Altered Realities

by J.T. Ellison

Oh, it’s so good to be back!

My month off from Murderati, though initially unplanned and unexpected, gave me a chance to remember what I like most about blogging — the communication. It was a strange confluence of events that led to the month of guest blogs, more a mismanagement of the schedule and promises made on my part than anything else, but the enforced break gave me some time to think about what it is I do here. And while I have no idea if it’s worth anything to the readers, I know it’s incredibly healthy for me as a writer.

Last week was my two-year anniversary as a blogger, and Murderati’s second birthday. I can’t believe that I didn’t realize that until today. Pari and I are the only original Murderati members, but for what it’s worth, this blog has become bigger than all of us as individuals. That’s an incredible accomplishment. And we have all of you to thank for that. (CLAP, CLAP, CLAP!!!)

I was backing up my blog entries and realized that in those two years, I’ve written nearly 100,000 words. That’s a novel. Of blog entires. Some I’m incredibly proud of, some are just so-so, but there you have it. Two years and 100,000 words of non-fiction. Add in the 320,000 plus words from my novels, throw in a few short stories and I’m pushing half a million words in two years. Not bad for a newbie.

So it’s time to get back to what I love best here, the sharing.

I went to my parents two weeks ago, for a visit, and some rest, and some work. It was a great trip, though bookended by strange and horrid experiences. When I landed at Orlando, the idiot who was trying to go to Jamaica with a bomb in his luggage had just been taken into custody, and the arrival lanes were blocked with the bomb squad vehicles. The airport was controlled chaos, packed to the gills with unhappy people. Crazy.

And on the way home, a man died on the plane.

I’ve debated long and hard about how much of this I want to share, for a couple of reasons. One, I’m still processing what I saw, and how it made me feel. Two, I think the only way to really process it properly is to write about it in a fictional milieu. One of the advantages to have a writing blog is discussing the events that shape our writing, and I’ve spent the last two years of my life examining myself through these posts. But every once in a while, there’s an experience that you want to put into your work, and that’s going to have to happen with this one. To do it justice, I’ll need to utilize the strength of my alter ego, Taylor, to give it the proper impact. J.T. can’t do it without sounding like a bit of a freak. So I’ll tell you about what happened, and beg forgiveness for utilizing it in what I’m sure is going to be a very cool chapter in an upcoming book.

We were all buckled in and taxiing out to take off when a flight attendant came on the intercom and asked if there was a doctor or a nurse on the plane. There were two kids a few rows back who were screaming, and I figured one of them got sick or had a little panic attack. Boy, was I wrong. It was an older gentleman, and he was having severe chest pains. The flight attendant repeated the request, and a young woman got up and made her way to the back of the plane. I saw the look on her face as she walked by me — here we go again, it said.

Remember a few months back when I talked about Taylor being one of those people who would rush into a fiery car crash to help a stranger? I haven’t been faced with a life or death situation for many years, since I was a lifeguard in high school and college. Back then, I knew exactly what to do in an emergency. I knew CPR. I still know it, but I haven’t had to do it in a long, long while. But for Taylor, you know, that’s just second nature. She wouldn’t hesitate. She would be the girl who walked down the aisle to help. This Good Samaritan had real medical training, not a few summers by the pool. Thank God she did.

The gentleman was telling the flight attendant that he though he was okay when he went down. Just, boom. Stopped. All halt. The flight attendants were spectacular. They immediately got the defibrillator attached and got a vent going. They shocked him several times, and the Good Samaritan started some very aggressive CPR. I don’t know how familiar you guys are with CPR, real live CPR, not the stuff on TV. You push hard, and things break. I was in the aisle about six rows up from all of this, and got a good refresher course. Of course, I’ve been unable to shake the image of her leaning over him, droplets of sweat flying as she worked, her hands moving so deeply into his chest that she looked like she was hitting his spine…

The plane pulled out of the runway and headed back to the gate, and the paramedics arrived after what seemed like forever. All in all, they worked on him for forty-five minutes. To say it was horrid doesn’t even come close. The whispers flew through the plane, the passengers in utter and complete shock. There were a number of children on board, children that couldn’t be sheltered from what was happening because of the immediacy of it. There was even the odd boor who surmised that they should get us a new plane, he was going to be late getting home. There’s always one person, you know?

