This Is Why You Need To Pull Over For First Responders

by Caila Smith
OgnjenO / Getty

Trigger warning: child loss

I come from a small, midwestern town where everyone knows everyone. Around here, there typically aren’t any issues with vehicles pulling over for first responders. Maybe it’s because there is no such thing as a rush-hour, and traffic jams are non-existent.

So that’s why I was absolutely floored when I was in the big city, witnessing an ambulance having trouble navigating its way through an endless line of drivers who didn’t move over.

If you’re reading this with a guilty conscience, let me explain why it’s so important to pull the heck over for ambulances and first responders.

On October 16, 2016, I woke up to find my baby girl laying lifeless before me.

I always imagined myself as the type of mom who would walk through fire and jump headfirst into action, if it meant saving the life of one of my children.

But when trauma struck, my body’s initial reaction left me paralyzed in my own fear.

When I called 911, the operator’s voice was calm but stern, as she immediately instructed me on how to begin CPR. I felt dumbfounded. Why didn’t I think to do this the moment I woke to such a horrific site?

Truth be told, my mind wasn’t capable of processing any new ideas other than crying out for help. My world was moving at the speed of light — making it impossible for my brain to play catch up with reality. The very real fear — that my daughter might never wake up — was physically crippling me.

As I blew my first breath into her lungs, I was fooled in the cruelest way as her little chest began to rise and then fall. For a split second, I had hope that my baby was coming back to me.

However, my mistaken joy was crushed with a brutal realization that it was my own breath causing her to exhale, and not her own.

At this time, my compressions were shaky and probably inconsistent. Looking back on it all, I think this is because I was petrified that I was going to hurt her. Which makes no sense when the alternative was her death, I know. But I was in a state of utter shock and it debilitated me.

Every second felt like an eternity as I helplessly listened for the faintest sound of any type of siren. I have watched enough medical shows to know, once the body has been deprived of oxygen for six minutes, there is irreparable brain damage.

It was a race against time, and I was losing. I could literally feel my daughter’s life slipping through my fingers and with each passing moment, my panic was escalating into sheer terror.

Not to mention, my frantic state of mind jerked my anxiety into overdrive, causing every noise around me to become an echo through a tunnel, and overtaking it all was a pierce, deafening ring.

The ringing, the operator’s distant and all-too-calm voice, my colorless daughter, these chest compressions — it was all too much to bear, and I was starting to feel distracted and even more distraught. Out of desperation, I let out my first blood-curdling shriek and somehow formed the words, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

Because of my shock, I couldn’t think clearly enough to realize that it was a Sunday, my husband’s only day off of work. And my cry for help brought him from a peaceful slumber into a living nightmare. Our bedroom door burst open, and he was awake, alert and leaping toward us.

He sprang into action, fighting like hell for her life, in the way I always thought that I would. The compressions he practiced were consistent and strong, and it wasn’t but but a minute later that three firemen were sprinting through our front door.

Despite numerous, drawn-out attempts, our daughter never woke up that morning, and after some time, we found out that the firefighters arrived at our house within a mere two minutes of my 911 call.

But let me tell you, it felt like hours.

Joined with my panic, helplessness and terror, the arrival of the first responders were like a breath of fresh air. Because even though the miraculous didn’t happen, the possibility to make it happen was no longer in the medically under-qualified hands of my husband and me. Once they jumped in to help, our daughter stood a fighting chance, and I was given a little hope, if even just ten minutes worth.

Since then, my mind naturally floods with a variety of “what if this” or “what if that.” But at least I don’t have to wonder, “what if help had gotten to us sooner?” Because they arrived as quickly as they could.

There’s tragedy in every corner of this fallen world, making it easy for us to feel powerless to change it. But the incredibly small act of moving your car to the side of the road is helping. You’re contributing in the task of saving someone else’s life.

After all, every second counts.

Please know that these first responders, who I’ve grown to call heroes, are trying to save someone’s daughter, sister, mother, friend or husband.

There is nothing so important that it should stand in the way of another human’s life. So for the love of all that is good in this world, please pull over.