Apology To the stranger I Couldn't Save
Dear Luke...That's what they tell me your name is. You were reported to me as a man collapsed on the second floor hallway of my hotel, maybe drunk and passed out. I went up but assumed you were intoxicated, thought it was my job to clear the hallway and get you back to your room.
I'm sorry I wrote you off like that. I'm so sorry that, with all the questions I asked -- trying to find out who you were, if you were a guest, what room you were in -- that it never even crossed my mind to ask, "Are you okay?" or "Do you need help?" I'm sorry I didn't realize that the mumbles you gave in reply to most of my questions were a sign of something worse going on than simply being strung out.
I'm sorry I don't remember your last words. I realize they were spoken to me, that it was you giving a brief response to me saying, "Do you understand that if you don't get up, I will be calling the police to escort you to your room?" I know it was in the affirmative, a "Yeah" or "I do," but it feels like a disrespect that I didn't hang onto the words themselves.
I'm sorry one of the last things you saw was me, imperious and condescending, talking to you from above with my hands on my hips. I'm sorry I didn't recognize what was going on, called the ambulance right then, because those five minutes -- when you were still breathing -- could have changed things.
I'm sorry I've never learned to recognize a drug overdose. I'm sorry that I anchored on this idea that you were drunk or strung out, a delinquent, and explained away everything I saw to align with that story. Maybe if I hadn't I could have caught something that told
me what was going on.
I'm sorry I didn't recognize it was an emergency, that it was life-threatening. It wasn't until after I'd gotten off the phone with the police and someone said you didn't seem to be breathing that the possibility came onto my radar.
I'm sorry I didn't call the ambulance right then; I was skeptical, I'd just been talking to you; maybe the twenty seconds it took for me to get up to you and verify would have made a difference.
I'm sorry that I didn't remember the details of CPR and had to be walked through it by the dispatcher.
I'm sorry that I couldn't tilt your head right, that the idea of moving your curled-up tongue to clear your air passage made me squeamish, that I was scared and uncomfortable and fairly certain you were already gone, that I only did the chest compressions. Maybe the breathing would have made the difference.
I'm so sorry you died. I'm so sorry what I did wasn't enough.
I'm so sorry your mother had to be informed the next morning when she called in, wondering if you'd checked out, worried about you. I'm sorry she had to fly in, too shocked to say anything at all as she cleared the things out of your room.
I'm sorry we live in this world where addiction is so prominent and powerful. I'm sorry I haven't done more to try to change it.
I'm sorry still, that I can't change it, that the world remains so broken.
I'm sorry, Luke, that I couldn't save you.
I was the one responding, and I didn't recognize what was going on, and if I had ... maybe you would still be around, living your life, without being torn out and leaving a wound in the social fabric of all those who loved you.
I'm so ... so, so sorry.