how siri saved my husband's life.
It’s been hard to let reality sink in. For hours on March 3, survival was all that mattered. In the days following, we were functioning in a weird haze of it’s-all-going-to-be-ok gratefulness mixed with silent what-if-he-had-died realizations. Each of us had a breakdown moment when we first saw the patched-up sliding glass door following the accident. Though inanimate, that glass door is the vicious villain of our real-life tale.
Since then, my brain has been blocking out thoughts of the incident—a situation that required an aspect of technology to save John's life. We all know this voice-activated personal assistant, whether for its spy-like talent of popping in on IRL conversations or for its masterful skill of mispronouncing names and misinterpreting commands. Siri, though advanced enough to entertain us and even flirt with my husband at times, often has the track record of a broken one.
First, I was haunted by constantly picturing him falling through that door and ripping his forearm and wrist wide open—and him, too, remembering, feeling, seeing it. Then, there were irrational fears.
“John’s going to hurt himself if I’m not home with him” was the first one.
“If he doesn’t answer his phone, he might be dead” was another one.
And there have been more, equally insane-sounding fears. Those have mostly subsided, or at least stopped screaming and started whispering instead. There have been a few dreams, too, twisting friends, favorite restaurants, ghettos and fears resulting from the accident with John getting hurt and a severe hand injury thrown into the mix.
That’s what prompted me to finally write this down. My brain and my husband’s have been surviving and focusing on the good because that’s what we do. We fly by the seat of our pants, hope for the best, wish we had planned at times but just go with it instead. Addressing the subliminal messages and emotions we have both felt (and still do at times) is like cracking open a vault. The incident hiding behind blocked thoughts, though it had a great ending, was still scary and traumatic for us.
“Hey Siri, call 911.”
On Friday, March 3, I left work for a quick lunch with two friends. We were posting snaps right and left. This place was great—new and delicious with industrial decor. (What more do you need?)
My phone rang. It was John’s mom. When I answered, she was frantic.
“John was yelling. He said, ‘What the heck!’ then the phone cut off,” she said. She was worried, so I told her I would call him.
I called him maybe six times with no answer, and then I called his work with the same result. I couldn’t let myself worry yet. John’s phone dies all the time, and he and his mom (well, whole family) speak at what I consider to be yelling volume. Plus, it was a half day at his work, so no one was there.
After getting in touch with his co-worker, I found out John had already gone home. Worst case, he could have had a car accident after he left work. Right? I was convincing myself. No reason to worry yet. So, my friends drove me back toward my house. We were almost there. If he wasn’t there, we’d head out to his work.
That’s when he called me from an ambulance.
I beat the ambulance to the ER. The paramedics rolled John out on a stretcher and laughed when they saw I was already there. I told John he would be OK; he smiled at me, and they rolled him away.
On the phone, John had briefly told me that he’d fallen into our glass door and cut his wrist badly. Apparently, he’d slipped on the towel we had put in front of the door to catch the mud from our dogs’ paws. His right arm shot through the old, single-pane glass, and he ripped it straight back through. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw him in the ER.
One of the paramedics finally came to get me from the waiting room. John looked worn out. His forearm was wrapped up tight. I finally found out the full extent of his injury and the entire situation surrounding it. I wanted every detail but was trying to take it slow. I needed to be able to picture what he had gone through.
When John pulled his arm back out of the glass, he felt a shock of adrenaline. He could see straight into his forearm, the skin torn and flapping on the edges. Some of his fingers were extended and others bent out in weird directions. He couldn’t move them. That’s what really scared him.
The blood wouldn’t stop. He was on the ground at this point, using that dirty dog towel to wrap up his arm. Then, he started yelling toward his phone on the coffee table for Siri to call 911. That’s when Siri pulled a classic and announced: “Calling Mom Athanason.”
Confusion aside, John had to get up and tap on his phone for a good minute before the touchscreen would register that he wanted to hang up through the blood on his fingers. There was no way he would be able to dial on his phone. He spoke his command slowly this time: “Hey Siri, call 9-1-1.”
He started pulling from the laundry that I had left folded on the coffee table and the couch. (I’d never done that before. Usually I procrastinate at the folding stage, hiding the basket of unfolded laundry in our bedroom.)
“Can you just send an ambulance?” he questioned when the 911 dispatcher asked him to spell his name.
The dispatcher stayed on the phone with him, telling him to keep wrapping towels and applying pressure to his arm. He lay on the living room floor, trying to stay still and stop the bleeding while he waited 10 minutes for the ambulance.
His mind wasn’t freaked out like I picture mine would be. He told the dispatcher he would unlock the front door so the paramedics could get in. When they arrived, the bleeding had slowed, and John even asked the paramedics to make sure he had his wallet in his pocket and to lock the front door behind them.
John completely severed his ulnar artery, median nerve and six of his tendons, along with damaging his ulnar nerve. When a doctor in the ER ripped off his compression wrap, John's arm started bleeding all over again. They rushed him into surgery with a hand specialist, and two blood transfusions followed. We stayed in the hospital five days.
It seems like there’s a degree of catharsis for both John and I in writing this story. Writing helps me process and accept things. Perhaps, reading it is a way for John to deal with his reality as well.
Life is made up of experiences, and no matter what they are, we are essentially the sum of them. It goes without saying that life is precious. Experiences of any kind can teach us that. It’s how we handle them that determines if we grow or not and what type of person we will be—either because of those experiences or in spite of them.
For John, daily determination and perseverance through therapy will help him regain function in his hand. The process is a long and slow one, but he’s one who can do it. I’ve never met anyone with his drive and motivation, and I often feel inspired by it. (The day after surgery, he was already attempting to write with his left hand.) He’s focused on the fact that he didn’t bleed out, that he still has his hand and that, with time, he will be able to use it again.
For me, I still have my best friend and the love of my life. We can continue living this life together in the best, most fulfilling and fun way possible.
And, though we’re thanking the God we believe in for John’s life, we still owe a giant thank you to Apple for its voice-activated personal assistant.