To receive my blog posts, please enter your email address here

Monday, April 29, 2013

Final Moments

The final moments of my participation in the Lame Deer Ambulance Service project on the Northern Cheyenne land, were bittersweet. Certainly, I was as proud as any trainer could have been to see her students succeed. Not only had each one received the certificate of completion for the training course, but also they had clearly demonstrated competency in doing the work. It was time to let them do what they had been trained to do… without me.

While packing up my meager belongings, planning to leave the furniture as my mother had requested, I realized I’d not made any improvements to the house. Well, what did it matter; I didn’t have a lot of time for home repairs while living there.

In the kitchen, I dropped flatware into a cardboard box, but couldn’t help looking up to remember that first week using that kitchen. The open back doorway had been filled when an angry, butcher knife-wielding grandmother insisted I’d stolen her baby’s shoes. It had taken quite a bit of smooth talking as I walked her back outside the door. Fortunately, she believed me, at last, and left to search for the shoes on the pile of dirt where the children usually played. I had no idea if she ever found them.

The dry season was upon us and red-clay dust covered everything brave enough to reside in that territory. Picking up my lined, rubber boots, I paused before tossing them in the car’s trunk. It’d be awhile before I’d need them again. So many miles had been logged on those deep treads in the past months.

The worst of all moments was the day these boots had struggled to get me through deep mud that seemed to rather suck my feet deeper, similar to my own fantasy idea of quicksand. My leg muscles really got a workout trying to pull my foot out each and every step to the one-room home of a sick, old lady.

Yes, the dear woman was ill and needed to be taken to the hospital; the dispatcher had been correct in her assessment of the emergency. However, Grandmother was not the only sick person in that very cold room.

Crossing the threshold, the sense of the chilly air was dissolved when my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. The small room was, quite literally, filled with sick children. I touched each one on my way over to the elderly woman. Each and every one was burning up with fever. The stench of human waste filled my nostrils, causing me to swallow often in an attempt not to lose my lunch right there. Truthfully, it didn’t matter that we still had our muddy boots on.

We carried the seriously ill grandmother to the ambulance. I had wanted to just load up the whole ambulance with those sick little ones, but it wasn’t allowed. Instead, we could only let the public health folks know that the kids were there. Again, I never knew the final story on those children.

Slamming the trunk on my memories, I slipped behind the steering wheel. A final glance back at the old dilapidated house, I flashed back to that first day with Mom, helping me move in.* Except for the repaired hinges, it was just the same – inside and out. Nevertheless, I knew I’d been right to insist on living in the area on the “Indian side” of the town. It’s really where I belonged.

Turning around, I leaned over to insert the car key in the ignition. I pulled back when something caught my eye. The newly beaded watchband now graced my left wrist. It was so beautiful. The rich, black leather, full of colorful beads, so skillfully placed, would long remind me of an incredible time in my young life. .

Folks had told me that the Northern Cheyenne weren’t openly emotional people and I shouldn’t let their stoicism cause me to think that they didn’t care. I shouldn’t expect any kind of outward recognition for my work with them, because it just wasn’t their way to get attached to a white guy. I was prepared for that, but not at all for what really happened.

I’d been asked to drop by at a certain time that afternoon so I could have a cup of coffee with Mary before finishing up my packing. It was not an uncommon request, so I thought nothing of it. What I found was a lot more than a cup of coffee.

The room was filled with my team, and one would have been hard pressed to find a single stoic amongst the bunch. One-by-one they thanked me for what I’d done for them. Amongst the cheers were reminders of the good and hard times we had enjoyed together as we worked to help the Northern Cheyenne nation. I was laughing as loudly as everyone else.

Then, Mary called me over and presented to me the gift the folks had for me to remember them and their people. Like I’d ever forget! I had expected some kind of a gag gift, because we had that kind of friendship, you know? Instead, my throat constricted and I simply could not speak as I saw the lovely watchband.

Finally, I managed to choke out a thank you and told them I’d never forget them. I’d miss them like the old friends they’d come to be for me. I’d been worried that they’d not find room in their hearts and lives for me, but I was wrong. Regardless of what anybody had said, these people were my friends and we loved one another, skin-color didn’t matter.

So many more things happened than what could be recorded here, of course, but it is one time in my life, when I was all alone in a new place and I saw God abundantly supply all of my needs. Not just those basics of food, lodging and security; but also a most valuable commodity—the love and respect of those with whom I worked and amongst whom I lived.

There was so much I just couldn’t do anything about, but God taught me to let go of all He had not given me to do. The responsibility for those lives rested on His shoulders, not mine. My challenge was to do the very best with the work God gave me to do, and that’s what I did. Of course, I would have liked to do more; but as I drove away that day, I knew I had done all that I could do with the work God had given me. It was time to move on to the next assignment.

 *Check the story in the post listed in this link:
Moving In

****May God bless you in all that He has given you to do today!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Unbelievable Injustice

Sometimes in life we are faced with situations that can’t be described in any other word than “unjust.” For example, because the ambulance service was located on the land of, and run by, the Northern Cheyenne, we were expected to go to the aid of the people, regardless of how un-urgent their health problem.

Sometimes, that only constituted an inconvenience that included a prayer that no one else who was actually in an emergency situation would need us; but at other times, the inconvenience carried with it danger for the ambulance crew.

One such event occurred during a terrible snowstorm. Our roads were narrow, and could be dangerous on any evening; but in a blizzard, the roads were treacherous. Nevertheless, the call came, and we took off.

The ambulance did the slip-and-slide maneuver all over the narrow road, threatening to drop off the asphalt many times in the course of the journey. The care and skill of my driver kept us on the road, but there could be little doubt that his hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. Finally, one hour later, we came to a stop.

We grabbed the gear we expected to need for the “heart attack in the making,” only to be greeted by an extremely calm lady coming towards us on the path. Her demeanor didn’t match the crisis. “Well, it certainly took you long enough! It must be an hour since I called you.”

“As you can see, Ma’am, the blizzard has made the travel pretty slow going this evening. But, we’re here now. Please take us to the person who is having chest pain and trouble breathing.” I struggled to stay calm, but did continue walking towards the house as I spoke.

The lady’s focus was on the driver, just pulling the ambulance cot out of the back of the vehicle. “Oh, you don’t need that. I can walk over to you.”

I stopped dead in my tracks on the front steps and whirled around to address the lady. I must not have heard correctly. The heavy falling of wet flakes had lessened considerably by this time, but the road from here to the hospital would be more of the same. The plow would not be through this area until late afternoon the following day. The accumulation of snow on the unplowed road would be measured in feet, not inches at this point. “Excuse me, Ma’am. Did you say that you are the patient?”

“Yes, I’ve had a sore throat for about two weeks now, and I just don’t want another night when I can’t sleep.”

Well, all kinds of unchristian retorts threatened to escape my frozen to the gum line lips, but one glance at the stern expression on my driver set me straight. He spoke for me. “Okay, sister. Just climb in here and stretch out. We’ll take you to the hospital and see if they can help you.” Her smile was greeted with what I considered a seriously too-gentle admonition. “The next time you get sick, you really should go to the doctor after just a few days or a week; don’t wait for so long to get treatment. Also, these roads are pretty dangerous to be out driving, so you might want to think next time about taking a chance out on these roads for a sore throat.”

The words between my soft-spoken driver and I had registered only by the flares between our eyes; our lips didn’t move. By this time, he knew well what I was thinking and would have liked to say. No need to exclaim, “We risked our very lives, and will continue to do so for the rest of the way to the hospital--not to mention the two hours it’ll take for us to get home-- for a two-week-old sore throat!”

His eyes flashed back at me without the flares of anger seen in mine, It’s the reservation; they’re our people. I’d just never understand, but I learned to be as grateful for his calm acceptance as for his skill. This would not be the single example, but it was the only one in which our own lives were in danger.

For me, a far greater injustice was perpetrated against the people I’d come to love so much. Several of my men had been taking classes in a vocational training program. The two years were coming to a close and the men were excited at the idea of holding their certificate of completion. This certificate would allow them to gain regular, fulltime employment in various areas of construction. They all studied hard for the final examinations. However, when the time for results had come and gone, I wondered why I’d not heard of any celebrating amongst our team..; they couldn’t all have failed, could they?

Finally, one day I walked in on a tense discussion concerning their exams. For some reason unknown to them, the program had run out of money, and in fact, was in the red. So, no exams were going to be given. No certificates issued. The program was just dropped. Well, my crusader side kicked into high gear; they just weren’t going to do this to my guys!

Sadly, I didn’t find anyone in leadership who was able to do a thing about this unbelievable injustice for all of the students in this program. One comment by the guys about ripped my heart out. “We know all the things people say about the Native American Indian people, but what good does it do for us to try. Does anyone really care about us anyway?”

My heart was screaming, I do! I do care! But, it didn’t matter in the long run, because I was powerless to change things for them. And, that was the point. The people had become so used to others promising them the moon, if they would do such and such…only to drop the ball when the Indian people had done their part. I’ll spare you the many examples of these disappointments that I saw personally during my time on the reservation, but they were right to wonder if anyone…with any power…cared about them.

Well, I did know Someone with all power to change things and to Him I addressed my grievances. God listened; His Word says that He did, but I didn’t immediately see the results. I just cried along with those whose tears never dropped.

I left the reservation before the final hammer fell on this issue, so I didn’t get to, personally, see how it all ended. However, I believe that God was answering our prayers when we saw nothing.

How can I be so sure? Well, one year and a few months later, this very tribal headquarters opened the doors on the Chief Dull Knife College. Students from the Northern Cheyenne Nation, and those also living in the surrounding geographical areas, were given the opportunity for a college/university education in many fields of study. This community college allowed the students to earn an Associate of Arts degree, as well as a smooth continuation of their studies at a four-year program in the Montana university system, should they desire to earn a Bachelor Degree.

The CDKC continues educating the Northern Cheyenne Nation’s youth and adults even to the present… now just eighteen months away from their Thirtieth Anniversary year!

Yes, Someone did care and still does. Long ago, God’s Spirit moved on those who could make it happen and Chief Dull Knife College was born. God can do the same for every nation, if only His people, who are called by His Name will humble themselves, and pray! (II. Chronicles 7:14)

If you’d like to learn more about this school, here’s their link. (I especially liked the messages of CDKC President, Dr. Richard Littlebear and the vision of Chief Dull Knife posted on this site.):

****Final Moments…Next Post

Monday, April 22, 2013

Best Left to God

Early one morning as I was washing up my breakfast dishes, loud, staccato knocks at my kitchen door startled me. “C’mon in; it’s open.” I grabbed for a towel to dry my hands as I spoke.

“We gotta get over there; they’re at it again.” My on-call partner yelled over at me as he snatched the keys to the ambulance off the peg. No point to ask questions until we were en route.

“So, what’s up? What are we looking at here?” I rapidly assembled the oxygen set-up and tested the oxygen flow, knowing that whatever the victim, we’d need oxygen during transport.

Before the ambulance had had time to get to full speed, John swung the vehicle onto a front yard, perhaps a hundred yards down the street to the left. The abrupt stop caused me to lurch forward, but I righted myself and grabbed the jump box, just as John flung open the ambulance door. “Leave the cot for now; there’s no time.” As we stormed inside the house, John filled me in.

John was on his way over to my place, because he was the duty-attendant/driver for that day. As he strolled by the home of Albert and Lila, he noticed the couple through the open side door. Lila was chasing Albert with a large paring knife, shouting murderous consequences for whatever it was he’d done to push her button. Knowing the couple’s history, John broke into a dead-run, headed for the ambulance. The two of us reached the kitchen and all chatter stopped.  

Dropping to my knees at the side of the fallen man, I hoped we’d made it in time. The high-arch of spurting blood from Albert’s carotid artery made it easy to find the site of the attack. Blood was all around his head, neck and shoulders. Gently I plugged the pulsing flow coming from his neck with my index finger. I needed to stop the loss of blood without impeding the flow to his brain.

“Don’t you go helpin’ that no good man! Don’t do it or I’ll stick you in the head!” Since the knife lay on the floor not far from Albert, I felt a bit more courageous than I would have had she been holding the dripping instrument.

“John will help you to the chair over there,” I said while lifting and turning my chin to indicate the metal chair farthest from me. “You must be so tired from chasing Albert around the kitchen.”

“You bet I am, white girl. He’s nothing but trouble to me so don’t you go helpin’ him out none.”

John had lightly gripped the woman’s elbow and was escorting her over to the chair as she ranted. Relief flooded me as the wild-eyed, nightgown-clad middle-age woman sat.

John attempted to calm Lila with his soft-spoken assessment of her situation. “Now, Lila; relax and let us take care of old Albert over there. You know if he dies, you won’t have anyone here to fight with, now will you?”

Lila barked a retort in the language of her people, to which John choked trying to stifle his laugh. “You young ones are always trying to interfere. Just leave ‘im lyin’ there. He deserves to bleed and I’m not gonna clean it up neither!”

Fortunately, the tribal police arrived to take over Lila, and we could get on with our care of Albert. Truthfully, because of the location of the slice into the carotid artery, there was only one thing I could do, keep my finger in place.

John soon had the ambulance cot rolling through the living room, stopping at the door of the kitchen. I was delighted to see that, in the heat of the serious threat to life and limb, John had remembered to put the portable oxygen tank and mask on the cot before leaving the ambulance. Since I could do nothing with only one free hand, John opened the flow of oxygen and secured the mask to Albert’s face, much to his protesting shouts.

The police officers on the scene assisted in carefully moving Albert from his position on the floor to the ambulance cot. I struggled to hold my index finger in place, because of Albert’s continued shouting throughout the transport from the floor to the back of the ambulance.

Once inside the ambulance, a new problem presented itself. My arm was too short to sit on the attendant’s bench and reach over to keep pressure on the carotid. Through his oxygen mask, now hooked up to the system inside the ambulance, Albert voiced his own solution. “Just sit on me. You ain’t nothin’ but a little squirrel.”

“Stop talking Albert. I’m having enough trouble keeping my finger here without you moving that jaw of yours.” On the other hand, Albert was right. Since the doctor was not in town this particular weekend, I was looking at a period of time not shorter than forty-five minutes to hold that position. There was just nothing else to do; I climbed on top of the man, straddling his body just under his rib cage.

Because of the numerous times John had to slow the ambulance, the trip took more than an hour and a half. Throughout the travel over those narrow roads, I could see Lila in the car following the ambulance. Her mouth was going a-mile-a-minute. I just hoped she’d be over whatever it was that set her off once she arrived at the hospital…and where were the police, anyway? Shouldn’t she be in their custody, not in a friend’s car on the way to the hospital?

At last, we pulled into the ambulance bay of the hospital. Very gingerly the team there guided the ambulance cot out of the vehicle and locked the wheels in place. Yes, I was still atop the victim, holding my finger in place. The joints were aching in protest. How I longed to move my finger and hand. I was fairly sure I was in more pain than the victim.

Not long after being wheeled into the treatment room, the stitch was slipped down over my human plug. I backed the digit out and climbed off Albert, shaking my hand to try to regain some of the circulation to my finger. What an enormous relief to be freed from that position.

We were assured that Albert would live to run away from Lila another day and turned the ambulance towards home. Lila? She was running up the Emergency Ramp with family surrounding her as we drove away.

“John, why doesn’t he just leave her before she kills him? And, why don’t the police arrest her? It doesn’t look like they intend to do anything about this attempted murder.” I was exhausted and puzzled.

“Arrest old Lila? Never happen. The police don’t even try anymore. Albert just won’t press charges and, until she actually kills him, they just chalk it up as another episode of domestic violence; Albert must press charges against her. He never will as long as he has breath in his lungs.”

“But, why? Does he have some kind of death wish himself?”

“Lila’s his woman; that’s enough reason. Love? Hmmm? Maybe it’s a kind of love he has for her; I don’t really know. It’s just that she’s his woman, period.”

“But, if she keeps trying to kill him—“

“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind. Last year, we came upon Lila chasing Albert around the yard swinging a hatchet. A couple of us ran over to stop Lila and Albert came after us, fists flying. Nope, nobody messes with Albert’s woman.”

“So, he ran faster last year than this, uh?”

“Not at all. She buried that hatchet in the middle of his skull. The doctor was in town then, though, so Albert’s emergency trip wasn’t so long in the police car.”

I really didn’t get it, but this episode finished just as the doctor said it would. Albert was soon back at home with Lila. Nothing more happened between the two of them that necessitated an ambulance call while I was living on the reservation.

However, about six months after my part in the project had ended, I came across a very familiar name while I was transcribing medical records at a large hospital 105 miles from Lila and Albert.

As it turned out, Lila had buried a small paring knife in Albert’s ample abdomen and he came in to the clinic complaining of a bellyache. No mention had been made of the violence that led to his bellyache, and none was noted until close examination of the patient.

This time, Albert needed surgical removal of Lila’s instrument of conflict; but, as in all such cases prior to that one, Albert healed and went home to live with Lila.

While I lived on the reservation, it was extremely difficult for me, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, to understand such relationships. Certainly, neither of these two demonstrated love, affection, or respect for one another. A bit of a crusader by personality, I tried to get authorities to do something about the continual attempts of Lila to end Albert’s life. Neither the tribal police nor the tribal council members were the least bit interested in the couple’s marital interactions. It was just their way, and none of anybody’s business.

I finally accepted that some things are best left to God; there was nothing I could do to change anything or anyone. It was God Who kept seeing that this man was rescued, and only God could create a miracle of change in the human heart.

