This is a weekly email for Dr. Ed Racht our medical director. This weeks email was obviously a little emotional and I wanted to share it with you.
Office of the Medical Director
The City of Austin / Travis County EMS System
This has been a tough couple of weeks in the Public Safety World in Austin. As a matter of fact, it’s been tough throughout Central Texas.
I’m departing from my regular Friday because I absolutely can’t stop thinking about everything I watched and heard and felt during the funeral yesterday for one of our colleagues’ wife, Stephanie Waters. Stephanie was a devoted member of Marble Falls EMS and flew for PHI. Her husband, as most everyone knows, is Chris Waters, a Paramedic in Austin-Travis County EMS (Chris, if you’re reading this, I apologize for the 3rd person tone – I’m not talking about you, I’m actually talking to you.). Stephanie was killed in a helicopter crash with her colleagues while transporting a patient to the hospital.
Several weeks ago, Jason Feeney, a Paramedic in Williamson County, died after a prolonged and challenging fight against Mesothelioma. I attended his funeral and rode in his processional on the way to the celebration of his life. I didn’t know Jason, but I surely knew A LOT about him from others. The stories I heard and the pictures I saw were amazing. His wife Heather, and his two sons Max and Brendon were his whole World. I know you might not ever see this Heather, but I’m actually talking to you and Max and Brendon.
Three days ago, Cyndi Crain, the wonderful wife and soul mate for Chief Buddy Crain of the Ce-Bar Fire Department, passed away after a long battle with cancer. I remember years of watching her unwavering support of Buddy and all the folks at Ce-Bar and the other ESDs. Chief, if you’re reading this, I’m writing this to you.
There is nothing on earth as devastating and permanent as losing a life. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, as emotionally painful as losing a family member, someone we love, someone who knows everything about us. Someone we made “the Journey” with. Someone who knows who we are and what we need. Someone who knows what we like and what we hate. In our chosen line of work, that someone also knows what makes us tick when it comes to emergencies. They know we love “the Big Ones”. They know we love to fix chaos. We hope it happens “on our shift”. Our best stories are other people’s biggest nightmares. They know the little secrets we don’t share with anyone else.
So, while every passing of someone who is loved by others is hard, we, in Public Safety, have our special little world that we share with those we love. It hurts that much more to lose a life companion.
In all my years in Medicine, I’ve delivered my share of bad news. I’ve gone to way too many funerals for friends, family and co-workers. I always feel like I should have something to say – a tried-and-true approach to dealing with the pain and emptiness after someone we love dies. I never do. I never know what to say. We see this all the time. Shouldn’t we know???
It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon, during the processional from the church to the gravesite for Stephanie Waters, that I recognized what helps us move on.
After Stephanie’s Memorial Service, I was one of many, many, many Public Safety vehicles travelling down 183 in the long processional to Liberty Hill. All the vehicles had their emergency lights on with no siren. As we crested every hill, I looked out over this phenomenal line of EMS, Fire and Law Enforcement vehicles from across the State all travelling in one single file line. But what was more important than that, was what was beside the road.
Cars had all pulled over and their occupants were out standing by their vehicles looking at the procession. There was the family of four kids (none of them any older than 8) and their mom, standing bolt upright at attention. There was the Wrecker Driver that had pulled his truck up to the side of the road and turned his yellow lights on. There were the two contractors and a guy in a long sleeve shirt and a tie, all standing there together with their hands over their heart. There was the teenage girl, who was saluting the processional as we drove by. There were Officers from every imaginable Law Enforcement Agency standing along the road or blocking intersections to allow us through. There was an older woman, standing by herself, crying. Fire Departments and EMS Ambulances lined the roadway (some from places I’ve not even heard of.). There was the Engine Company with all four firefighters at attention with their boots and turnouts neatly folded and facing the roadway. There was the huge American Flag draped between the extended ladders over the roadway by the Leander Fire Department. There were the two helicopters from Air Evac and PHI that constantly flew overhead along the route.
As someone commented, there were people that literally came out of the woodwork to pay their respects.
As the outside world watched, no one was mad. No one was in a hurry – even though it was the end of the day and this was a pretty long delay for them. They gave their full attention to what they were watching. They didn’t look angry or impatient. They looked sad.
I don’t know about you, but I never learned what to do with a long line of emergency vehicles with all their lights on. Never got the lesson in school. No tips in Drivers Ed. But people did. They knew what they felt. And what they felt was the pain of losing someone special to all of us.
They too, had lost someone important to them. Even though they probably didn’t know who it was, they lost someone who gave their own life while trying to keep everyone else healthy and happy. It stings our whole society when we lose someone that spends their life keeping others OK. I bet the girl saluting had absolutely no idea what to do – But she knew she had to do something to show us, (to show YOU Chris), how much it means to them. And how much it hurts our community.
In Public Safety, the tremendous support we give each other when someone we love leaves us is unparalleled. Every uniform, every apparatus, every partner in that funeral was there to support the family. As we drove past those we normally take care of, their salutes, their flags, their respect was there for the person we were honoring and mourning. There’s nothing we can ever do to bring those we love back. But we support our own, and walk with them every step of the way, and help them move on to the next chapter.
That’s what helps make it better.
And speaking of the next chapter, we also learn a lot about ourselves when we celebrate the lives of others.
- Buddy, I hope I’ll be able to someday have even an eighth of the optimism and positive outlook you have on everything in life. I KNOW that was a vital part of how you and Cyndi travelled through the tough times.
- Chris, I would never have been able to do what you did yesterday. Stephanie would have been overwhelmed by not only what you did, but how you did it.
- Heather, it’s clear to me that Jason was the kind of dad we all need to be. His message to all of us is how important it is to enjoy life and enjoy your family.
And for you Heather, and you, Buddy, and you, Chris. I know I speak for all your 2000+ colleagues and friends in this System when I tell you that we wrap our collective arms around you and walk with you through the tough times. We’re in this with you. We hurt with you.