Writing a blog about an expatriated family – our growing pains and exploits in a new local and as we travel is a fun, cathartic way to explore oneself while sharing our adventures. But when the world goes and throws crazy at you in every iteration – like organized terrorist attacks in the City of Lights; Stateside school shootings in your “from” and now NOT your from; bombs in Middle Eastern cities; or refugee babies dying on beaches next to their families trying to escape an unspeakable horrific only to encounter more horrific and unwelcome. It makes me stop. It cramps my fingers. I can’t write. It cramps my heart. It makes me sick. It wakes me up at night. I have to breathe through it all to survive.
How can I write about our expatriated minutae knowing in my heart all that crazy is happening? Sometimes – I write to to remind myself that life here is ok. I am ok. My family is ok. We are ok. We are doing the best we can with what we have and where we are and who we know. Hugging and supporting and loving those around us – as best we can – near or far. I don’t know what else to do. Sometimes the horrible all seems so big and far away and hard to wrap my brain around. Until this afternoon. And I share this story with you only because it impacted me and maybe it will inspire you. I am not looking for any pat on the back, good on you mate, award or kudos. I am only telling you because it moved me.
I went to pick up my daughter from her after school activity this afternoon in the early darkness of our December Copenhagen light. We made a stop to procure the rest of our Christmas cookie recipe requirements before heading to the bus stop for the longer, if more direct, route back to our apartment. At this hour, the bus is packed and you may have to stand before a seat becomes available. Which we do. A few stops past our embarkment, two congruent seats become open. We shuffle quickly with my daughter’s backpack, gym bag and our grocery goods in tow to sneak in and sit down. We leave the stop and I text my son, who waits for us down the bus line – in our home neighborhood – that we will be there shortly, as he needs keys to get in to our place.
Tap, tap on my shoulder from across the aisle. A woman I do not know hands me her flip phone and asks me to talk to the emergency operator for her – she is pregnant and is losing water she tells me anxiously. She needs help. Uh…ok! “Hello?” Yes I am here on the bus with a woman who tells me she is pregnant and losing her water, she is stressed and needs medical attention. Ok – WHERE ARE YOU? I’m on the bus. WE CAN NOT SEND AN AMBULANCE TO CHASE A BUS, YOU MUST GET OFF AND GIVE ME AN ADDRESS WHERE TO ASSIST HER. Ok. So.
I know nothing of this woman, other than we are riding the same bus in the same direction and she doesn’t seem to speak Danish. While keeping the insistent emergency responder on the phone, I try to garner more information. She is pregnant and is losing water she reiterates. She has had babies before – she’s knows what’s going on. Are you heading somewhere specific? Nowhere that I can understand. Ok. I tell her that the ambulance can’t come get her unless we get off the bus. Ok, she says. I tell her that I will stay with her. That seems to calm her down. We get off at the next stop. I assist her across the street to the gas station. We make it inside, barely. I worried that she might faint in the crosswalk right there in the middle of the wet, dark street. Are you ok? Can you walk? Yes. But she is holding her stomach and breathing heavily and visibly stressed. We make it to the gas station. There is nowhere to sit outside. We go inside as I am still on the phone with the Emergency line and he needs an address to send an ambulance. Ok. I balance the woman and grab my phone and quickly Google where we are. Ok. WE’RE AT THE SHELL STATION ON STRANDVEJEN IN HELLERUP – here is the address. The man on the other end of the stranger’s flip phone is acquiesced and puts me through to the triage nurse.
Here is where it gets interesting. The woman – who I now have time to learn – is named Linda. She is only five months pregnant – which clarifies her stress. She is Nigerian, but has residency papers in Italy. She has no Danish CPR number and had no intention of having her baby here in Denmark. Her husband is in Italy as are her other two children. She was only here visiting. I relay these answers to the nurse on the phone, which I know in my head that Linda could have done also as her English was as good as mine and my Danish was a poor as hers, but realize that emotionally I was her surrogate. While we are on the phone, I worry about the gas station and congruence of convenience store customers, not to mention the attendant who I have yet to make eye contact with as I need to remain with Linda to keep her calm. Rashad – the Shell station attendant – who is the saint in this story in my book – quietly and without commotion brings a “roly” chair from some unknown place for Linda to sit in. She looks at him hestitantly, but needs to sit. Which is good, because I was afraid she was about to faint. I thank Rashad. He stays with us and asks if he needs to call for an ambulance – I tell him that I am working on that right now and he asks me if it is ok that he returns to attend customers who are queueing and questioning. Of course. I continue to stroke Linda’s arm, unsure of how else to comfort her clearly growing distress.
All this time, my nine-year old daughter is still here with me. She is not stressed. She is intensely curious and seems better when I give her a job. Please watch Linda’s bags so no one walks out with them and keep an eye out for the ambulance. Ok. She is on it. I ask Linda if she has anyone who she needs to call here in Denmark? I am handed the phone when she reaches them – another awkward conversation ensues and I relay that an ambulance is coming to help her friend/family member/colleague?! I don’t know. Finally we see blue lights flashing at the intersection. Linda wants me to call them – I assure her they are coming to help her all the while stroking her shoulder to try to distract her from the obvious cramping pain. The damn ambulance drives PAST us. PAST the gas station. Is it coming? Yes! I promise. I see the blue lights and hear the siren turn around and drive past us AGAIN. WTF. Pardon my Danish, but I did give the correct address. Rashad comes over and sees what he can do to help again. Linda’s flip phone rings again – it is the Emergency responder – she hands me the phone – Rashad takes it – he can speak Danish. Yes. We’re back at the Shell Station. He hangs up. They are coming back he assures both Linda and I.
When the paramedics arrive, they quickly and efficiently take over and you can see her panic slow down. They strap her to a gurney, my daughter hands Linda her bags. I squeeze her hand and wish her much good juju, as my Dad taught me to do.
They load Linda into the ambulance. Close the door. I don’t see Linda again. There is nothing more I can do. My daughter asks if we are going to the hospital with her. No. They won’t let us. We don’t know her. Really. She is safe now. I assure my daughter. We need to get back on the bus and get home to let your brother in the house. But after the drama, I have to pause a moment to breathe and process before we head back out into the dark wet evening across the street to the bus stop. We are just out the convenience store door when Rashad comes out to ask me if I would like a coffee. Truly, I do not need a coffee at 5:00pm, but yes. Thank you. I would love one of your probably awful convenience store coffees. For some reason. I needed one. It would be a validation between Rashad and I that yes, we did the right thing tonight. We did what we could. With what we had. With what we know. We were human.
So please don’t applaud me. Please don’t give me laud. No kudos. I don’t even need a hug. If praying is your thing – then direct them towards Linda, a Nigerian woman who lives and loves and has family in Italy and probably went through hell tonight. I don’t know if I believe in praying – don’t hate me. But I do believe in people. And love. And connecting. And I do believe in an unexplainable higher power/energy/juju (call it god if you do) that puts us in the paths of certain people who’s energy we either connect with, need or can help. And tonight. I hope I helped. We are human. Let’s just be human. Hold each other’s hand. Help when we can with what we can. It costs nothing to treat each other with respect. That is all. I’m going to go snuggle on my couch now and support my husband stringing our Christmas tree lights. Cheers to you from Denmark, Erin