HAINES — Father Blaney used to say, "When God taps you on the shoulder, you pay attention." Or something like that. Father has been dead a few years now, and the exact phrasing escapes me. I wish he were still at the Sacred Heart Rectory so I could tell him this story.
I'm not Catholic, but I say rosary prayers while swimming my morning laps. It's a comfort. Talking to Mary calms my fears, especially in emergencies.
Like the one a few weeks ago when Becky Nash called and said our friend Linnus, the art teacher, had been hit by a car while riding her bike home from school and was in the ambulance on the way to the clinic. "Should I go or you?" Becky said.
"I'll meet you there," I said. My hand shook fitting the key in the ignition.
The big story of my life is that 10 years ago I survived being run over by a pickup while on a morning ride. Memories of the medevac to Seattle's Harborview trauma center, surgery to repair a badly broken pelvis, and recovery are ones I'm happy to see fade. While I was in Seattle with my husband, Linnus moved across the street into our house and cared for our children for a month.
Without a hospital in Haines, and even with one in nearby Juneau, medevacs for specialized care are common, about 150 this year so far from Haines. They can cost more than $50,000, so many Haines residents buy annual medevac insurance. It costs about $250 for complete coverage. We've gotten our money's worth.
Two summers ago, my husband crashed on his bike during a road race. When the doctor at the clinic pulled up the X-ray and said, "He's got a broken pelvis," I slid to the floor. That time I flew on the medevac to Harborview as a passenger and experienced trauma of another sort. I clutched my rosary the whole way down the coast.
I haven't shared much of that time at Harborview and Chip's recovery. I'd rather not remember the details, I guess.
It took almost a year until he was back to his old self and I felt free of worry and responsibility. I didn't see Linnus much then, and we haven't had the time, I suppose, to reconnect. She remodeled her house making it sleeker and modern. Mine became kiddie central thanks to four toddling grandchildren. She took longer cycling trips each summer in Europe and we hosted weddings for our daughters. Nothing was wrong, but something wasn't quite right.
What are the odds that Linnus, too, would be in a bike accident requiring a medevac, this time to Anchorage to repair a shattered tibia?
When urse Jody at the clinic asked who would go with her on the flight, I said "me."
I promised to keep Becky and our other friends posted.
An hour later as we bobbed and bounced in the gusts, I asked the young flight nurse if she was scared. Over the jostling din she shouted, "Not with this guy," pointing to the older flight medic. "He was a Coast Guard rescue swimmer for 20 years."
Another big story in the lives of we friends who are like family happened 15 years ago, almost to the day. A Coast Guard helicopter crew rescued two of Becky's sons and a friend when the Nashes' longliner, Becca Dawn, sank in a terrible storm. Her youngest son, Olen, was lost in the sinking. "It would have been easy to turn around. The crew was nauseous, the wind was gusting to 60 knots, and it was pitch black. They got there quick and they stayed," a Coast Guard spokesman told the Chilkat Valley News about the rescuers.
Linnus' ex-husband and I made a turkey dinner the next night when the three families and more friends gathered at our house to celebrate and grieve together. Linnus is our youngest daughter's godmother. Becky is our only son's godmother. He is a fisherman himself now.
I asked the flight medic if he was on the Becca Dawn rescue mission.
"Yes, I was," he said.
I was hit by a wave of nostalgia for that time in our younger lives, before we knew our bones could break, that death is unfair, or that marriages and friendships take work, and sometimes, even then, they don't always last forever.
"Thank you," I said.
The plane hit rough air, and I held onto my seat and Linnus shut her eyes, and we both reached for barf bags. I mumbled another Hail Mary into mine.
On the ground in Anchorage, the medic said he treasured two things from his Coast Guard service, the medal for bravery he and his crewmates earned in that rescue "and a letter from Becky Nash. I framed it. Do you know her?"
"I do," I said.
"Tell her I said hello."
"What's your name?"
"Noel? Really?" One of the stories Becky tells over the holidays about her son is how he always rearranged those popular block decorations that spell N O E L into O L E N. Becky's infant grandson, also an Olen, and his parents were among Linnus' first visitors at Providence Hospital.
Is someone tapping on my shoulder?
During our week together at the hospital, Linnus and I became friends again, without ever talking about why or how we sort of weren't for a while. I think the staff thought we were sisters, or even married, since we kept finishing each other's sentences and asking the same questions. Surgery went well, too, and she will ride her bike again.
A few days after I returned home, Becky left this note on the chalkboard in my mudroom. "Be Kind. Be Brave. Be Thankful." It's my new favorite prayer.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing