“Are You Norman?”

by Lee Dalton

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    There’s an ironclad rule in ambulance work. Nobody rides unless they’re hurt. But for some reason I had to let the young man accompany his badly injured mother as we rushed her to the hospital.

    The ambulance bounced and bucked even though we weren’t really going very fast. Its siren kicked on again, screaming to try to clear the way as we brought the woman down off the mountain. I struggled against the movement to hold her head still between the sandbags that cradled it, and I twisted around so I could see out the windshield. The driver in the car ahead showed no sign that he even knew we were there, and I mentally pleaded with him to either turn off his air conditioner and stereo so he could hear us or to look in his rearview mirror for our flashing lights.

    The young man sat on the bench beside his mother. Ashen-faced, he stared down at her, saying nothing, doing nothing.

    She had been cruelly pinned in the wreckage of their van when we arrived on the scene. A glance told me what had happened. The driver of the van had misjudged his distance and had caught the corner of the rear end of the slowly moving highway department truck—caught it right where she had been sitting.

    The jagged metal and glass had folded back around her, trapping her. There had been a small fire, but one of the highway men had worked quickly with an extinguisher and had snuffed it. She had been semiconscious, in sharp pain from the metal biting her body. The first thing I had noticed when I crawled into her twisted prison was the blood and clear fluid coming from her right ear.

    While I had stayed inside with her, the others on the scene had worked as quickly and as carefully as they could to tear apart the front of the van to free her. It had taken what seemed like forever. But once freed of the torn van, she was carefully strapped to a backboard and removed. The sandbags were piled beside her head to keep her neck from moving. Straps bound her tightly and uncomfortably to the board and to the stretcher.

    She was drifting in and out of consciousness, and she fought the restraining straps as I completed a more thorough examination on the road behind the ambulance. As we loaded her, she managed somehow to pull loose the strap that crossed her forehead. She fought hard as I tried to resecure it, so I decided to leave it loose and cradle her head between my hands.

    We were just about to lift the stretcher and its cargo into the back of the ambulance when the young man stepped forward. “Please,” he asked in a quiet voice, “may I ride with her?”

    There’s an ironclad rule in ambulance work. Nobody rides unless they’re injured. The last thing you need in the back of an ambulance is a hysterical relative when you’re fighting to keep someone alive.

    But for some reason I looked up into his eyes, saw what was there, and said, “Yes. Get in.”

    The ride down the mountain was a long one filled with a narrow, twisting road and slow-moving, unheeding tourist traffic. She still fought the head strap, so I still cradled her head in my hands. The blood and fluid still oozed from her right ear. Her level of consciousness seemed to be fading. The words she mumbled no longer seemed to make sense. I looked into her eyes as best I could. The light was bright, yet the pupils seemed dilated. The thought ran through my mind again and again, “This woman’s in trouble. Head hit the windshield. Basal skull fracture. Heavy duty injury. She’s in real trouble!”

    We hit the flats at the bottom of the mountain, and the driver stepped hard on the accelerator. The rocking and bucking increased as our speed climbed. I thought of asking him to slow down some and then decided against it, weighing the need for speed against comfort. I could hold her head steady with my hands.

    The young man—her son—sat numbly, staring. He had been driving the van.

    She pulled against the restraining straps again and mumbled something. Her eyes rolled toward me, and she mumbled it again. I tried to tell her to lie still, but she kept pulling and there was a pleading tone in the mumbled words. I placed my ear next to her mouth and tried to understand.

    “Are you Norman?” she asked.

    I shook my head. “No,” I answered. “My name’s not Norman.”

    She tried to shake her head, and I had to hold firmly against her determination. “No!” I heard her say. “Not Norman. Are you Norman?”

    I looked up at the young man. “Is your name Norman?” I asked.

    He shook his head as she pleaded again, asking for Norman.

    “What about your father? Is his name Norman?”

    Negative reply.

    “Norman’s not here,” I said into her ear, trying to make her hear me above the wailing siren. “You take it easy, and when we get to the hospital, we’ll find Norman for you.”

    Her eyes were almost wild with concern as she asked again, “No, no! Not Norman! Mormon! Are you Mormon?”

    “Oh! Mormon!” I couldn’t help exclaiming. “Yes, I’m a Mormon.”

    “Can you give me a blessing?” she pleaded.

    My hands were full, holding her head, and I didn’t want to let go. I looked up at her son. “She wants a blessing,” I said. “What priesthood do you hold?”

    “Elder,” came the reply. “We were on our way to Provo and the MTC. I’m going to Norway.”

    I nodded. “She wants a blessing. Move up here and help me. My hands are full.”

    “Do you have any consecrated oil?” he asked.

    “In a little gold canister with the keys on my gunbelt,” I replied.

    I could feel him tugging at the keys, and in a moment the key ring with its little aluminum cylinder was in his hand. I nodded to him. “Unscrew the top and anoint her.”

    “I’ve never done this before,” he answered, rather plaintively.

    “Time you learned,” I smiled at him. “Don’t worry too much about it. Just do it.”

    He poured the clear oil onto her head. “I don’t know what to say,” he pleaded.

    I pronounced the necessary words. “Now, it’s your turn,” I said to him. “Give her a blessing.”

    A stricken look passed over his face for a moment, and he closed his eyes. Then he suddenly sat straight up, placed his hands on her head, and said in a loud, strong voice, “Marge Robinson, in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to stay alive until we can reach the hospital and medical help.”

    Then he sagged back onto the bench, covered his face with his hands, and began to weep.

    A smile crossed her face and she relaxed, letting her head slide down between the sandbags. There was no more fighting the straps, no more mumbling. I sat up, startled and concerned, and quickly checked her vital signs. Good. Everything was good. In fact, unless it was just my imagination, her signs were even better than before.

    She was asleep when we reached the hospital.

    I recited what I thought was my diagnosis to the doctor. He checked her ear and the red and clear drainage from it, nodded and looked grim. We wheeled her to the bright room filled with doctor tools, and the hospital team went to work.

    I was restocking the ambulance when the doctor called me into the room again. The ear had been cleaned out, and I could see the laceration inside it clearly. “Take a look.” The doctor smiled and handed me the otoscope.

    I looked deep inside the ear. There was the eardrum, clear pink. Intact. There was no clear fluid, no cerebral fluid draining from a basal fracture. The X rays hanging on the viewboard confirmed it.

    The woman was awake, alert, smiling. She thanked me and my partner for all we had done. The rest of the family was there, standing in the hall. One of them was on the telephone trying to make arrangements for a rental car to finish the trip to Provo. “We’ll keep her overnight,” the doctor was saying. “But the rest of them will make it to the MTC on time.”

    I was shaking hands with them all, listening to their thanks, which I certainly didn’t deserve, when my radio started talking, telling me to let my partner take care of the ambulance and to get back to my patrol car. I had another call. Somebody wanted to complain. Neighbor’s dog was in his trash can.

    I left the hospital with a strengthened conviction that Heavenly Father watches over and guides his children. Without knowing why, I had let the young elder ride in the ambulance.

    I have since found that many events defy explanation except in light of a knowledge of the gospel and priesthood power.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg