Some of my favorite childhood memories are those of our family vacations, most of which required hours on the road in our 1969 Volkswagen bus. Little did we care that it backfired when going uphill or that it rarely topped 55 miles an hour. With dad in the driver’s seat, puffing away on his pipe, and mom as his trusty navigator we always seemed to get where we were going with little trouble and not too much excitement. Then there was the time the family bus became an ambulance.
While driving through a particularly lonely region of Nevada we passed a man staggering along the roadside. My mom’s many years of experience as a registered nurse working as a volunteer on our local ambulance signaled that something was wrong with the man. When dad glanced into the rearview mirror to take another look, the man had disappeared. He had fallen into a ditch where it was impossible to see him. To make a long story short, we stopped and picked up the man and brought him to the nearest hospital. He had been beaten up and robbed the night before and was trying to make his way back home. After being passed by so many, we were his last chance for help. The doctor said he wouldn’t have made it through the night if we hadn’t come upon him.
My childhood was filled with memories just like this one. Ordinary days quickly became filled with the sober reality that life and death were separated by a fine line and many times that line depended on people just like my mom. Like the time mom responded to a call that took her high into the mountains of Montana where I grew up. A man had been electrocuted by a high voltage power line while hiking and mom and the rest of her crew had the arduous task of getting the man off the mountain to safety. She told us of a story that included a ride on horseback, a white water rafting excursion and a flight by helicopter. You couldn’t make up stories like the ones mom experienced in her many years as a first responder.
I soon realized that fact is better the fiction and that life’s true heroes weren’t found on TV but lived under my roof and made me breakfast every day. I just happened to call my hero mom. I could go on about all the calls my mom responded to in those years of my childhood; about ambulances “catching air” while mom rode shotgun or of the times when I was old enough to drive and of racing down to the ambulance barn with hazard lights flashing. There was always some excitement when mom would get the call. But there were sad times too; accidents that are painful to remember.
One day, when I was in the second grade, mom shared the sad news that a car had hit my friend and classmate. Mom was with him in the ambulance as they made the 30-mile trip to the hospital. He died in route. I understood the toll this took on my mom when after 15 years of volunteer service she chose to step down. She left behind a legacy of helping others, sacrificing of her time and giving of herself. Her degree in nursing could have been used to earn a healthy salary but she chose instead to volunteer her time without any expectation of pay. She started an EMT training program, first becoming certified herself, so that our local volunteer ambulance would be able to provide quality care and service. I was always so proud of her and want her to know that I have always looked up to her and desired to follow the example that she set for me.
Mom was the epitome of the Good Samaritan that Jesus spoke of in the Scriptures. Jesus told this popular parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” To most of us the answer to this question seems obvious and perhaps it should be. But when we are set on getting out of our obligation to our fellow man, sometimes the most obvious answers turn into the most vicious of debates. While the lawyer proceeded to quibble over definitions, Jesus taught that love is not a matter of theological discussion, but of practical demonstration. Mom demonstrated this through the way she approached life and the way she fulfilled her life’s calling as a nurse. She never once had to stop to think about whether to help someone and in so doing proved herself to be a neighbor to all she happened to come upon.
Many years ago now, my mom responded to one of her most courageous calls yet. My parents were returning home late in the afternoon one snowy, cold day in February. Dad was behind the wheel when mom noticed that the car was veering off the road. As she looked over at my dad it was clear to her that something was wrong. Taking the wheel, mom was able to keep the car somewhat controlled as it crossed the road, jumped a ditch and tore through a barb-wired fence.
Fortunately, mom was okay but she knew dad was not. Mom called 911 on her cell phone and then proceeded to perform CPR on my father until the ambulance arrived. Dad didn’t make it. He had died of a sudden heart attack within moments but mom performed her duty as a nurse until she knew that nothing more could be done. This is a picture of the hero I call mom… courageous, unselfish, and caring. This is the strong woman that has shaped my life that I honor today.
Copyright Konrad F. Ziesing