On coincidence and timing

On Monday, I drove about an hour south of my home to float and unwind a bit. The stress of dramatic life change wound up my neck and my nerves, to say nothing of what it has done to the people directly affected by the upheaval.

So, on my cloudy day off, I took a bit of time for myself.

I had a wonderful float.

I jumped into our trusty Toyota Camry around 230p to return home and help set the household in order before Mackenzi needed to leave. Unfortunately, the family medicine program scheduled her for short call, or a 5p-10p shift to cover any admissions that may roll into the inpatient family medicine service.

With an air of relaxation, I began a new audiobook and set off on my hour-long journey home.

About a half mile from where I began, I approached an incline on a narrow bit of backcountry road. Trees obscured the approach and I had no idea a firetruck had been barreling down the street, toward me.

Having ridden in a few firetrucks, I know how harrowing the response to a call can be. The truck itself is huge, requiring a good amount of experience to successfully maneuver the beast through tight streets and unyielding drivers. Plus, there is the raw anticipation of whatever waits for you at the end of the drive: maybe a child in distress, a growing house fire, or a brutal car wreck.

All that to say, I have no ill will toward the firetruck, which sped downhill toward me, taking up the majority of the road.

I had two choices in that moment of clarity: attempt to play chicken with a firetruck or drive myself off the road to spare us both a severe headache.

Since I am writing to you, the reader, you might surmise that I chose the path of least resistance and drove myself off the road. When I made that decision, I noticed the shoulders were bare and part of the asphalt degraded so much that it looked like it came off in clumps.

I jerked the wheel to clear the truck.

As I suspected, the firetruck didn’t notice me until I had already swerved: I didn’t notice any course correction from them.

I felt the car skip a beat as the front right tire enjoyed a bit of air-time.

Then, the abrupt return to earth as I swerved back onto the road, with an accompanying bump.

And then… hiss?

“Oh dear,” I said aloud.

I didn’t notice the immediate rumble of a blown tire running on the rim. I didn’t want to take the chance, either. So I pulled off the road in an empty parking lot on that lazy Labor Day afternoon. Across the street, a fire station; from where that fire truck undoubtedly just left.

I got out of my car and surveyed the damage. Yes, the front right tire had flattened. Time to dig around in the trunk, hoping for the necessary tools!

I pop the trunk and pull up the base to expose… a full spare tire! And completely inflated, to boot! My father had just left PA for NH, and I am sure this was his doing.

I remove the tire from the trunk and positioned it next to the flat. I returned to the trunk, looking for the necessary tools: wrench and jack.

I found a short wrench without too much fuss, maybe a bit less than a foot in length. Not much torque to release those nuts, but it’ll do.

I search once, then twice, then three times for a jack. Surely there must be a cheap and useful jack hidden away in a secret compartment of my trunk! But alas, after a few moments of searching I resign myself to the fate bestowed.

I realize that, perhaps, there would be some excellent heavy tools in the fire station! So I wander across the street to inquire about assistance… after all, would I be in this mess were it not for that initial fire truck?

I find the enormous garage door open, leading into the open-air fire station. I shout, “Hello!?” a few times, before realizing everyone on duty is probably on that truck, making their way to that call.

I return across the street to my injured Toyota. I begin running through possible scenarios of resolution: I wait for the fire truck to return, I call AAA or some other service for a bailout (on Labor Day, though? I wonder how long I’ll be waiting… and would I get back home in time to help Mackenzi prepare for her shift?), or… what?

As I think through other, more and more unlikely, possible ways to resolve my current predicament, I glance down the hill. I see a few folks on a porch, milling around. I see a few cars in their driveway, the kind of Volkswagen hatchbacks that seem to have a bit of customization done.

Why not? I think to myself. Worth a shot.

I begin walking down the road and projecting a very polite, “Excuse me!” One of the fellows pops up and looks at me.

I briefly explain my situation, “I have a flat tire! I have a full spare, but I don’t have a jack. Would you be able to help me out?”

He looks at me. He takes a step or two towards me.

Then stops.

He turns around, walking back toward the porch.

I hear a bit of clank-clank as he resumes movement in my direction.

When he clears the hedge, I see what happened.

He has already grabbed a jack!

In the funny moments of introduction that followed, I learn his name and the name of his compatriots, another fellow and a lady. I learned that they are car people, as evidenced by the cars in the driveway, and that I had picked a good area to experience a flat tire.

Before I even got all of their names, they had jacked up my Toyota and begun removing the nuts. They seemed like nice folks; young people that might party a bit too hard but in a way common to their age group. As they placed the full spare and walked away, they wished me well. I had nothing with which to thank them. So, I offered a hug filled with gratitude and it was well-received.