*While the account is true, all names have been changed.

****Unbelievable Injustice…Next Post

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Hilarious Lesson in Humility

Commanding a mature presence at the ripe old age of twenty-four, isn’t easy. All but two of my twenty-one trainees were older than I by, probably, a decade. Plus, I was the trainer, so shouldn’t I seem to know what I was doing at all times? Funnily enough forty years later, I know better; I’m okay not to know all that there is to know in any of the various jobs in which I’ve been employed. Knowing how to find the answers to what I don’t know is the key, but I hadn’t found this key when I was just beginning my stint as the head of the ambulance service. Boy, did I do some dumb things!

Sometimes, the family member of the patient saved me from enormous embarrassment. One such example was the middle-of-the-night knock on my shaky front door.

Jumping out of bed in a deep-sleep fog, I ran for the telephone sitting on the apple crate. When I heard only a dial tone, I decided I’d been dreaming and started back for the bedroom. Knock, knock, knock! This time it was louder and more insistent.

Okay, it wasn’t the phone; it’s the door, I told myself while reversing direction. I opened the door and saw an Indian man standing in the doorway, hat in hand.

“Please come! My wife’s having a baby and the baby doesn’t want to come. Please, come help her!”

My adrenaline kicked in mightily as I motioned the man in and reached for my jeans. Every night before going to bed, I stacked my clothing on the chair next to the phone. Piled in the exact order I needed for the fastest time from pj’s to fully-dressed EMT-A garb, the new father-to-be suddenly realized I was about to get dressed. “Uh, well, er, I’ll just wait out here,” The poor man slammed the front door between us.

“Oh, thank you, Lord! What in the world was I thinking?” I whispered my gratitude while pulling on jeans, tee shirt and socks. My pajamas in a heap on the floor where I’d tossed them. In less than sixty seconds, I climbed into the ambulance, off to pick up my driver. The patient’s husband came along to help us find his house; there were no formal addresses.

The end of the story is that his wife and son both were fine, with even enough time to transport them all to the hospital forty-five minutes away.

The return trip included a mental review of the ambulance call from that first knock on my front door. I’d quickly learned to have the stack of clothing ready when the phone rang after losing time frantically hunting for an essential piece of the outfit on prior occasions. Normally, the family member walked to the police station and they phoned me, since there were so few telephones in the town. So, this potential for embarrassment and exposure was a first for me. I figured I might have been protected by the shock of the distraught husband, but didn’t take it for granted that the next time would end as innocently. Change was implemented immediately.

If my team had heard anything of my blunder, no one mentioned it to me. However, the team was likely not to say anything, preferring to defer to their fearless leader and assume I’d learn better. As I got to know each one more personally, they did take some cautious steps in directing me away from potential for error. However, I wasn’t always as receptive as I should have been. Bottom line: I deserved to have my pride humbled!

What patience and kindness the twenty-one future EMT-A’s demonstrated towards their young instructor. We were nearly at the end of the training period and had only a few lessons left to complete. “Okay, folks, anyone remember what the book says about lifting a victim off the ground if you don’t have a board to keep him flat?”

“If the victim is a woman, the heaviest part should be at the hips so the strongest EMT should take the hips and the other one, the shoulders. If it is a man, the shoulders are the heaviest.”

“Correct! Let’s try it.” Pointing to Mary, all of five feet tall, the three of us assumed our positions — Mary stretched out, Eddy kneeling by her hips and the instructor by her shoulders, according to the book. It was rather a tight squeeze with chuckles from the watching squad because Eddy was a giant of a man who probably weighed-in at 300 pounds. Not a lot of wiggle room with such a small victim.

“Just a minute, please. I have a question?” I leaned back on my heels and looked up at one of the other ladies on the team. “I was just wondering…I mean, Mary has done a lot of heavy work in her life and, well, I was thinking…maybe Mary’s body is really heavier at the shoulders than the hips.” The nods of agreement didn’t escape my notice, but making changes in what the book said was not a part of my experience yet.

Looking down at Mary, arms already hugging her chest, ready to be rolled and lifted. “I’m not so sure that makes a difference. The book didn’t make any exceptions to the rule so let’s just go with it. She’s had a few kids, so the book says that this should be her heaviest section.”

The faces on the team didn’t show their reaction, but the Northern Cheyenne didn’t usually use their facial expressions to expose their thoughts. The thing is, I was in “instructor mode” already, and back-tracking or re-thinking anything I said just didn’t fit in with my already in-motion activity. I gave a nod to Eddy that we’d continue with the exercise…just as the book described.