I’ve been on several planes that have had emergency situations. I’ve made emergency landings, seen a flight attendant smash her head on the ceiling when we hit unanticipated turbulence. I’ve flown in storms so severe the plane veered sideways, and dropped thousands of feet in a heartbeat. But I’ve never flown with a ghost.

When they took him from the plane, transferred him to the ambulance, still doing CPR nearly an hour later, I knew he was gone. And I never got a good look at his face, so all I could do, all the way home, was wonder. Did I see him in the airport? I was working in a restaurant, and came late to the gate. Did I see him, and smile at him? Was I so wrapped up in myself that I didn’t notice him? Was he happy? Could he have imagined, standing in line, that his last moments were upon him? That in less than fifteen minutes, he’d be dead?

As you can imagine, I’ve been a little messed up by this. I said many prayers on the way home, and as I sat crying in my seat, pretending I wasn’t sniffling, listening to my iPod with every tune strangely about death, I reminded myself that this wasn’t about ME. This was about a stranger who quite literally lost everything. A stranger I’ll never forget.

I’ve been thinking about this rather nonstop for the past week, etching the details in my mind so I can do them justice on the page. I’ve shared with a few friends about some odd happenings on the plane — the little Indian girl who watched him the whole time, something ageless in her eyes, as if she was his passage to the next world. The moment of sunlight that passed through the plane and left me shaking with cold.

But the most wonderful thing about the experience was the people who rushed to this man’s side, who cared enough to try to give him life. I am humbled by their deeds. If I were closer, I would have done the same. Ah, there’s the rub. I didn’t help. Yes, I prayed, and that’s all well and good, but I didn’t get out of my seat and go back to see if they needed anything. They didn’t need me. I would have been in the way, and I’m not kidding when I say they had things very much under control. But a part of me wishes I had.

Instead, I expressed my thanks and gratitude to the people who did help. They did all they could. I can only hope that if I’m ever in a bad situation, there will be people as selfless around.


The strangest thing has happened. I do my posts in advance, so this one was already written when my mother called me today with the most brilliant news. A letter arrived at the house from the airline. (It was Southwest, by the way, and they were magnificent.) I’m overjoyed to be able to tell you that I was wrong. We were all wrong. My stranger is alive. I’m in such a state of shock. I don’t know HOW he could be, but apparently the constant and immediate CPR measures kept enough blood and oxygen pumping that after some heroic work at the hospital, he survived!! Southwest is "helping" his family, I assume in a monetary fashion, and gave each passenger a LUV coupon. LUV indeed. What a glorious day this is!

To celebrate, I suggest you head here and enjoy.

Wine of the Week: I’m not much of a rosé drinker, but we attended a cool wine tasting this past weekend and this bottle was on the menu. Finca Vieja Rosado  2005  It’s from La Mancha, Spain, light and fruity, but seriously dry, with berries and pepper in the finish. We fell in love. And think about this, it would make killer sangria. Yum!

30 thoughts on “Altered Realities

  1. Wilfred Bereswill

    Quite the story, JT. And I thought I was the only one with wild airplane stories. I’m a Southwest convert, especially with their new seating policy.

    BTW, I was shaken out of bed this morning by an earthquake in ST. LOUIS!. It rattled us pretty good. 5.2 on the richter scale centered 127 mile east of here in Illinois. JT, did you all feel it in Nashville? I heard it was felt in Chicago.

