The kind man taking my vitals in the ambulance asked “Ma’am, what day is it today?”
“It’s Giving Tuesday.” I said.
I was being transported to a trauma unit after a serious fall off the side of the Lincoln Memorial. Standing a moment before that fall looking out over the beautiful scene, I could not have known that I was also looking at a world about to receive me so very kindly. One false step tumbled me into a whole lot of receiving on a day of Giving. A week later, the bruises and injuries are fading but the memory of the giving will remain with me the rest of my life.
I cannot recommend a swan dive onto the marble of our nation’s most beautiful historic site, but if you must, here’s where I landed:
The tenderness of strangers
I could hear all the people who came to my aid, despite the terrible pain and being on the cold ground unable to move. I heard no laughing or pity, just a bunch of strangers stepping forward to be useful, calling emergency services, helping my companion, and one man in particular who held my head and neck steady for a long time, at one point asking someone in the crowd to brush the hair out of my left eye, which was a detail of kindness that even in the chaos of the day did help so much. I will never be able to find or thank any of those many strangers except by following their example, and I hope to.
The hand of a friend
I was at the Memorial to do a live broadcast for F.E.A.S.T. for Giving Tuesday, alongside my friend, our Special Projects Coordinator, Kym Piekunka. I fear I have spoilt the memories of her favorite DC location, but her gentle kindness that day is now as precious to me as the monument and the many historic events on those steps. She was calm, practical, and ever so kind. She held my trembling hand in that crowd, being the one familiar voice and the one constant throughout the day. She had planned out our day to be one of sharing F.E.A.S.T. with the world, our people and our programs. She ended up illustrating our slogan, “family first,” by being my family that day and helping my family to find me and in how she kept the whole F.E.A.S.T. family informed.
Ever the professional, after settling me at the hospital and helping my family, Kym went back to the Memorial and finished the broadcast!
The professionalism of first responders
I had never been the recipient of emergency services until last week. It was cold and windy, but with a steady winter sun, just like the many people whose jobs are to assist fallen strangers. There were National Park Police, a tourist with EMT experience, the ambulance crew, and then a room of 15 trauma team members at George Washington Hospital’s Emergency Department. Every single one was calm, kind, considerate, and respectful as they examined and treated me and explained each step as they passed me forward to the next team. As impersonal as it is to be immobilized and stripped and prodded and spoken of in the third person — I felt personally cared for. I wasn’t given a name for hours — they give trauma patients a pseudonym, and mine was “Providence Trauma.” But every single person there, nameless to me as well, did their jobs to keep me well and confident in their professionalism and compassion on that cold day. I was fortunate that my injuries were limited to one broken bone and other healable bruises, but no one knew that until hours later.
Access to healthcare
I am fortunate to have the means to have health insurance. My day of extreme healthcare was expensive, but I will pay a small proportion of the total cost. But here’s a fun fact: I wasn’t asked for my real name or insurance information until right before I was discharged 6 hours after my accident. All the giving I received was not contingent on my ability to pay, or being insured. I had planned to make some donations for Giving Tuesday, but in addition to a donation to F.E.A.S.T. I will be giving today to GWU Hospital and The Trust for the National Mall.
A caring workplace
I work for F.E.A.S.T, a global charity that supports families around the world whose kids have eating disorders. Family first is a strong ethic, as I mentioned, but it is also a family-oriented workplace. My bosses and colleagues immediately stepped in to do my work and help one another. Instead of pressure to get back to work they have made it easy to take it as slow as I needed. They have sent cards and encouragement and jokes. And, on Giving Tuesday, the community stepped forward to donate essential funding for our mission, so on my return to work I was able to marvel at our community’s dedication to supporting families like themselves, all over the world.
A comic in the family
Having a standup comic as a husband means even the worst days include some laughs. Mark Mensh did some of his best work to a tough room that day. Despite it being painful to laugh, I am grateful for those giggles, then and now. Every technician and clinician and paperwork person left our room smiling. He kept our kids comically informed. He keeps me from getting too serious, always, even on a very bad day.
On Giving Tuesday
I woke up last Tuesday ready to give, not receive. I wake up this Tuesday filled with gratitude, and humility, for all that was so generously given. Thank you to all who gave me and my family so much this past week.
Here is Kym and I clowning just a few minutes before my tumble: