When I was ten I was instrumental in hospital triage and emergency care. You see one fine June day when school was out, I was dragged along by Mom to my grandmother's radiation treatment for breast cancer. Grandma was a downwinder and witnessed many of the open-air nuclear tests that happened in the 50's from her Cedar City vantage. Now, of course, her breast cancer could have been caused by many environmental and genetic variables, but given that none of her female ancestors suffered the malady--unlike my paternal grandmother who was also a Southern Utahn and died before said nuclear tests--it seems more-than-likely that there was a link to errant nuclear radiation causing her affliction, due to the fact that she was living in Southern Utah and breast feeding in the early 50's when the tests were being conducted. (I should note that my sister in the mid-70's visited the Panguitch cemetary at night to see the glowing headstones caused by radioactive fallout from the 50's.) Of course it is more than ironic that radiation treatment cured my grandmother of her cancer (along with a mastectomy) but a diatribe against radiation and horrible government policy is not the point of this post. The point, as my initial sentence states, is that I was essential, as a ten-year old boy, in the immediate care of another human being.
I remember it clearly: my mother was not a fan of letting children into certain establishments--hospitals being top of the list. She was not a modern 70's woman by any means, and followed the code of conduct established long before that hospitals were no place for healthy children. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was to wait either in the waiting room or outside. I was to go no further. So after watching the cool fish in the LDS hospital waiting room for a while swimming their exotic salt-water way around the giant bubbling tube, I felt compelled to go outside.
Of course there was nothing outside, either, but I remember sitting on the strange benches that inter-cut the main entrance to the hospital and a parking lot further on. For some reason I want to picture myself with a skateboard, but I don't think that is accurate, given my bad experience with 70's skateboards earlier that year in fitth grade. I might have had a skateboard or I might not have, in any case I was doing something out by the weird garden-in-between when all at once a blue Ford F150 pulled up all skeewumpus next to the guard rail separating the little enclave from the ring road around the parking lot. The driver was clearly in the wrong spot and he had nearly pegged the guard poles. The door creaked open and a man of average height staggered out. I was a bit scared at this point, as I'm sure anyone, let alone a kid in some weird hospital situation would be. He fell and then stood and then staggered to one of the guard poles, grasping it weakly.
He looked at me.
I looked at him.
"Are you all right?" I said.
"No. No." His lips were blue and ringed with a white crusty salt. That image sticks in my mind particularly. "No."
"I'll get the doctor!" And I ran as fast as I could into the hospital to the receptionist, not minding the cars or anything.
"There is a man out front who is sick!" It sounds stupid now, but what was I to say? "I think he is having a heart attack!" Luckily the woman in the window took me seriously and grabbed her phone.
I stayed inside next, jumping up to see the woman behind the counter. Within seconds a stretcher appeared from the elevator which was off-limits to me. They went outside.
Moments later they came crashing through the doors and headed to the inner-sanctum of the hospital.
I hung around and looked at the fishes some more and then went back to the desk to hear what had happened. I asked her and she said "He'll be fine!"
"Massive cardio-infarction" is what she said to her coworker.
I don't know why the image of this man blue lips with their salty rim sticks with me to this day. I don't know if he died or if he lived. I only know he didn't die right there in the middle-ground between parking lot and hospital. Or maybe he did.
It is one of the things I will never know in this life.