  2. J.B. Thompson

    What an incredible ending to an incredible story. And you may not think you did anything, JT, but you’re wrong too – you prayed. To some that may not seem like much, but obviously it was everything to this man. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  3. Louise Ure

    The proximity of death does heighten one’s emotions, and one’s senses JT. What a horror! But your news at the end is equally emotional.

    And happy birthday Murderati!

  4. JT Ellison

    Will, I didn’t feel it. But how odd that it would happen on the anniversary of the 1906 quake that rocked San Francisco! Hope you didn’t have any damage!

    I’m a Southwest convert to. I love the new system, and love how flexible they are with changing flights and moving things around. Makes a traveler’s life a breeze!

  5. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Oh, my, J.T.,What a story. I’m so glad it had a happy ending. That you remained shaken up for a long time is important, it points to your humanity and compassion. When we write about death so much, it’s crucial we remember just how deep its impact can be.

    And now for something more fun . . .We’re TWO already? Wow. The day passed and I didn’t even think about it. I knew we were close, but . . .

    It’s been a fabulous run so far. I’m amazed and joyous that Murderati has grown into the community it is.

    Thank you, readers, writers, and ‘Rati, for making it such a continued pleasure.

  6. JT Ellison

    “We’re TWO already?”

    Doesn’t seem possible, does it???

    HUGE round of applause to our Pari for coming up with such a brilliant idea, and a magnum of champagne to the readers who’ve made it work for us.

    P, you make n interesting point, one that I didn’t think about. Yes, we write about death day in and day out. But it’s not real death. I think that’s what shook me more than anything. Your imagination can only do it so much justice.

  7. JDRhoades

    So now we enter the Terrible Twos? ‘Cause I can throw a tantrum like you wouldn’t believe.

    And where’s the cake? We can’t have a party without cake.

  8. Amanda Stevens

    What a story! My goodness, I’m feeling a little emotional myself after reading the outcome.

    Congratulations on your two-year birthday/anniversary. This has become one of my favorite blogs, and I hope it’s okay that I just sort of barged into the party without an invitation.

  9. JT Ellison

    Dusty, I just took a red velvet out of the oven, just for you!

    Amanda, great to see you! You’re welcome anytime. But next time you drop in, the price of admission is that picture of Clive on your blog. Mmmmmm…. Clive…..

  10. Kaye Barley

    I’ve already told JT how moved I was by her story this morning, and how she made me cry so I won’t go into all that again. But I did want to wish you all a Happy Birthday! All the best, and I hope you’re all around for an awfully long time.

  11. Cara

    Welcome back JT.Congrats on two years…whoa…this story hit me…amazing.

    And Dusty…call me myspace impaired but I can’t get on thatd___ wall and respond…am I social networking doomed?

  12. Zhadi

    That’s an amazing story, especially the unexpected happy ending. And thank you for the link to CuteOverload, btw. It really is the ultimate cheer-up!

  13. Chuck Driskell

    That’s the toughest story with the best ending I have read in a while. So glad the man is alive!

  14. JDRhoades

    Cara…just sent you a Wall post on Facebook, since I don’t see you on MySpace. Use the regular Wall, not SuperWall or Funwall. Those last two aren’t actually made by FB and they’re a little twitchy.

  15. JT Ellison

    Zhadi, isn’t it wonderful??? I loved the Engineer’s video this morning. Cracked me up.

    Chuck, great to see you!!!! You have to try the wine, it’s a surprise. Hope all’s well in your end of the country. Can’t wait for that email with the good news…

    ArkCyn- Thank you. I so appreciate the kind words. : )

  16. Tammy Cravit

    I’m glad to hear your story had a happy ending, and that people were willing to step up and help the way they did. Given what I’m gearing up the courage to write next, I’m VERY glad. As someone who routinely puts myself out there to help others (I’m a volunteer rape crisis advocate), I’ve seen some tremendously compassionate people out there in the world.

    On the other hand, though – and this is the difficult part for me to write – I’ve seen the opposite in people, too. I was in a local big-box chain store about a year ago, buying a birthday card for my daughter. I passed by the section with the chips and snacks when the Frito-Lay guy was stocking the shelves. When I passed by the second time, I figure four to six minutes had elapsed since his collapse.