Mary’s arms still crossed and resting on her chest, we inched our arms under Mary’s body, preparing to lift her up and roll her like a log onto our chests. Then, in unison, we would stand, “victim” secured for transport to the waiting gurney. Uh, well, that’s how the diagrams show it should happen anyway.

“On three!” I shouted out the count and, with a grunt, contracted my biceps and upper body muscles. Eddy did the same, without the grunt. Using one fluid movement, Eddy lifted Mary’s hips, rolled her lower half against his chest, and stood… exactly as the book illustrated.

Sadly, I was still kneeling, and pulling with all my might to lift Mary’s upper half from the floor when Eddy stood. I had done this maneuver, in one smooth motion, a dozen times; how could this be happening? Eddy, aware of the dead silence in the room, broke his concentration to see what had caused the quiet.

Mary’s body hung suspended, as though the film had stopped in the middle of an action sequence. Her head down, arms still crossed, Mary’s small body had twisted at the waist when Eddy stood. Her upper half dangled above the floor. Petite Mary remained in character, playing the victim, but my own arms barely touched her back.

Eddy gently set Mary’s lower half back on the ground and offered his hand to help her stand. The entire squad just looked at me; not a single person said a word.

“Okay, so sometimes the book is wrong.” My red-hot face must have glowed the embarrassment, but my smile was all they needed to let the laughter rip. It was then I noticed that this petite lady, indeed, had narrow hips and an extremely muscular upper body. Well, they’d tried ever-so gently to draw my attention to what everyone else could see. Perhaps, the hint was too gentle for their inflexible, young trainer.

I wish I could say this was the only mistake I made during my time on the reservation; sadly, it isn’t, but I did learn from each one. One very special custom I learned from the Northern Cheyenne team was this: A mistake can be made, but once it has been dealt with, it is never again mentioned; it’s just forgotten. How grateful I was to experience this profound truth of God’s Word in action, as I lived and worked amongst this precious Native American nation.

God’s Word says that once we’ve repented of a sin, and God has forgiven us according to his Word and His character, it is never mentioned again. It is as far as the East is from the West to God; He’ll never bring it up to you ever again. Like the above experience as a trainer, I never forgot that I did this foolish thing, but the pain of it was just not there, because the people let me move on without the sting of embarrassment.

If you have repented of something against God or His commandments, been forgiven of it by God, then just forget it; God has! Move on; God will always give us another chance, if we sincerely want to do what’s right in His eyes. Obey Him, repent when you mess up, accept that God forgave you, and move on in His victory over the consequences of sin. You are free!

Hebrews 8:12 “... and will remember their sins no more.”

Psalm 103:12 “… as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Romans 4:7-8 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”

****Best Left to God …Next Post

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Moving In

A couple of the pieces of equipment for the ambulance had ended up on back-order, so I turned my attention to getting my personal affairs packed and ready for transport to my new location. Lame Deer was the tribal center of the Northern Cheyenne Nation’s land. All official meetings and any tribal business took place in this Southeastern Montana town. There was only one stop light, at the junction where two highways intersected. In fact, this was the only pavement in the town, so road travel was pretty rugged, especially during times of rain.

The man in charge of overseeing the ambulance service on-site was from one of the national government bureaus. He was adamant that I live on the “white man’s” side of the town. This was a fenced in area left of the stoplight and contained the best housing, as well as all official non-Indian government representatives and employees working with the Northern Cheyenne Nation.

I, on the other hand, did not agree and was so insistent about it that my EMT-A trainees labeled me with the CB radio handle, “Agitator.” I never argued with the Indian folks, but this white man was really hard to get along with for a zealous young trainer. I wanted to live where “my people” lived; I didn’t need modern comforts that they lacked.

Ultimately, he gave in, and I was assigned a house to the right of the stoplight on the main road, near his office building. It had a carport where the ambulance could be parked. As it turned out, this was an especially good placing for the ambulance, because the house had a fist-sized hole on that side of the building. I could lay on my bed and look at what was going on outside right through the hole. The presence of the yellow ambulance covered up the view into my bedroom. (Okay, so maybe there were some down points to living on the right-side of the stoplight.)

I had been given a quick look at the house after one training session. I needed to bring any furniture I wanted to use as there was only a couple of chairs and a table in the kitchen. I was assured that the slightly hanging front door would have the hinges repaired or replaced.

