Every year, whether I want it to or not, Christmas comes with a whisper that starts at Halloween and ends with a bang on New Year's Day. Every year I promise myself to shop earlier, shop smarter, and even shop while I'm spending the holiday in Hawaii. It never happens. Around December 10th of every year I come alive like I've been wakened from a coma and realize it's time to shop. But, that's not what this is about.
I can almost place the time every year when the ghosts of my Christmas's past will come to visit. You cannot be an emergency room nurse/paramedic without a few ghosts that visit you from time to time. It's been over fifteen years since it happened but I still think about one family in particular every year.
It was a cold night before Christmas Eve and traffic on Interstate 85 was crazier than usual with people speeding to get to their holiday destinations. I was playing the role of paramedic that night and surprisingly it had been slow. We had done our usual routine of watching TV and then going to the Waffle House, which I really needed to stop doing since my paramedic pants were getting a little snug. The call came out around 10 p.m. that there was a 10-50 p.i on the interstate. In other words there was a traffic accident with injuries. Then they asked us to run 10-33 which basically means you should have been there five minutes ago. We took off with our lights and sirens blaring, darting through cars. We finally arrived at our destination and I knew at first glance this was not going to be good. An older van had crossed the median and had hit a car head on. There was glass everywhere along with the usual metal fenders. But the things that caught my eye were the gaily wrapped Christmas packages spilling out of the open trunk of the car that had been hit. They were scattered in back of the car and across the lanes of the interstate. My heart froze. We grabbed our equipment and ran to the car. There was nothing we could do for the front passengers in the car and I just stared dumbstruck at the horrible injuries they had suffered. Their chests had caved in with the impact and they had suffered severe head injuries. I prayed they didn't know what had hit them and had gone to God's waiting arms quickly. Then I heard a couple of small voices crying out, "Mommy! Daddy!" I looked in the backseat of the car and found two small children still strapped in their car seats. They were scared and small shards of window glass was scattered on the seats next to them but other than that they appeared to be unhurt. I checked them quickly and determined, by the way they were moving about, that they were okay but very, very scared. The mother had tucked teddy bears between their car seats and the passenger windows probably so they could rest their heads on them if they fell asleep. They didn't have a scratch on them but the teddy bears were full of glass. Another paramedic helped me to carefully remove them from their car seats and take them to the warmth of the back of our ambulance. Then he left me alone with two children who's world had just changed dramatically. They just were too young to realize it. They kept calling for their parents. I just held them close and told them their mommy and daddy couldn't talk right now. Then I told them my name and asked them if I could be their friend for awhile. They said yes. We talked nonsense. Afterall they were only two and four years old. We talked about Santa and how they were going to see their grandma and grandpa. I told them I would stay with them until they could leave with their grandparents and they seemed satisfied that this new friend would take care of them and calmed down. About ten minutes later I received a call from our County Cornoner that he wanted me to stay with the children on the way to the nearest hospital and to be there for the grandparents when they arrived at the hospital. I didn't want to but nothing would have separated me from those children so I agreed. I barely remember walking up to both sets of stunned grandparents and handing their grandchildren over to them. I do remember them looking at me and saying , "Thank you". I couldn't speak. We held each other for a minute or two and cried. Then I left. I found out later the driver of the van had been drinking all day and was well over the legal limit when he hit their car. He was not injured.
I think about this family every Christmas. That awful night they were traveling from their home in Charleston, S.C. to see their parents in Charlotte, N.C. A trip they had probably made a dozen times before. It wasn't fair. I wonder if the kids remember their friend who did her best to be there for them when they most needed someone. I pray for the grandparents. I also pray for the driver that hit them. The last I heard he will be in prison for a very, very long time and will not be given the opportunity to ever do this to another family. My prayer is that he understands the horror and loss he caused for these people.
New Year festivities are over. But I'm going to say this anyway. Please don't drink and drive. Ever. Please don't put another family through this. And please don't give me any more ghosts that will visit me on Christmas every year.