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Going the Distance

THIS IS WHAT CARING LOOKS LIKE

Major (aka Larry)It was windy and bitter cold as only the High Plains can be on the night when a man we’ll call “Joe” walked into the Emergency Room at Weisbrod Hospital.  R.N. Nikki Lenox, who was on duty at the time and the first one to rally much needed help for his situation, described Joe as being in his early 50s, slender, very tall and very nice.  According to Nikki, he’d come to the E.R. because he was experiencing severe chest pains.  “He was pretty distraught,” she said.

It wasn’t the first time Joe had had these symptoms.  He was employed as an over-the-road truck driver, and, while driving through Montana just a few days before, had been briefly hospitalized for the same reason. When the pain started up again in Colorado, he’d thought he could take it, thought maybe it would go away, thought he just needed to keep driving.  So, Joe had driven through Denver, past several big hospitals, past different exits that could have turned him around and back in the direction of those bigger, fancier facilities. But, instead, Joe kept driving further and further into less populated country.  

By the time he reached our tiny town of Eads, the pain had become so severe that he had no choice but to park his truck, lock his beloved 6 month old pup named Larry—who had been his constant companion for the past half year—in the cab and walk the few blocks to the small facility where he hoped someone could help him.

There’s no telling what went through his mind on that short walk in that cold wind.  What is known—at least, what he was willing to share—is that he was in the middle of a long haul and was still a long ways from his destination.  He was also a long ways from his home in Rochester, New York. And, aside from his employers, there was no one to call for help, no one to notify that he was in serious trouble in the middle of nowhere.  There was really no one in his life, except for his dog.  And Joe knew that he was the one who was supposed to take care of his dog, not the other way around.  

After being examined in the ER, Joe was immediately admitted to Weisbrod. As is probably protocol with the people for whom he worked, Joe put in a call to his employers and told them what had happened.  At that point, things went from bad to worse.  

Joe’s employers told him someone would be sent to retrieve the truck and take the cargo to its destination.  They also told him he was to immediately clear out all of his possessions because he was being fired.  It seems “the company” felt that stopping twice on a trip, even if it was to be hospitalized, was a good enough reason to fire a man.

What Joe didn’t know—couldn’t know—is that, although he was in the middle of nowhere and being cared for by complete strangers with a condition that could, perhaps, cost him his life, he was actually in the very best place he could possibly be and was about to be treated like he had been born and raised here, for all of his life.

THIS WHAT REAL CARE LOOKS LIKE

Anyone who chooses to work at a frontier hospital knows that there’s no telling who will walk in the door or what kind of distress they might be experiencing.  And, no, calling Weisbrod Hospital a “frontier hospital” is not an attempt to be descriptive or literary; it’s an actual government designation for rural hospitals that are a minimum of a certain number of miles from a larger, more fully equipped medical facility.  Such a designation says volumes about just how far away larger, more fully equipped resources actually are.

Suffice it to say, no one goes to an Emergency Room because things are going well.  Sometimes, the distress a person is experiencing is due only in part to physical problems; sometimes, the physical problem is just a piece of a larger, even more complicated and challenging situation.  

This is nothing new to folks who have worked at Weisbrod for any length of time.  It wasn’t long before word got out that there was someone in the hospital who was in significant need of help.  The fact that that “someone” was a man no one knew didn’t make a single bit of difference.  All that was communicated was that help was needed.  And the response?  Help was on the way.

On Sunday, Brandy Turcotte, Social Worker at Weisbrod Hospital, got a phone call from R.N. Alyssa Eder.  “Alyssa called to give me a heads up and let me know about the situation waiting for me at the hospital,” Brandy said. When Brandy walked in the door the next day, Nikki Lenox was already waiting, ready to give her the “rundown”.  

Of course, it’s only conjecture, but, to Joe, the people who showed up and the help they provided must have felt like witnessing a miracle, in a way.   

The first situation to be addressed was the welfare of Larry, the dog.  Jose Hernandez, who works in Facility Maintenance, immediately stepped up to the plate and took Larry to his house where he put him in a safe, warm place with food to eat and water to drink.  Larry would do just fine.

Meanwhile, Joe was receiving treatment, and his condition was already improving.  When he was discharged, which would be relatively soon, no one—literally no one—would even consider the idea of turning Joe out on the street.  With no job and no transportation, Joe needed to find a way to get back to Rochester, New York.

“So, I called Social Services and talked to Dennis Pearson,” Brandy said, “He worked it out for Social Services to buy Joe a bus ticket to Rochester.”

The next problem was removing Joe’s possessions from his truck.  Over the road truckers essentially live in the cab of their trucks, which means there are a lot of possessions to be removed, and Joe was no exception.  However, there was a problem:  Joe couldn’t possibly take all of his possessions with him on the bus.

“That’s where Jose, Damien (Hernandez), Brody Snover helped out,” Brandy explained, as if it was all in a day’s work.  “They went to the truck, unloaded everything he owned, packed it up in boxes and got it all ready to be shipped to New York.”  

The next problem was getting Joe some money to travel.  The hospital donated eighty dollars to cover the cost of food and a motel room, if he needed one on the way home.  About that time, Tim Winder, Head of Maintenance, stopped by Brandy’s office.  “He said he’d heard about the patient who needed help,” Brandy said.  “So, he donated some money to help him out.”  