My parents were fine with passing along some old furniture for me to move to my new home. They had a bed and dresser, as well as the stuffed, fabric rocking chair, whose little squeak had lulled me to sleep as a baby. Like I said, old furniture. They threw in a TV tray, too, so I would have a kind of end table next to the chair. The usual kitchen and bathroom basics were gathered, and soon I was packed up and ready to move.

The day Mom and I pulled out of the driveway, vehicle loaded to the gills, excitement for the challenge overwhelmed me. Mother, on the flip-side of things, was very apprehensive… and she hadn’t even seen where her daughter would be living! Oh my, well she’d get used to the idea, I supposed. I hoped that some of the crew would be on hand to meet my mother. I just knew she’d love them, too.

The drive was long, and our travel chatter at an end when we finally left the main southbound highway for the more undeveloped road to Lame Deer. For miles and miles, there was only the plains wilderness to see.

At last, we began the ascent up the hill. “Mom, just as we begin our descent, you will see a new housing development to the right of the road. That is the signal that we are only a short way to town.”

“Oh, good. It seems like we’ve been in this car all day, doesn’t it?” Mom turned her head to the right so as not to miss the sign of life on this barren land.

“There it is, Mom. See the lovely homes? There are fourteen of them. They’re almost finished. It’ll be so nice for the families when they are cleared to move in. Most are living in a one-room dwelling now, so it will be a wonderful change for them.”

This might not have been my best idea, because seeing the new homes rather set Mom up to picture a home I might be living in over the next several months. Big mistake!

Entering Lame Deer, I pointed out various shops and buildings, including the IGA store where I would buy my groceries. I showed Mom the little post office, assuring her that I would write to her often. Her letters to me would come to a mailbox inside that little building. Passing the service station, I let Mom know that I had a couple of volunteers who worked in that station. Okay, part of my rapid-fire chatter was to try to distract my mother from the totally muddy roads. They were, most definitely, not a pretty sight.

At last, I brought the car and little U-Haul trailer to a stop in front of my house. Mom’s head whirled around and back at me. “Honey, why are you stopping here? Is there something wrong with the car?”

Oh boy, not a good sign. “Uh, no, Mom. This is my house.” Sadly, they had not repaired the front door, hanging askew right there in front of my mother.

This is your house? Oh, Honey, it can’t be; it’s a joke, right?” My mother took a second quick look, whipped her head around to glare at me, her eyes wide, her brows raised. After twenty-four years of parenting a prankster, she was hopeful I was just teasing her.

“Oh, Mom, it’s not that bad. Once we get unloaded and set up, you’ll see.” Sinking down into the thick, red clay mud as we left the car did not lighten my mother’s worries any. It was immediately obvious why I had urged her to wear rubber boots.

Unlocking the sun-bleached wooden front door, loose on its hinges at the bottom and listing to the left, we crossed into the living room. I patted myself on the back for having had the foresight to stretch out the faded old linoleum after the last training session with my team. I probably should have left it rolled up.

“Yikes! What was that?” Screaming, mother threw both hands up to cover her mouth while I was bent over, with tears of laughter rolling down my flushed cheeks. She had stepped on one of the buckles in the unsecured linoleum and a couple of dark grey, furry mice squealed, scampering out from under the very spot she had placed her foot. “Oh, dear! You can’t live here.”

“It’ll be fine, Mom. It just needs a bit of cleaning. How about we do that in this room and the bedroom before we unload the trailer? Once we have the living room and bedroom cleaned, we can empty the trailer. Then I can clean the bathroom and you can check out the kitchen. It’ll be a couple weeks before I can really bring the ambulance here so don’t worry about a spit polish kind of cleaning; just take off the top layers, okay?”

I waited but my mother was still in shock. I moved to leave the house and she followed, silently. Must be hard to be a mother sometimes.

Soon the furniture was unloaded. We put the various boxes in the living room until the kitchen and bathroom could be made ready. The bathroom had a metal shower cabin, but the last resident had used it as a garbage can for his peanut shells. Not at all sure why he layered the shower like that, but it was really a mess in that bathroom. The kitchen was actually better.

Throughout the process, my new Indian friends came to greet my mother. Many of the folks who came to take a peek at the new white-face moving in were unknown to me. All wondered why I would ever live on this side of the fence, but I assured them it was my choice. (I was not about to show my mother the other option, right?)

It took a couple of hours to get things in reasonable living order; but, at last, we had finished. Mom saw that I was so excited about the move that she had to admit she was happy for me. She agreed that the folks were very friendly, and indeed, seemed really glad to have me there.

