Letter to the Editor

A city on a hill: Woman thankful to local EMTs, hosptial staff for assistance after I-55 wreck

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

To the editor:

It became a night of torrential rain and chilly wind as we made our way south on Interstate 55. We pressed on to our destination in Memphis which was 94 miles away. Our car was filled with luggage for all the events surrounding my niece’s wedding. My white clerical robe and my stole was positioned carefully on top of the garment bags.

Unknown to my husband, daughter, and me, a chain reaction of accidents was unfolding ahead of us. We proceeded in the right lane at 50 miles an hour with emergency lights flashing. As we approached an overpass with no lighting, a few feet in front of us, straddling our lane, was a dark blue immobilized car with no lights, and a traumatized driver deep in shock. I remember thinking, “this is it,” as we hit the vacant passenger side and were stunned by air bags.

Amazingly, my family and I were able to extricate ourselves from our totaled car and join this traumatized driver, Tammy, on a hill under the overpass. We huddled together as our adult daughter put her arm around Tammy who was a nurse from Memphis; I put my arm around my daughter. My husband went for help. Out of all the cars, trucks, and tractor trailers that were now stopped for miles behind us, no one came to bring a blanket, water, or a word of care.

The EMTs arrived in about ten minutes. Their care, tenderness, and efficiency was exceptional. Triaging, they stabilized Tammy first; she had been hit by two cars, slammed by an 18 wheeler, and flung under the carriage of yet another. They then turned to my family. The Department of Transportation workers arrived and started to clear the littered interstate. I asked if one of them could retrieve my white robe and stole from the back of our car for I was determined to conduct that wedding. Soon enough these clerical items appeared, and one EMT hung them on a rod in the ambulance.

The South Mississippi Regional (SMR) Medical Center received us with such professionalism, empathy, and thorough safekeeping that I have confronted not only my regional prejudices but my theology. I could not see the nametag of the attending physician in the ER but his name in Africa translates “gift,” and so he was to us. Even though the CT scanner was located in a trailer outside the hospital, the services provided by doctor, nurses, technicians, and other staff were first-rate in quality. Then, Katy appeared. She had met us upon arrival, comforted us, brought blankets, and checked on us regularly. She provided water and tea, more warm blankets, and words of empathy. Thanking her, she humbly apologized for the “smallness of the facility.” I said: “This may be small but it is quality.”

Further proof of this was yet to come. At 3:00 a.m., when we were released with only chest contusions and abrasions, we asked if there was a taxi service to get to a motel. Osceola, a town of 7,000, had no taxis. Then, Katy and a nurse located a “sleeping room” for us in the hospital. Two of the staff rolled in a third hospital bed so we three could be together. Then, they provided surgical gowns and socks since all our clothing was soaked. At 7:00 a.m., I searched for coffee. A nurse made a fresh pot for us. Then, a staff member knocked on our door with three breakfasts, and I mean eggs, bacon, and pancakes. An hour later, another staff member came with water bottles and snacks. Then, our damp clothing from the night before was put in a dryer and returned to us folded beautifully.

Our friend Susan Sharpe, Methodist minister, drove from Memphis to Osceola to get us. She took is to Blytheville, Arkansas, to a salvage lot, to get our suitcases and personal items out of our ravaged car. Then, she took us to Memphis, and I arrived at the wedding rehearsal one minute late. Yes, for the wedding, I wore that white robe and that stole.

It has now been twelve days since the accident. I am a professional theologian and a minister, and I have more questions than ever. We all struggle with the theodicy question which is: “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?”

Our son died in a single car accident in 2015, and I had prayed regularly for his protection. Because of our hard journey of loss, we had a cadre of friends praying for us, especially as we travelled to a family wedding without our son, a gap in our lives forever. Did their prayers impact what happened to us, especially the way we were surrounded by a circle of love in a strange city and hospital?

Furthermore, who and what exactly are angels? I have read books and the Bible about angels, but I still see them as celestial beings. Do they walk among us? Do they prompt people like Katy at the SMR Medical Center in what to say and do? Do they walk beside them and coach them? Or what Katy herself an angel? Were we ministered to in this little hospital by angels or “messengers of God”?

There are many well-known people who have come out of Osceola, Arkansas, musicians like Reggie Young, Son Seals, Albert King, Harvey Scales, and others. There are politicians, writers, athletes, and one TV/movie star (Dale Evans). Kemmons Wilson, founder of Holiday Inn, was from Osceola. How ironic that I married my niece the next day in the Wilson Chapel, a gift from the Wilson family to Christ Methodist Church, Memphis.

Yes, there are many famous people from this Mississippi River town, but to me, it is a town with angels. I would call it The City Upon A Hill, a phrase from the parable of salt and light in Jesus's Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:14]. "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden."

In 1630, Puritan John Winthrop used this image in a lay sermon "A Model of Christian Charity" preached at Holyrood Church in Southampton just before the first group of Massachusetts Bay colonists set sail on the ship Arbella . A “city upon a hill" is an example of communal charity, empathy, and unity with all. I have been to such a city.

— Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, Rev. Dr.