With a bit of pep back in my step, I got back into the Toyota and determined to make it back home with time to spare to help Mackenzi! The relaxation from the float entirely gone by the time I swerved off the road, and now that panic replaced by a graciousness for the willingness of strangers to help strangers.

I decide no more audiobook, just good driving tunes for my soundtrack. I start the Toyota up and begin the drive: no issues with the full spare.

A few hundred feet down the road, I spot a lovely German Shepherd walking along the road. Collared and reasonably cared for, I swivel my head looking for a nearby human. None to be seen.

I slow to a stop as the pooch makes their way across the street and down an alley. I wonder, briefly, if I should stop and grab the dog. No, that’d be a bit aggressive for a larger canine. I don’t want to carry them from house to house until I find the humans.

Instead, I opt to back my car into the driveway of a nearby home. I suspect they know the dog and their human. Worth a shot.

As I get out of my car, a head pops up from the hedge, much like before. This time, the stranger has a look of caution and wariness, like he wasn’t expecting any more visitors.

To head off that suspicion, I went straight to the point: “I saw a German Shepherd wandering around, do you know this dog?”

Immediately, another fellow pops up with a look of terror on his face. “Lilah?!”

He is already making his way toward me, and I point him down the alley. He begins calling for her as a number of other folks follow his pursuit.

Within seconds, I see the pooch trotting back down the alley toward his human: a wag in her tail and a smile on her face. The dog leads the way back into the fenced yard, with her humans in tow.

The initially suspicious fellow is the last to return to the Labor Day festivities. His countenance is one of great gratitude and he extends a hand in thanks. We shake and wish each other well for the rest of the day.

Why do I relate these stories? Because I have been doing some barebones reflecting the past few weeks. I have witnessed some truly remarkable human stories in the hospital on this rotation. But I don’t have it in me to tell these stories.

So I thought I’d leave you, reader, with a happy story of coincidence and timing.

If I did not leave from my float a little bit early, then I never would have encountered that fire truck. If I didn’t encounter that fire truck, then I wouldn’t have experienced the flat tire. If I didn’t have such speedy help from those strangers, then I wouldn’t have gotten back on the road in time to spot that German Shep. If I didn’t spot that dog, then those humans might not have noticed her absence for minutes or hours. A chain of events, a sequence so perfectly timed that it can hardly be called coincidence.

Timing and coincidence have been recent themes in my life.

Timing can be brutal and bring a strong man down to his knees.

Timing can also be kind and deliver terrible news in a rationed sequence, so that nothing breaks the dam entirely.

To many of my patients, timing has been the former.

To me, timing has been the latter.

Coincidence rarely feels like coincidence after the fact. So much of my life is lining up in perfect sequence to allow for a very tolerable outcome. Tragedy begetting fortune and luck.

In the same way that a trauma surgeon requires many stabbings and gun shots to become a competent healer; can one really express gratitude for bad things even if they are sublimated into jewels and rewards?

I do not know the answer. And I find the hazy gray around this idea signals within me a growth and maturity. Life will never stop happening, both to me and for me.

I am not even a surfer riding the monster wave.

I am a castaway utilizing the driftwood provided to me by forces beyond my comprehension.

Relationally, things are both well and not well. I feel like I am doing what I need to do to maintain the broader web of relationships and keep the orbit of my home in check. At the same time, I know I want to maintain a closer relationship with Mackenzi: we have been supporting each other but not quite romancing each other. The countdown until our vacation week is approaching. We won’t see much of each other until then. Must keep the flame going.

EmotionallyI am well. But to be frank, I have been receding into my own shell. I would, at this juncture, prefer to under-step than over-step. So I recede into my own mind and complete the necessary daily tasks of carrying water and chopping wood. Perhaps I need to put my own skin in the game, perhaps I am doing what I need to do. Hard to tell when you are in the middle of the storm.

Physically, I feel acceptable. I’ve been on a long stretch of hospital days, writing this while on call through the weekend. The past few days I’ve had a gnarly knot in my neck and felt like intense movement isn’t what my body craves. Maybe the pendulum swings back towards restorative practices for now.

SpirituallyI continue to fall behind. The simple tasks of maintaining the home and keeping the ship afloat consumes my attention. I do not have the mental space to make room for a spiritual practice. I know I need this. I know I would benefit from this. But to do so? I spend so much time these days scrolling on my phone, because it is easier to zone out than manage the challenges to come.

  • Relational – 2/5
  • Emotional – 2/5
  • Physical – 3/5
  • Spiritual –1/5
  • Total – 8/20
  • 3wk running total – 34/60

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