Joe had been told that his paycheck would be waiting for him at a local Wal-Mart.  He also needed a way to get to Lamar where he could catch the bus for Rochester.

“Hospital rules prevent me from taking him by myself,” Brandy said, “so I needed someone to volunteer to do that.  Lane Gooden already knew what was going on--Joe had parked his truck in front of Lane and Debbie’s house. So, I called Lane and asked him if he would take Joe to Lamar.  He said, yes, of course, he would.”

When it was discovered that Joe didn’t have any luggage for his clothes and personal items to use on his trip to Rochester, Activities Director, Teri Simmons, immediately went to the Salvation Army Thrift Store and found a great bag for Joe to use.  

So…bus ticket?  Check.
Money to travel?  Check.
Boxes packed?  Check.
Ride to Lamar?  Check.
Luggage to travel?  Check.

That left one last thing to do, and it was, by far, the most difficult thing of all.

This was the only time Brandy grew quiet.  “Joe couldn’t take his dog on the bus,” Brandy said.  “He knew it.  We all knew it.”  Brandy, who has three beloved dogs of her own, paused.  “I only had two choices.  I could take him to the shelter in Lamar. Even though they’re a no kill shelter, there’s no telling what kind of person would adopt him.  Or…I could find someone in town who would take him. If I did that, I could make sure to give him to a good home with people who would treat him well and not to someone who would abuse him. I immediately thought of Dally Sagner.  She and Mo don’t have a dog, and I thought their little girl, Sage, would probably love Larry.”

Dally Sagner works as the hospital’s administrative receptionist.  “I was just at work when Brandy came and asked me if I would like a dog,” she said.  “And then she explained the situation.  She said the guy couldn’t take him back home and she either had to find a home for the dog or take him to the shelter.  Well, I couldn’t let that happen. I just couldn’t.”  

By then, Brandy had taken Joe around and introduced him to everyone. “He was a very nice man,” Dally said.  “But I had the sense that he’d been through a lot in his life. I felt so bad for him. The dog had been his companion non-stop for six straight months.  He was having to give up the one thing he cared for most in the world.”  When asked what she thought about meeting a man in such difficult circumstances, Dally’s voice grew soft, almost tender.  “I don’t know much about how he ended up in such a tough situation, but anyone who cares for an animal the way he cared for his dog says a lot about what kind of person he is. I wanted to help him out, and when I told him we’d take good care of his dog, I meant it.  Every word.”

Brandy said that Jose, who had been keeping Larry at his house, brought him to the hospital for Joe to say good-bye.  “Joe was broken hearted,” Brandy said.  “He told Dally everything that Larry likes to eat and do...”  Again, she paused.  “It was hard to watch.”

When asked how Joe responded to everything that was being done for him, Brandy looks for the right words.  “I think, at first, he was embarrassed because he lost his job.  But, more than that, I think he was…shocked,” she said.  “Just shocked that everyone would pull together for someone they didn’t even know. But, most of all, he was very sweet. He was stuck in a place where he didn’t know anyone and…all these people just…helped him out because he needed it.”

The only reason this entire story came to light is because of a post Nikki Lenox had put on Facebook, a post she had made in response to some harsh criticism another person had leveled at the town.  

In her original post, Nikki kept her comments limited to what the group did, not why.  When asked what was it about Joe that moved everyone to help him so much, she answered, “No special reason.  We would help anyone in need, if we had the means to do so. That is just why we stay out here in the country, I guess. I just hope people will pay it forward when they have the chance.  Not to sound like a cliché, but that’s why. This happens a lot more than people know.”

Brandy echoed Nikki’s thoughts.  “I’m proud of what everybody did, proud of my community.”  She stops and then adds a final thought.   “We really are one big family. We’re not there for just a paycheck.  This is who we are.  We’re there for each other, there for the community, there to get through the hard times, whatever they may be.”

For her part, Char Korrell, Interim CEO, had great praise for the staff.  “It was awesome how everyone pitched in to help,” she said.  “It’s all about serving those in need.  We have a great staff whose hearts are in the right place.”  

And what about Larry, the dog?  
These are good people paying it forward: Tim Winder, Teri Simmons, Dally Sagner, Jose Hernandez, Brandy Turcotte, Brody Snover, Lane Gooden (and grandsons).
Larry is now called Major, and what could have been sheer heartbreak has become, instead, “a blessing” as Major is completely in love with his best buddy, Sage.  That’s the report Joe got when he called Dally to check up on his pal after arriving in Rochester.  Since then, Dally has made sure to post regular pictures of Major and Sage so that Joe never feels too awfully far away.

When hearing about travelers who stop at Weisbrod, a person asked once why anyone would drive all the way through Denver and decide to stop for help at such a little hospital.  They might want to ask anyone of the following people for the answer.  Better yet, they might want to ask Joe.

Deepest admiration for the kindhearted actions of Nikki Lenox, Brandy Turcotte, Jose Hernandez, Damien Hernandez, Brody Snover, Teri Simmons, Laura Bybee, Alyssa Eder, Dally Sagner, and Tim Winder.  Well done, folks. Extremely well done.

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