"YOU'RE A SMART ONE, BERNICE."
"Engine 7, Medic 7, respond on a stroke. 83-year-old female, unable to speak, severe facial droop."
It was almost a daily dispatch at Tucson Fire Station 7. But when we arrived on scene and I saw my old friend Bernice Clemens sitting alone in a chair I immediately wondered, "Coincidence or Providence?"
Sure enough, Bernice was suffering from a stroke. Though she couldn't speak or even nod, Bernice kept her eyes on me the whole time.
Call it serendipity, divine intervention, or pure dumb luck, but there are times when things just seem to work out. I'm not talking about the stroke itself, but the fact that I was able to be there to help an old, old friend.
You might say that I was bound to run into someone I knew eventually. Even in a city of 500,000. It wasn't the first time I'd seen friends on medical calls. I'd bandaged, started IV's, given medications and transported a few acquaintances over the years. I had basically done the same thing any other paramedic would have done.
But stroke calls are a little different. Though the situation is extremely critical, once the patient is on oxygen and has an IV, the paramedic either initiates a one-way conversation or works on paperwork during the drive to the hospital.
Within minutes Bernice was on high-flow oxygen, had an IV and was sitting in the back of the ambulance with me. And for one of the first times in my short career, I can honestly say I did something no other paramedic could have. I held Bernice's hand and talked about old times.
Bernice showed no signs of recognition, but she watched me closely as I reminisced about the time my wife invited her and another widow, Bennie, over for dinner. At one point Bernice had made a cheeky remark and her tiny friend Bennie smacked her lips and said, "Oh, Bernice! You're a smart one."
As we rode to the hospital, I told her where Wifey and I had moved to. How old our girls were and some of the funny things they said. How much I loved being a firefighter. And I'm lying if I say my eyes didn't tear up when I told her how special she was to Wifey and I when we were newlyweds.
To this day I have no idea if Bernice understood a single word. But there is no experience I've had in 11 years of firefighting that I would trade for the opportunity to spend 10 minutes with my friend Bernice Clemens that day.
So I ask you: Coincidence or Providence? A striking occurrence of two events apparently by mere chance? Or the foreseeing care and guidance of God over the creatures of the earth.
You can decide for yourself, but personally I agree with Morpheus from The Matrix. I do not see coincidence, I see providence. I see purpose.
Obviously I can't prove it one way or another, but I still thank God for the chance to work at Station 7 that day.