Sunday, June 1, 2008

Angel in the Stairwell

By all rights, Helen Gaines of Fauquier Health System’s housekeeping department shouldn’t have been cleaning the elevators near the hospital’s cafeteria last Friday. It had been her day off until she switched shifts.

If she hadn’t been there, though, she wouldn’t have noticed that co-worker Curtis Gregg pushed open the door to the opposite stairwell with unusual force and that his breathing seemed strange. She wouldn’t have been there to help Curtis up the stairs and into the hallway of the pulmonary department, where he collapsed. She wouldn’t have been there to alert the hospital’s Rapid Response Team and to give Curtis his medicine.

As it turned out, Helen is pretty happy she was there that Friday – and so is Curtis. He said, “I was working in dietary that morning. At first, I thought I just had a stomachache, then my jaw started to hurt. I knew something was wrong and all I could think about was getting to the ER.

“I made it up the first flight of stairs, but if it hadn’t been for Helen, that’s where they would have found me, on that stairwell. I couldn’t have gone any farther. I don’t know how she got me all that way. I’m 220 pounds and she is a small woman. I know she held me up at least one time.”

Last year, Curtis, who is 52, had a quadruple bypass. He doesn’t remember asking Helen to get his nitroglycerin tablets, but she does. “He asked me to reach into his pocket and put the medicine under his tongue.”

Helen said, “I did what anyone would have done,” but added, “I know God put me in that place at that time. God has performed many miracles in my life. Afterwards, everyone was hugging me and thanking me. I was a little in shock. I just responded, and didn’t have time to think about it until later. The Rapid Response Team got there really fast, once I found someone to alert them.”

She explained, “I used to work with Alzheimer patients. I learned to stay calm, so that the person you are working with will also stay calm. I guess that training helped.”

Curtis was back to work on Tuesday. He said he has been “humbled” by all the people that have stopped by to wish him well – and to chastise him for not taking the elevator. He said he is grateful for Helen’s strength and quick reactions, and for the care he received from the Rapid Response Team and others. “When I came to in the hallway, there were a ton of people there. It was soothing to see all those familiar faces.”

He concluded, “When I started up those stairs, I was pretty determined to get to the ER, but luckily, Helen was even more determined.”

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