Monday, July 23, 2012

Changing Priorities                                               

By D. E. Allen

It was October 17th 1989, and a little after 5 at night.  I only live a few blocks from Candlestick Park, but I could not get a ticket to the game.  I was sitting in my kitchen, eating my TV dinner a little early, listening to the World Series on my radio, wishing I were there.   I had a term paper due for my history class in a few days, but right then, that game was more important than college, well maybe not as important as my baseball scholarship, but right at that minute, that game was my number 1 priority.  Then, out of the blue, an earthquake.

My next memory was of the pain in my face, I had a broken jaw.  Then the darkness hit me, I was not blind, I saw a white blade of evening sunlight piercing the darkness of the rubble.  RUBBLE?

I tried to move, but I could not. I could feel all my fingers and all my toes but I could only rock my head a fraction of an inch before the pain shut down any head movement.  I could freely move my right arm about 18 inches, and twist and turn my left leg a little.  My right leg hurt, and although I could wiggle my toes, my right leg was pinned in place by something, something very heavy.  My left arm was pinned behind my back, it hurt, but I could wiggle the fingers of my left hand.  I could breathe, not a deep breath, but I could breathe.  That blade of sunlight meant air, and air meant life.  All I cared about in the world was that blade of sunlight, and the air it brought to me. My priorities had become focused on the most miniscule of details.

“Oh God, I don’t want to die!”  I tried to call out, but I could only make loud moaning sounds.  I heard voices, and somehow they heard me.  They pushed a wire down towards my right hand, and said, “Grab it.” There was nothing in the world more challenging, or as important in those few minutes.  My priorities had shifted again.  With a lot of trouble I was able to get the end of the wire to my hand. 

“It tugged! I swear some one’s alive down there.  Can you get the loop on your finger?”  Again with a great deal of maneuvering I was able to get the cloth-like band around my finger.  “We have a pulse, get me a bottle of O2 with a 6 foot tube.”  My fading blade of sunlight piercing the rubble suddenly turned to bright silver as if Heavens gate had opened above me, but when I heard the roar of the generators I knew they had turned on some heavy-duty portable lights.

They were going to bring in a heavy lift crane to move a prefab concrete wall that was obstructing their access to the steel beam that was on top of my right leg.  But their priorities changed before it got to me.  The heavy lifter was sent instead to the freeway where they feared many dozens of people were trapped.  I was only one man.  They had to use the manpower and equipment where they thought it would do the most good.  Priorities can be so fleeting.

Unable to move the concrete wall, to get to the beam that had me trapped, they dug me out from my head and shoulders, and amputated my right leg to free me.  I learned later that they only recovered dead bodies from that section of the freeway.

My priorities changed.  I am not a Baseball Player, or a Historian.  Today I am a Trauma Surgeon, and a volunteer first responder with the City of San Francisco, Emergency Services. 

Remember, even if you have set your priorities in life … life will change them for you in a flash.

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