Substance and Soul

Well, that was scary

Dentistry, LifeSamantha Wetterholm2 Comments

You know that expression my life flashed before my eyes...

Well it's true.

This has been quite a week and I don't really know where to start but here it goes. 

About a week ago (last Thursday, 20 July around 2pm to be exact) I experienced one of the scariest moments of my life, if not THE scariest.

For some background, I work in Oakland, CA in the Fruitvale district, an area with an infamous reputation for crime. I work for a non-profit health care organization with multiple locations serving low-income families and patients.

I love what I do. I mean, I REALLY love it. Public health was not something I envisaged for my career when I applied for dental school but flash forward from that carefree, 21 year-old to now to a wife, mother, and passionate, public health dental provider for my patients.

But there are inherent dangers in working in this environment and at this location and I won't get into all of them now. But you can only imagine what they may be in the most dangerous city in California. I'm not naive to them. But I sometimes the realities sit on the back burner of my brain when I am treating my patients and providing oral health care. 

Well, last Thursday I had a reality check. Right across the street from my office door is a sweet woman who sells fruit and other Mexican street food. A coworker and myself had a hankering for some fruit with chili when our lunch break started. As we were paying for our food, I heard arguing and yelling down the street. Usually I tune out the specifics of yelling on the street because honestly, it's every day. But this day was different. 

As the yelling and shouting came closer and closer, my coworker and I proceeded to cross the street back towards our office door. We were fewer than 15 feet away when a man rushed to our sides shouting at a group of men on the corner. While shouting profanity and threats of, "you're going to have to pop me" over and over, he grabbed my coworker's arm. 

And I was staring down the barrel of a very real and very scary gun. My blood froze.

What we did not realize initially was that the reason this man rushed towards us was to stand behind us. As in, use us as a shield. Because... he was arguing with a group of men posturing and pointing a handgun right at him, also known as US. 

My coworker yanked her arm away from him and the group of men quickly got into their car and drove away. 

With tires squealing and my heart pounding, my feet, almost on their own accord, hurried me to the entry way of my building before I let out a big, OH MY WHAT JUST HAPPENED, followed by about four signs of the cross. 

A gun. 

A real life gun pointed at my face, close enough for me to see the whites of that man's eyes and his finger on the trigger.

During my lunch break, my coworker and myself relayed what had happened to our other coworkers who shared our lunch room, just a few people. I am sure I seemed frazzled, but I (surprisingly enough to myself) kept calm, ate my lunch and said, I can't believe that just happened over and over again.

The reality of the situation did not really strike until I returned to the clinic and was ambushed (in a professional way) by the chief dental officer, the assistant to the CDO, a representative from HR, and one of Oakland's finest patrolling the outside of the building. After taking our statements and offering the phone number of our Employee Assistant Program, they let us go home early.

I drove home in a daze, walked up my stairs, fell into Paul's arms, and utterly wept. I squeezed my kids harder than I could have imagined. And I thanked God for my life.

This is going to be a process. I've heard things like "PTSD" and "war zone" and "trauma" thrown around. But the reality is, I'm not okay. I don't know exactly how I feel, but it's not good.

I have had panic attacks and cold sweats. My sleep is interrupted. But I have my life. I have my husband. I have my kids. I have my family. I have my friends. I have my faith in God's plan. And thankfully, I had all my guardian angels on overtime that day. 

I celebrated my 6th wedding anniversary and my 28th birthday with this reminder of my mortality looming over it all. But I am grateful for so many things. And being able to come home to my children and husband is the biggest one. While this is something that will take me a while to work through, I will continue to show up to work. I will continue to serve. And we will see how things go from here. 

Birthday breakfast with my best people.