Before long, it was time to make our journey back. I drove a circuitous route out of town, so that I could show Mom the grade school and a few other spots, always naming the volunteer trainees I had working in each place. I thought that Mom may feel a bit better if she could see I really did know someone here. I reassured her that I had twenty-one friends waiting to man that ambulance service with me, all fine people. She nodded her head at each name and place, but a mother is a mother, right? She’d keep praying for me and already was longing to have the project finished. As we left town, Mom’s parting comment made me laugh. “Honey, when the ambulance is running, and your part in this project is finished…leave the furniture here, please.”

The Lord had much to teach me in this land of red-clay mud streets. His constant Presence was not only my shield, but my key into understanding more of the lives of these precious people. God was also their Creator…knowing and loving them with all His heart. No wonder I felt at home with the Northern Cheyenne Nation!

****A Hilarious Lesson in Humility…Next Post

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A New Challenge: The Northern Cheyenne Ambulance Service

Shortly after slapping that Registered Emergency Medical Technician-Ambulance patch on my jacket, I began assisting in the training of EMT-A’s all over Eastern Montana. My mentor had classes near and far, involving the Highway Patrol officers, as well as employees of the US Forest Service. Sometimes it took hours just to get to the class, making the return trip a late one.

In addition, I helped out as a secretary for the Director of the Emergency Medical Services office in our area. It was under their authority that the EMT-A course was run. For me, I was just happy to be doing work that I truly enjoyed. Little did I know that God had positioned me in just the right spot to receive my very first inter-cultural work and living experience.

In 1973 the Department of Transportation joined with the Department of Emergency Medical Services to offer the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council an opportunity to have its own ambulance service. Through a government grant, a team of Native American Indians from the Northern Cheyenne Nation would be trained as EMT-A’s, with an ambulance equipped to be utilized after, as well as during their training period.

To make a long story short, I was given the challenge of finishing up their EMT-A training, while living on the reservation headquarters in Lame Deer, Montana. I had already been team-teaching the course, making the drive of 130 miles one-way a couple of times a week with my mentor—rain or shine, snow or dry roadways. We drove much more carefully along the stretches we knew that our Highway Patrol trainees were not as skilled in the area of field medicine yet!

The Northern Cheyenne nation had just over 10,000 names on their registry in 2010, though less than half of the list actually lived on their 244,000 acres of land in Eastern Montana. A bit less than half made up the population of the designated tribal headquarters, Lame Deer. Those living on their land may have been slightly more in 1973-1974, the time of the joint DOT/EMS project. Centrally located, for the most part, Lame Deer was the appointed spot for the ambulance service. Therefore, I would be moved to Lame Deer as soon as I could get the used Ford Econoline van equipped to serve as the ambulance.

I did as much of the work as I could to keep down costs. My father enjoyed pitching in whenever he was off work. I marked various thicknesses of plywood boards, and when Dad had the day off, he used his circular saw to turn those large slabs of wood into splints of all sizes and a number of backboards, with rectangular handholds along each side. Once cut, I sanded until I thought my fingers would be permanently square-tipped.

Next came the varnish. Of course, as a rookie carpenter, I had thought one layer would be enough. Ha, who was I kidding? My father was a perfectionist and taught me the right way to render a raw piece of wood ready for a roadside trauma victim. Sand, varnish, sand, varnish until there was not a rough edge or bump anywhere.  Paint the name of the ambulance on each piece for identification purposes, should something be left in the Emergency Room of a hospital, and then varnish over that, too. One needed to be sure the equipment could be wiped clean, didn’t one? Well, let me tell you, when those pieces were finished, they were as perfect as any piece of plywood could have been.

A real carpenter installed the peripheral cupboards and benches with flip-lids to double as storage areas. Then, Dad and I did the finish work on each piece installed in the van. Space was made behind the bench of the cab to hold the 100-lb oxygen cylinder which would supply the medical hook-up inside the service area of the ambulance.

I found just the right size fishing tackle box to turn into a fully-equipped jump box. Anything that couldn’t be made was purchased.

At last, the vehicle was ready to be moved to the reservation. But, was I? I mean, at twenty-four years of age, never having lived alone in my life, was I ready to make the move to the remote location? I had been working with twenty-one of the finest people I’d ever know for months on a twice weekly basis, but would they make room for me in their lives and hearts, or would I be so lonely I couldn’t stand it there?

Only God knew the answers to my questions and only God could calm those fears. I began to pack.

****Moving In…Next Post