This is a story about pork, but not the traditional Easter ham with which you are all familiar.
I have mentioned it before, but I will say it again for the purpose of this story. My wife Emily is a pediatrician. She is not however the kind of pediatrician that we all saw as kids for regular check-ups and vaccinations. She is a critical care pediatrician, which means she works in a PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) where she cares for critically ill children of all ages. The PICU is often confused with the NICU which is where sick newborns and preemies go for special attention, but she does not take care of newborns.
To get to where she is professionally, she went to four years of college, four years of medical school, three years of pediatric residency, and then finally three years of PICU fellowship. While doing her fellowship she had our four children, so it actually took her four years. And yes, she is superwoman.
Both of our fathers were doctors, so growing up we saw situations where there was an impromptu need for a doctor.
More than once, each of our Dads had jumped in to attend to whatever the circumstances called for.
One summer our family was hiking through a ravine at Stony Brook State Park, when a rotten tree fell down off a cliff and landed on a mother holding a baby on the other side of the creek. My father took off like O.J. though the airport to help the trauma victims. He spent the next hour holding pressure on wounds with one of our beach towels, and helping transport the woman and her child a mile down the trail to an ambulance.
Then there was the time when Emily’s father was on a cross-country flight and about half way through, the captain got on the PA and asked if there was a doctor on board. My father-in-law rang his call button and was taken to a man complaining of chest pain. When the captain asked if he could continue on to their final destination or put the plane down at the nearest major airport, the good doctor (based on the condition of the man having the heart attack) told the captain “Bring her down.” The rest of the passengers were none too pleased, but such is the responsibility of the medical professional.
Remember, this is a story about pork.
For several years, a large percentage of my wife’s family would all gather in Boston for Easter. One year with all four kids staring at the blue glow of the video player in the back of our minivan, Emily and I found ourselves stuck in some kind of traffic situation on the western part of the Massachusetts Turnpike. As we sat staring at the miles of brake lights ahead, we speculated as to what the problem could be.
Perhaps it was a last burst of construction before the three-day weekend? Maybe it was just one of those stupid situations where a car was simply pulled over to change a tire and enough idiots had slowed down for a look that traffic was now backed up for miles?
After a few minutes we got our answer.
At first it was just a few police cars, but within minutes all kinds of emergency vehicles were streaming by on the shoulder. Clearly there was some kind of accident up ahead and based on the hardware called in, it looked like a pretty bad one.
As much as placing headphones on your kids heads, and a DVD in the player may seem like absentee parenting, it is good for a marriage. Rarely do my wife and I get several uninterrupted hours to simply talk and hold hands. On the drive to Boston we had three movies worth of such time.
As we crawled along at a blistering 0.5 miles per hour we talked about lots of things and then a question occurred to me. I turned to my wife and asked, “Hey, have you ever been the first doctor on the scene of an accident or emergency, or been in a situation where someone asked ‘is there a doctor in the house?’”
She turned to me and said “No, and thank God for that.”
You see, although my wife is a highly skilled physician, she is also a bit of an introvert. This does not mean she isn’t fun a parties, but rather in public situations she would prefer to remain, well, private. It is not in her nature to raise her hand and say “Ooh, Ooh, I’m a doctor!”
She continued with her response saying, “You know that is actually one of my fears. I was in a situation a week after graduating from medical school where the ‘doctor in the house’ question was asked, and thank goodness another doctor with actual experience spoke right up allowing me to disappear into my seat. I like being a doctor in the hospital, not on an airplane or at the mall.” She added that if push came to shove she would of course help, but she truly hoped that would never happen.
And that was that. We moved on to other topics and worked on the Wall Street Journal crossword puzzle like we often do on long car rides. About an hour later we finally got to the accident, which was a mess but didn’t appear to have caused serious human injury. We ramped back up to cruising speed and resumed our trek to Beantown.
I don’t think the kids even noticed that we had slowed down.
We enjoyed a nice weekend with the family in Boston, including many fabulous meals from the kitchen of my brother in law Andy. There were many laughs and bottles of wine, and at one point a dozen cousins crammed into a hot tub. It may have actually been the same weekend as the infamous “Pink Donut” incident, but that is a story for an entirely separate blog post.
Easter weekend in Boston always ended the same way. On Sunday morning we would all go to church then return to Carrie and Andy’s house for some kind of meal. Once food was consumed, the Nazarians would pile into the minivan and begin our seven-hour journey west.
Full bellies, combined with the poor sleep you typically get on such family visits, resulted in everyone in the car being asleep within the first twenty minutes of the trip. Everyone that is except me, the driver, who was also tired and stuffed but had to remain awake as we drove into the setting western sun.
We traversed Massachusetts, crossed the Hudson River, and continued down the NYS Thruway towards home. Around Albany the naps ended and we resumed the “chatting grown-ups up front, video kids in the back” dynamic.
We were somewhere between Utica and Syracuse when it happened.
I was cruising comfortably in the left lane when about 300 yards ahead I saw a cloud of dust violently rise from the road and then out of it came a Toyota minivan, flipping end over end into the wide grassy median.
It must have flipped five or six times, and as it did so, I clearly saw people being thrown in every direction. I reached my right hand over and grabbed Emily’s left arm and said, “I hate to tell you this doc, but you’re up.”
Recognizing that a minivan was likely carrying children, she knew she had no choice but to act.
I pulled our Kia minivan far over into the right shoulder, and told all four kids to sit tight and keep watching their movie. Emily and I hopped out of the car, locked the doors and crossed the two westbound lanes of traffic to get to the scene of the accident.
What we found was absolute chaos.
The crashed Toyota had flipped so many times that every window was gone. The minivan’s passengers and contents were spread out over an area nearly the size of a football field. Emily went into full-on doctor mode and began taking control of the scene like she was running a code in the PICU.
She quickly assessed where the victims were and as she approached one she pointed out another for me to check on. After just a few minutes we surmised that the van had contained five adult men, no children. They had all been ejected from the Toyota, but although solidly banged up, all five were breathing, conscious and (after a few minutes) mobile. Determining just how hurt they were was a bit of a challenge because all of these men appeared to be from somewhere in Southeast Asia – not one of them spoke a lick of English.
By this time, other motorists had joined us in the mess. Emily was sitting with the one victim who was the most injured and I was looking around trying not to be completely useless.
As I wandered through the debris, I saw something alarming. Just as I stepped forward to take a closer look, a woman right next to me started screaming, “WHAT IS THAT? WHO DOES THAT BELONG TO? OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT!?!?”
On the ground, right in front of us was what appeared to be a disemboweled digestive system.
I quickly looked all around to see if there were any dismembered bodies from which such parts could have come, but all I saw was the aforementioned five guys, battered but breathing. The last time I checked, anyone who experiences the complete removal of his digestive system in a violent car wreck is, well, dead.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that the thing I had stumbled upon was surrounded by groceries and other food prep ingredients like spices. The intestines I had found were not from a human, but rather a pig, and they were to be part of the Easter dinner to which they were driving.
You see, I told you this was a story about pork.
By this time, volunteer fire fighters and EMTs were appearing from stopped cars on the thruway. Emily came over to me and said “Ambulances are on their way and there’s nothing more I can do to help. If I’m still here when the police start asking questions we’re going to be stuck for hours filling out paperwork. Let’s get back to the kids and get out of here!”
We drove away from the scene a little shaken, but feeling pretty good about how we had jumped right in to the situation without hesitation.
The next day I went to the website of the Syracuse newspaper and found the story of the accident. All five men were from Laos and they were on their way to a family gathering. All five of them had been drinking and none of them were wearing seat belts. The driver had dropped something on the floor of the minivan and he reached down to retrieve it taking his eyes off the road. When he sat back up, the vehicle had drifted out of its lane. In his attempt to straighten out, he over-corrected (as drunk drivers will) causing the minivan to flip end-over-end until it came to rest in the median. None of the men were critically injured, but the driver was cited for DUI.
There are three lessons here, two of which are obvious:
- Don’t drink and drive
- Always wear your seat belt
The third lesson is a little subtler, but certainly one worth remembering.
- When someone you love has a fear, never bring it up in casual conversation.
The universe (or “fate” as some call it) truly loves to be tempted, and it is all too willing to oblige when you do. As we climbed back into the minivan to make our escape, Emily turned to me and said, “This is a topic about which you will never speak again. Understand?” I nodded and haven’t said a damn thing since.
Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.