The day I beat an ambulance by foot

1 Nov

On Tuesday evening, the day after Hurricane Sandy hit, I went for a run.  The subways were still out and I was dying to see Lower Manhattan without lights.  I hoofed the 3 miles over to the Brooklyn waterfront, seeing downed trees and scattered debris on every side street.  I reached as close to the water as the Parks Department would allow, stood on a big block, and just looked.  What a strange sight it was. The city that never sleeps, dark.

The following day I decided to take a different route.  I was interested to see what kind of damage had been done to Prospect Park, a place I have run through countless times in all kinds of weather.  My boyfriend pointed out that running through the park, what with all the severed branches and uprooted trees, was probably not the safest thing.  What if the wind blew and a branch fell?  What if a tree, already dangerously leaning, lost its last bit of support from the soil and toppled over?  I decided to run alongside it, glancing in every now and again to see how different it looked.  So, I set out.  I ran towards Atlantic Avenue, made a turn on Flatbush and started running uphill towards the park, dodging walkers and trick-or-treaters along the way.  The traffic was insane.  I had seen photographs of highways turned parking lots all over the East Coast.  I had, myself, taken a photograph near my house with cars lined up for miles in the middle of the day.  Who knows how long the rush hour drivers on Flatbush had been trying to get where ever they were going but I’m sure it was hours.  Then I heard it:  a siren.  I looked over my shoulder and saw an ambulance for New York Methodist hospital trying to make its way through the mess.  I kept running, expecting the ambulance to overtake me any second.  I figured people would pull their cars to the side, allowing space for the ambulance to get through.  Only, people didn’t.  I stopped and looked, the ambulance wasn’t really getting anywhere.  People were just sitting, stubbornly, not willing to give up their hard-earned space on the road, ignorant to the existence not only of the ambulance, but of the person requiring immediate medical care.  There was nothing for me to do, I kept running.  I got a few blocks further and realized that, again, the ambulance had not overtaken me.  A man driving a Senior Care ambulance turned on his lights, got out of his vehicle, and directed the Methodist ambulance through a busy intersection.  The ambulance, finally, passed me.  I started running again and quickly overtook it.  This happened several more times.  Me stopping at a light, the ambulance passing me, me getting the okay to go again, running up the hill, and easily passing the ambulance by foot.  It was heart breaking.  I could only imagine the frustration of the EMTs trying to get to their destination, and the anguish being felt by the family of whoever it was that needed such urgent care.  I couldn’t believe that, after what this city has been through, people were so concerned with getting where they were going that they were able and yet completely unwilling to allow the ambulance to pass.  It was crazy. I stood on a corner next to another woman, in shock.  We looked at one another and just shook our heads, she couldn’t believe it either.  I thought about whether there was anything I could do, tried to imagine myself directing traffic.  Every scenario I thought up ended in disaster, an even bigger traffic jam and me squashed in the middle of the road being cursed by angry drivers.  I continued on.   As I finished my run up Flatbush and saw the ambulance pass, only to get stuck in the mess that is Grand Army Plaza, I quietly voiced the hope that it could get where it was going on time and that none of my loved ones need urgent care over the next few days…they might not be able to get it.

2 Responses to “The day I beat an ambulance by foot”

  1. memoryarchives November 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    After all the stories of compassion and perseverance I heard this week in New York, this one leaves me feeling really disheartened.

    It also leaves me with several frustrated and yes, judgment-imbued, questions: 1) where were these people trying to get to on Tuesday night, the immediate aftermath; 2) were these people New Yorkers or commuters?!; and 3) weren’t they running out of gas?! It serves them well to have been stuck in the traffic of their own making at a time when the entire city stalled with transportation, and millions of us who rely on the Subway and buses daily were stranded. For the record, I have a lot of angst towards drivers in New York Bekah and Bekah’s readers, especially those commuting in (judging!) for many reasons. The arrogance required to elevate oneself above a crisis (and for some who were hardest hit in this city, sheer tragedy and shock) and think they can have this freedom of movement..

    I am not sure if I am trying to air my angst here, or if I am making a commentary on some (in)human quality. This is it: I simply cannot imagine blocking an ambulance with my car with someone possibly dying in there. I will personalize it a ‘bit’ for effect – in Bosnia where I grew up under siege for 4-years, strangers in my hometown carried each other on their backs running away from shelling and snipers. There you go.

    Shame on those who could not stop for one second to think about what it would have felt like if they or their loved ones were in that ambulance car. People’s inability to feel compassion post-crisis leaves me with no faith. My heart goes out to our dark and sleepy (now slowly waking) city. Thank you for a powerful post Bekah.

    • FranklyRebekah November 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

      Thanks for the comment. Yea, it was certainly a very upsetting thing to witness, especially given how much New Yorkers have banded together in this last week. I have heard so many heart warming stories about people trying to help out those in need be it donating money, clothes or time to help so it was really disheartening to see the other side of it. Your story really goes to show the depth of the human spirit, and how people are, oftentimes, willing to put themselves in harms way to help others to safety. I think the amount of good people continue to demonstrate certainly outweighs any selfishness. And, as upsetting as my experience was, I am happy that it was shocking to me, and those around me, because it means that, for the most part, we are all in this together. Love you.

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