Some stories shouldn’t be told. They’re just too personal. The type of story where you say, ‘You know you shouldn’t go there.’ It’s a dark thought with a bad ending. Good for nothing, But you need to tell it. Only close friends with empathy will appreciate it. Delicate, sunny day types are not the ideal target. You’ll need whiskey drinkers in the audience. A memory that hurts so much your being is rattled every time it brushes by a couple of million brain cells on the way to hell. Then it takes an hour to cleanse the anger caused by those split seconds of dread. That kind of thought makes for an early grave if not controlled.
I will tell the story because someone somewhere might be able to do something about it.
Be forewarned. This story could raise your blood pressure. And blood pressure is a theme in these words.
There’s a reason I have a problem with cops. We all know the catch-and-release revolving door is not working. That make-believe policy is a rant for another day. That’s not what this is about. If I get robbed, I’ll try to shoot the perpetrator myself. If I miss, I’ll curse silently, reload, and try again, but that’s it. If my neighbor's home gets broken into, I would shoot warning shots, take down license plate numbers, and give descriptions to my neighbor. But I will not be making a police report myself. I’m not pulling for criminals, and I like law and order just as much as the next guy, and to put it bluntly, I’d like to fill ‘em all up with lead. I do have an exclusion list; jaywalkers, and speeders on Lookout Mountain, where the speed limit is 20 mph, (I realize there’s a positive side to that speed limit — they’ve raised 87 million dollars and saved two squirrels), and those who drive drunk on riding lawnmowers while mowing their lawns. The blue meanies have put a chip on my shoulder.
Eight years back, I had a sick wife. A brain bleed brought our world crashing down. We were on a roller coaster with no way to step off. Just after her stroke, I had a car wreck and broke my leg. By adding a tibia plateau fracture to the mix, we became “a pair,” my wife said.
Over the next six months, I hobbled around on crutches at Erlanger, chasing down doctors for info and trying on brave faces. Getting pertinent information from doctors in these life-and-death situations is trickier than alligator wrestling. Maybe there was no great answer. A nurse told me we were the ‘most screwed up couple at Erlanger.’ Those medical people have the best sick sense of humor.
After several brain surgeries and a dose of rehabilitation at Siskin, we went home for a couple of months. Things seem to be improving. But not long after, be damned if the devil came back. She had another stroke — this is the one that made me refer to her in the past tense.
The ordeal happened around 4 a.m. I carried Kelly’s frail, 90-pound body downstairs and put her into the car. It was no easy task on crutches. But the adrenaline was flowing. Kelly, my wife, had lost her gyro — she had no balance, and she couldn’t walk after her original stroke. So I got my chance to drive wild like Steve McQueen — the devil was after us, running red lights at 100 mph down Amnicola Highway, and my old Honda engine never missed a beat — it was the only thing in my life functioning properly. I had my flashers on, no one cared, and no one was out except maybe a garbageman or a street sweeper or two — they may have rubbed their eyes twice in disbelief when we sailed by as their shift drew to a close. On the way to the hospital, we looked at each other, and she shook her head, asking why? After a thousand close calls in the previous months, we were just about out of ideas.
There are not many positive things that come from personal tragedy, but you find out who your friends are. It may be the only upside. The fair-weather ones are missing, stormy-weather ones are there — you’ll never forget them. I’m fortunate to have plenty of good ones. I learned something else about physical human beings — the phenomenon of tears. They come from joy and sadness. They trickle like a stream and flood like a river. Then they don't come when they should. But you can only hide them for so long. Where do they come from? They seem to pour more from men these days than women — watch out for a gusher when the superstar stud retires on TV. I don't get that. Those are the wrong type of tears. Retiring should only bring one or two tears of joy. Kelly didn't shed any during her predicament. I did. But she did not see them. It was about preserving what was left in life — not to rain down anymore because the basement was flooded. What good would they do? The end was near. Now the tears pop up at the damnedest times. A few tears can wash away sadness. Too many, and they will carry you away. The more you love, the more you lose. You need to ask yourself, is it worth it before you get into it? To frolic around blissfully with another with a barrier wall to keep out evil forces? If you can find it, then I think it is. But hang on tight because, in an instant, it could be gone in the night.
For husbands that have stayed with the story so far, If your wife hasn’t checked her blood pressure recently, pick her up like a sack of potatoes, it could be excruciating if it’s been 30 years since you carried her over the threshold, but you can do it. Whatever you do — don’t say she’s gained weight. Then dump her at the doctor's office and get things fixed. Don’t go where I’ve been. Eating a pill is better than the doom that waits on the other side. If your wife bitches, tell her to call me — I’ll dress her down so hard that her phone will catch fire. You must protect your woman from physical harm and danger. It’s my biggest regret in life. Don’t let it happen to you.
The tension was high when I pulled up to the emergency entrance at Erlanger and parked just beyond the door. I’m rushing around trying to get help. There was none. They stay pretty busy down there if you haven't heard. I see four cops huddled together, watching me struggle to get my wife into a wheelchair. No medical personnel was there to assist. I saved time by rushing her to the hospital, and now she may die before I get someone to see her.
It was easier to drop her in the car than to get her out. I couldn’t manage with crutches in tow. The cops walked over and just started watching me.
I said, “Can you help me put her in the wheelchair.”
They said, “We’re not allowed to help.”
I said, “Are you cops? Are you here to help, serve and protect? You got to be kidding me.”
Now they wanted to bust me.
These were good little foot soldiers with an eye on a pension that would never break any paper rule that some slick city attorney wrote up. Their greedy and slimy silhouettes come to mind when I flashback to hell night.
“So you won’t help my dying wife into the wheelchair?” I asked.
They said, “We can’t.”
I said, “You can, but you won't”
Kelly must have needed to commit a crime before they put their hands on her. She never committed a crime in her life. I was an outstanding citizen just standing next to her. The girl was catholic — but she never needed to go to confession for anything until marrying me. What I’m trying to say is they don’t make ‘em like this anymore. She was a lady — with poise to spare, a throwback mold-breaker. If the Gods had bestowed a golden city upon her, it still wouldn’t be enough. Science should have cloned this one. And the fact she picked this whacky ridge runner made the ground shake under my feet — makes me eternally grateful that we walked together on earth. So I’m setting the record straight — I had it made back then — let there be no doubt.
Now back to the nightmare. Do we all need handy waivers for every police action that may arise? I wish I’d seen a homeless drunk stumbling around that morning. Surprised I didn’t. He could’ve helped, and we would’ve had her inside much earlier — who knows what would’ve happened? Later we could’ve gone and had a couple of shots under a railroad bridge and traded sob stories. That would’ve been a fitting place to plan my future.
Chattanooga’s finest never lifted a finger to help. I will never forget the bewildered look on my wife’s face at that moment. After 25 minutes, I got her in the wheelchair, the longest 25 minutes of my life. Erlanger and Siskin did everything they could for this girl. But Kelly never made it back home again. She died two months later.
I’m for justice, but what the police have become, I no longer understand. If the cops won’t help my dying wife into a wheelchair are they going to protect my house and my goods? What is going on here? There’s only one right side to the story.
There are good cops out there that would’ve ignored the policy. I’m an optimistic person. But what happened that dark night has left its mark. This policy is not winning friends and influencing people. Is there an ambulance co./city scandal here? Do you have to pay a $3000 ambulance ride to get help at the hospital now? This policy belongs in the trash bin.
When you’ve been down to the valley, where I know some of you have walked — I’m talking the bottom, and for those who are skeptical about its origin, don’t worry, you’ll know when you hit it. Human beings can do a lot of things. Mending a broken heart is the hardest. But if you escape those subterranean tentacles, nothing will get you that far down again. And there is beauty to that. When you lose someone you love dearly, a spouse, you lose part of yourself. You’re concerned for yourself. It sounds selfish. But it’s real. It’s scary. Cause you’re next. You come out stronger if you can survive it.
When you see a bird circling, and circling, and circling, in the ski — he’s not always looking for food — he could be slowly spiraling in.
The attorneys, the cops, and the liability issues concerning this incident can go to hell. And I will debate and ridicule this policy in hell, if necessary. I pay taxes. She paid taxes. Pass the buck, pass the risk, where’s the justice? A bad judge’s ruling and they make a mockery of common sense that turns into standard policy for years. There’s nothing these four cops could ever do to make up for their inactions. I wonder how they sleep? I would’ve quit my job in a second, if need be, to help a young, beautiful woman dying of a stroke. What kind of a person wouldn’t? Lawsuit be damned. The greatest crimes come from inaction. The city is losing its way. It’s soul. My love for the town has slipped, and that bothers me. Those cops failed my wife in the most desperate moment of her life — and for that, eight years later, I still rage!
I lost a little faith in humanity that night. And there are fewer corners to turn to for redemption.
My terror. These thoughts are creeping back in. God help me, don’t let me smash this computer.
See, some stories shouldn’t be told.
* * *
Thank you Stacy Alexander for telling yours. I was moved and infuriated by your story of desperation and frustration and I send out my deepest sympathies.
Perhaps if more examples of the ridiculous liability situation, lack of common sense and decency that permeate this upside world are put out there and shown for the absurdity they represent, maybe eventually the tide will turn back in the right direction.