Monday, 23 June 2008

Jane Doe

It was neither a dark nor a stormy night. The moon was full, and as it was the summer solstice in Alberta, far into the northern hemisphere - so not very dark at almost midnight. I was with a stranger I don't know, though for those hours she was my best friend. We had been placed in the bush country of Nordegg together as adventure race volunteers. We got a little adventure of our own.

Driving along the highway at 23:30 that night, in the twilight hour, in the stillness of the wind, we saw her. Broken and bloodied, she lay still in the middle of one lane of the highway: Jane Doe. She was hazardous - big enough to cause an accident and difficult to see. She received our compassion - what a horrible way to die. So my new friend, compelled by a memory of her past that I don't know, suggested we move her. As we exited our car and walked towards her, there was a great twist added to the story - she wasn't dead yet.

It took us quite a few minutes to decide what to do. The danger factor was still real for passing motorists. The compassion factor was even greater now as we looked on this helpless, hurting creature. She was going to die, we couldn't help that. Damage had been done that we couldn't reverse. "May You grant us wisdom, O Lord" was my prayer... this was a situation I had no idea what the best thing to do was.

We didn't have a gun, and though we talked about using a knife to slit her throat, neither of us wanted to do it. One memory that flashed before my eyes was of a cat we had when I was a teenager that got caught in the fan belt of a car. Even though he was missing both hind legs and his tail, he didn't want to die. I applied that memory to Jane Doe - even though she was in pain, I didn't think she wanted to die.

We discussed strategy on how to move her - there was too much traffic that night to let her stay on the road. Her legs were too broken to touch - it would be too painful, and her head would have to be supported. So combining any training I'd had with human trauma patients and my friend's knowledge from med school, we came up with a plan. One of us would pull her from the armpits, the other support her head, and we'd get her off the highway as painlessly as possible. She struggled and kicked when we came near her, but I found she would calm when I stroked her side and talked gently to her.

We donned socks as gloves and got started. She was not heavy, but moving her was awkward. As gently as possible, we pulled her off of the highway. She died in our arms. If we had known her death was that imminent, we probably would have left her to die "peacefully" and saved her the trauma of moving her. It's quite likely that our touch contributed to fear that made her heart give out even faster... hindsight is always 20-20.

So much of life is doing the best you can with what you've got at the time. Just like our night with Jane, there are times we have to act and have no idea what to do. Maybe someday life will teach me a lesson so that if I ever come across this situation again, I will know exactly what to do. But in learning that lesson, I can't judge myself for decisions I've made in the past. Same goes for you - you can't regret your past choices when you did the best you knew how at the time.

I guess that's the point of this post, and maybe the whole point of that night with Jane and my new friend. Thank you Jane that your last moments gave me an opportunity to grow. Thank you new friend that your old memory led us to take that opportunity. Thank You Lord for wisdom you gave us to do the best we could with what we had. Now that this event itself is a memory, may it fuel the ability to make better choices for the future - without that future self condemning me for who I am now.


danielle said...

"...without that future self condemning me for who I am now." Such truth, AND I pray that our future selves will not condemn our past selves for who we were then. San, I love who you were, and who you are, and am continually in awe and delighted in who you are becoming.

Brianne said...

Really amazing, Sandra. I learned a lot from you - and Jane - that night, and more still from reading your account of it. You were also my best friend during those few, precious hours on that weekend in July.