The Kindness of Strangers

13 Jul

As a military wife, you get used to periods on your own and getting on with the day to day. A lack of companionship aside, you soon establish your routines and develop strategies to get through the weeks and months solo; arranging social get togethers, scheduling catch-ups and making lists of things you need to get done and coming up with little projects you can do on evenings or weekends.

But there occasionally comes a time when that question, “Can I call your husband?” is necessary and that’s when being on your own can prove more difficult.

As ‘deployments’ go, eight weeks is not a long time but admittedly I was a little anxious beforehand this time round because being pregnant adds a layer of vulnerability, and inevitably, the further along you get, the fewer tasks you feel up to doing.

I’ve had my weekly yoga classes, antenatal classes and catch-ups with friends. Periodic check-ups have meant trips to the hospital and GP, which do mean there has been some reassurance on a regular basis as well.

In fact, everything had been going pretty well for a few weeks and I’d only been told to come into the hospital for monitoring and a scan once after questioning how much I’d been feeling the baby move. Of course, as soon as I arrived, it was kicking up a storm again and all was fine.

Then came 28 weeks and my midwife checkup at the hospital. All looked normal and I set off on the drive home, but decided to call into the supermarket en route to pick up a few bits and pieces. It was nearly lunchtime so, being sensible (it happens sometimes), I stopped and had a bowl of soup before braving the crowds in a large supermarket in the middle of a bustling shopping centre.

That’s when I started feeling hot. I began fanning myself, thinking I was having some sort of odd, pregnancy-induced hot flush. Maybe this is one of the joys of the third trimester… But the fanning was futile and I was just becoming hotter and perspiring and started feeling really sick. I looked down the mall to the toilets, thinking I needed cold water on my face but at that point I didn’t think I was going to make it through the throngs to get there. I needed to cool down and so my next thought was the supermarket opposite because supermarkets have fridges and freezers and so that’s where I headed.

It all happened very quickly. I think I had just gone past the Asian dipping sauces and was somewhere between the crisps and the line of cashiers when my hearing went. At that point I knew I was going down and in that split second I just put myself on the floor. I didn’t think there would ever come a time in my life when the cold, hard, tiled floor of Coles would look appealing but in that moment, it won over falling.

It wasn’t long before a few people had rushed over, asking me if I was ok. At that point I was too hot and dizzy to point out that if I was ok, I would not be choosing to lie there… I would have clearly chosen the ice cream section. I think I murmured something about being pregnant and heard another voice say, “Call triple zero.” I was pretty sure I didn’t need an ambulance but I was equally a little concerned that this might be affecting the baby. I had no idea, I was just aware of a girl, feeling my head, pulling an elastic from round my wrist and tying back my hair.

“Has someone called a ambulance?”

“Yes, they’re on their way.”

A bottle of water was shoved under my nose and I managed to half sit, slumped against a checkout booth and sip water. This is when the reality of the situation sank in and I became aware of several pairs of concerned eyes coming into focus and the ogling faces, pretending they were just stopping to stock up on hot chilli sauce, which had never been more popular.

In the minutes that followed I think I explained the same story of what had happened to at least four or five different people. There was the man, I assume was the floor manager, who suddenly had a legitimate reason to start using the walkie talkie strapped to his belt, there was the shopping centre security manager, who had been called and had come with first aid box in hand, the girl at the checkout who went to fetch me a chair and there were the two girls who had stopped and stayed by my side until they knew I was going to be ok.

One girl, the one who had tied back my hair, had managed to get through to an emergency service I hadn’t even known existed; a local volunteer service, who act as a first response and bridge of medical care before a main NSW Ambulance can arrive on the scene. It meant that within no more than five minutes, someone was there, an oxygen mask was clamped to my face, my blood pressure was being checked, my pulse monitored and my finger pricked to check my glucose levels.

It was around this time that the floor manager returned and cordoned off the area, so I felt more like the victim in an episode of Crime Scene in the Crisp Aisle  than a pregnant lady with low blood pressure.

However, amid all the attention and drama, I was incredibly touched by the solicitude shown by the people around me. As both the medical guy and the centre manager got all my details, the girl by my side was asking who she should call.

“Can I call your partner?”

I shook my head. “He’s away.”

“Ok, what about any family, are they local?”

I probably could have cried at this point but just shook my head. ‘In England.”

I told her I didn’t think I needed to call anyone but when the ‘Ambos’ arrived (you will find Australians abbreviate everything and stick an ‘o’ on the end) and informed me they thought it best I went to hospital to get checked over, I realised I probably should tell someone. I ran through the list of friends, most of whom I knew would be at work and settled on the wife of a Navy friend. The message was passed and I was told she would call to check on me.

The ambulance crew seemed concerned that I was on my own and would be going back home alone and with my blood pressure still “too low” for their liking, they got ready to take me to hospital.

The security manager assured me that they would look after my car and I needn’t worry about leaving it and to come back when I was ready. Just before the ambos decided to cart me away, the girl who had waited all this time, made sure I had all my bags and took my number, saying she would call to check if I was ok and if I needed anything, she lived near by.

If the whole incident of collapsing on the floor in the middle of a supermarket wasn’t embarrassing enough, being wheeled out on a stretcher and into the crowds of shoppers in a packed Westfield was definitely mortifying. I stared at the ceiling and tried to avoid any eye contact.

The ambulance guys were brilliant, although they kind of reminded me a bit of a young Chuckle Brothers (a not-that-funny-comedy duo to the non-English residents). I could almost imagine them saying, “to me, to you,” as they parked me in the ambulance. However, the guy in the back of the ambulance was lovely and explained that his wife was also expecting their first child.

Although still very shaky I was feeling a lot better and I started to realise how lucky I was that I had been in a public place, despite the obvious embarrassment factor! I was also incredibly touched by the number of strangers who had shown so much care and concern: from the girl in the shop, to the supermarket staff, the security manager, the initial emergency response team and the ambulance crew themselves.

I felt completely safe and in good hands and shortly after arriving in hospital (I should have just stayed after my morning check up), my friend and her husband both arrived to see how I was doing and insisted that I come home with them.

So it was that I ended up spending the next couple of days at their house, with their four children, being fed wonderful, home-cooked, family dinners and being able to curl up in front of the TV with their Labrador.

I did call the girl and let her know I was ok and in fact we went out for a coffee a few days later so I could say thank you in person, with a bunch of flowers. I also left with a few more tips about becoming a mum and good shopping advice, as it turned out she has a nine-month old.

It can definitely be hard at times when you are on your own and your husband is somewhere in the middle of the ocean but if I needed my faith restored in humanity, that day was probably it. Now just two more days to go before James is back, but you will be glad to know I have set up online supermarket delivery for the future.



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