    In a crowded store on a Saturday morning, hundreds of people probably walked by. Some even stepped around the prone figure lying on the grimy linoleum, but I was the first of the crowd who stopped to help. The manager had just arrived on the scene when I stepped forward and started CPR. “Has 9-1-1 been called?” I asked him in between chest compressions. He nodded. I asked if the store had a defibrillator. Blank stare.

    Random observation: Unless you’re a body-builder, performing CPR is an exercise in being present in the moment. My attention was totally consumed with the next breath, the next compression, because I knew if I let it wander, I’d start asking myself how long my strength would hold out. Which would be a bad idea. Thankfully, about 15 minutes into CPR, a slender woman slid smoothly to her knees beside me. “I’m a nurse,” she said, and I shifted my position so she could take over rescue breathing. Five or six minutes later — by which time, I’m not ashamed to admit, my arms screamed in pain and I was trembling from the unaccustomed exertion — the EMTs arrived and took over.

    I wish I could say that my story has as happy an ending as yours. But sadly, a later phone call to the hospital elicited the news that the man – whose name I still don’t know – had not survived his heart attack, despite my efforts and the efforts of the EMTs.

    I still haven’t figured out how to do justice to that experience, so I haven’t written anything much about it. But every now and again, the memories “get upin the night and pace in boots to and fro”, as Marge Piercy wrote. I expect that watching such an experience is different than being involved in the middle of it, but perhaps not. Trauma is funny that way.

    Anyhow, thanks for sharing your experience. Miracles always make for a good story.

  17. JT Ellison

    Tammy, you were the Good Samaritan. We need more people like you. I can’t imagine people walking past someone lying on the floor and not checking n them. Jeez, that’s cold.

    Bless you for trying.

  18. R.J. Mangahas

    Welcome back JT! And Happy birthday Murderati.

    Wow, that’s quite some story. It’s really interesting the things that happen sometimes. Nice to know that this one ended happily.

  19. Catherine

    Life is so fragile, and yet also tenacious. That is a remarkable story JT.It is amazing that most of the time there are people prepared to step up and help. I’m still aghast at Tammi’s experience though. I can’t imagine what it would take for someone to not even walk over to a staff member and at least inform someone of that man’s condition.

    I do know it is a heck of a shock to the system for anyone nearby to know someone is struggling to live. It is one of those situations that you can train for, but unless you’re a professional in rescue or medicine, you really have no idea how you will react… whether you freeze, or over react, or do what’s needed. Add many other people into the mix, and it’s a miracle that people are to come together to pull someone back from the edge like that. Walking away though…

    On a much more irreverent note, if Murderati is two does that mean potty training is over?

  20. billie

    Checking in very late, but wanted to say happy two to Murderati!

    Amazing story, JT – and an amazing ending.

    I once drove into my office parking lot and saw a man having a seizure on the sidewalk. No one stopped. Many cars passed on the very busy street as I called 911. Several joggers went around him. I held his hand until EMS arrived. The shocking thing was that people stopped after I did but to ask if *I* was okay. EMS seemed to think he had not really had a seizure and did not want to take him to the ER! I insisted they do so, and that someone call me from the ER to let me know that he was there and being checked out.

    The fact that no one stopped bothered me for a long time.

    Glad you’re back!

  21. JT Ellison

    Billie, what’s happening to us???? We drive by people on the side of the road with flats because we’re worried they might be an ax murderer in disguise. We’ve lost our trust, and in that, some of our humanity. That poor man. Thank goodness he had you, at least.

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi JT

    I’m constantly apologising for coming late to posts, but work’s just crazy.

    Many congratulations to Murderati on the birthday! I’m incredibly honoured to be here.

    I was so glad to read the postscript to your story. Something like your recent experience alters the way you look at life.



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