Two days ago, I fell into a manhole. I never saw it coming but it must have seen me because as soon as my foot hit the unsecured cover, it opened wide its maw and in I tumbled. Stunned, shocked, scared: “My leg!” I screamed; I thought one was broken, maybe both. My torso lay above ground, my legs were suspended below. The pain was intense but I managed to pull my lower half out of the hole and waited for the bees to stop stinging me. I turned my head and saw a face I didn’t recognize—an African-American man with a beard and wearing a red flannel shirt was kneeling next to me. He had soft brown eyes, a quiet voice, a calm, reassuring presence. “Did you hit your head? Is your back ok? Can you move?” he asked. I thought I could so he helped me roll over, then gently helped me to my feet. I leaned into him, our eyes locked. I could stand; my legs could bear my weight. For the first time that morning, but not for the last, I thought to myself, “There are angels among us.”
I was surrounded by friends: kind, worried, solicitous. “Should I call 911?” “Should we call an ambulance?” “Notify the police.” I could feel blood running down both legs and now those bees were really starting to sting but I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I felt faint but the good Samaritan in the red flannel shirt was gone. I remember looking around and seeing him in a car across the street with his family watching me. I gave him a thumbs up and whispered thank you before he drove away. I never saw him again.
We had been visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Rehoboth and my wife helped me hobble back to their home. She had me stand in a bathtub and helped me remove my pants, socks, and shoes. There were multiple messy cuts and abrasions as well as a large hematoma above my left shin. Gently, she hosed my legs with warm water and I watched ribbons of blood snake away down the drain. I took deep breaths. The bees really started to sting again when she poured hydrogen peroxide on my wounds. She gently daubed them clean, slathered on an antiseptic ointment, and wrapped them in gauze. I wasn’t scared anymore and for the second time that day, I knew there were angels among us.
There were a few people waiting in the ER when I limped in. I told the duty nurse that I had fallen into a manhole. She looked at me for a long moment, then asked for my name and date of birth. I fumbled in my wallet for insurance cards but she didn’t need them, just my driver’s license. She fixed a band around my wrist and told me to take a seat. It was just another Sunday in the ER but I thought I glimpsed another one of the angels among us.
When you’re in pain, waiting is hard, but pretty soon, another nurse called me into the triage room and checked my vital signs. She laughed when I told her I had fallen into a manhole, but she was both amazed and sympathetic. She made me feel better, even laugh. One more angel among us.
Some more waiting, but then I was admitted to a bay in the ER. A doctor came in, weary but gentle and kind. He helped undress me and gave a low whistle when he saw the extent of my wounds. He asked me to wiggle my toes and smiled when I could. He examined the large hematoma over my tibia and ordered a precautionary X-Ray. “I don’t think it’s broken,” he said, “but let’s make sure.” He was optimistic and he made my wife and me feel the same way. Yet another angel among us.
A technician with a portable X-Ray machine appeared and took four images of my left leg. She was gentle and professional. She told us the doctor would be able to read the X-Ray in three minutes and wished me well. I could tell she meant it and then she disappeared, one more angel among us.
In a blink, the doctor was back with us. The X-Ray was negative. He put his hand on my shoulder and told me I would be fine. He would send in a nurse to clean and redress the wounds and give me a tetanus shot “just to be safe.” Before he left to see another patient, we thanked him. He said it was his third Sunday shift in a row, but that was fine. Next week, he was taking his family to visit Japan.
Another nurse came in right away and began to clean and disinfect my wounds, She was impressed by my wife’s field ministrations. Her name was Jillian and she was a happy young woman who knew what she was doing. When she was finished, she rolled me onto my side and administered a tetanus shot in my behind. “There,” she said. “You’re free to go.” Another angel among us.
I was stiff and sore, too banged up for a long drive back to the Eastern Shore so we changed plans and returned to my brother and sister-in-law’s home. They were happy to have us back. I rested for an hour, then joined family and friends for dinner, leg iced and elevated, and oh-so-grateful to be whole and surrounded by people who loved me. A whole band of angels.
Our nation is divided, angry, scared, and confused. We seem to have fallen into a manhole. But believe me: there are scores of angels among us.
Yesterday was Veterans Day. I woke up thankful for all the sacrifices made on our behalf by all the veteran angels among us.
There are a million angels among us. Sometimes, you just have to fall into a manhole to see them.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com