER functioned with efficiency, something that they had been working on, per an article in The Times. Trish Bergeron greeted me as I passed by the front desk with her grand and caring persona. Immediately, Beth Smith, the triage nurse, came to my side, giving me every ounce of her expertise and caring, her daughters my beloved former students, and it showed how well we knew each other in her attentiveness and my feelings of safe haven with her.

I was taken right away to one of the many Ritz-Carlton-of-all-ER-treatment rooms, TV and all. I wanted to order room service. It came without ordering in the form of Rick Lambos, who immediately took over in this royal treatment room. He was another familiar face, a longstanding ER nurse and the father of yet more students of mine, both his boys part of those scholars I will always remember as my “babies.”

Allyson Thornton popped in to say that I had been “red dotted,” that I had been registered, so efficiently done that I was not even aware of it. Within minutes Dr. Beland was there, addressing my wound with a keen eye and calmly figuring out her best approach. She knew that she would have to do some kind of fancy stitching, as the skin was quite compromised, but that was not daunting to her at all. She left for a short while to let the pain medication take effect, and during this wait, Mary Filliault passed by, coming in to ask if there was anything she could do, again, her son a former student.

When Dr. Beland returned, she very adeptly began to stitch with the passion of an artist and the mandate of practicing “good medicine.” I think in order to settle me even more while she worked, she reminded me that we had met another time in the ER, and that she had missed out that day on a key lime pie that I had brought to Dr. Tsai. I promised to make her one.

As I was being released, a very sweet nurse came to go over my discharge papers with me. I did not know her, but I was so impressed with this Martha. She carefully went over every bit of the doctor’s orders, not rushing at all, and I was so happy to have met her and to have watched her dedication. I felt as though she loved her job, and as we talked, she certainly exuded that, even to me, a little old lady who had fallen and hurt herself. It was if she were discharging a person who had their head cut off and sewn back on, that’s how important she made me feel.

I had to go back for a checkup two days later. How good is that? There would be no falling through the cracks on this watch. I was to be carefully guarded, not just shoved out to oblivion. I had a name, I was not a number. When I got to the ER to be checked, it was, or at least it felt like, old home week.

Beth Donnelly, my primary doctor, heard I was down in the ER, so when she got wind of that, she detoured from her daily rounds and made it to the ER on her way back to her office. Try that for devotion. I could write epistles on Beth Donnelly, as many of us could, but to cut to the chase, she is some of the best medicine I have ever known or could wish for. Even at Mass General, they know of her, and they speak of her with reverence for her amazing talent.

And to think it all began with a 911 call and on the other end of the line were friends, Kathy and Susie. “Better send an ambulance.”

“Doris, you still on top of Jeff Norton’s law office?”

“Yep, right here.”

“We know, ambulance on its way.”

The moral of this story is not to get a teaching job so that you know absolutely almost everybody. The real message I wish to convey and so loudly applaud is our good fortune to live in a community that operates the way the Vineyard does. I want to applaud the fact that only on The Vineyard do you find such a feeling of village personified, even in the chant of those who can say the word “trust” and mean it. Trust is the very bedrock of all relationships, and I learned that, once again, it is possible to trust with all your might.

Thank you, my dear trustworthy friends. You are The Vineyard at its best. Now, I will have to make a lot of key lime pies to say, “Thanks,” and I will.

Trust me.

With much admiration and gratitude,

Doris Ward

Edgartown