Salt Lake City, UT – 2004
I had been working security at St. Mark’s Hospital for several years. By this time I had seen quite a few intense and disturbing situations. Any single incident could be its own story, and my brothers and I have talked seriously about writing a book of all the things we’ve encountered there.
Such topics include: finding a dead baby on the sidewalk, finding week-old dead people in their cars, drug seekers jumping off the parking garage, a woman delivering a baby in the elevator of the parking garage, 800-pound fat woman falling out of bed, watching a guy drink Drain-O trying to kill himself (he succeeded), missing corpses in the morgue, shit-covered deranged elderly roaming the halls, suicide attempts, homeless lunatics, junkies, and much, much more.
We once had a junkie run from the ER. He had been brought in almost dead from a heroin overdose, and the nurses had given him a shot of adrenaline in his heart to revive him. As soon as he woke up he bolted from the ER. My boss and I got the call and made a sweep of the parking lot in our security vehicle. We saw the runner in the distance, heading toward the street naked except for a hospital gown loosely draped over his frame. We pulled in front of him and I immediately recognized him as a close friend from high school.
“Gabe?” I asked. “Matt! Dude, I need a ride, these people are trying to get me!” He was totally out of it. He looked like death; he had lost weight, his eyes were sunken and his teeth missing and rotten. He didn’t seem to notice that I was wearing a security uniform and driving a security vehicle. “Please man, just take me up the street to my mom’s.”
Gabe was a notorious brawler in high school; I had recruited him at one point as a sparring partner to help me train for the Utah Toughman boxing contest. I knew there was no way we were going to get him back to the ER. I told him I couldn’t help him and he bolted across the street. We lost sight of him but the police caught up with him later. Quite a shock and a tragedy to see a friend in such a condition.
Gabe died in a car crash the following year. No one was surprised but we all lamented his choices. His funeral fell on a workday, and four of my coworkers had also been close friends with him. Not everyone could attend, so I worked while they went.
On a very normal day, I sat in the office with the mechanic on duty, a fellow named Roy. Roy was a giant man, six foot four, hovering between three fifty and four hundred pounds. As we sat in conversation, a fire alarm sounded. This was not unusual and could be the result of any number of malfunctions. Neither of us had encountered a real fire in a hundred alarms. Most often a visitor pulled the fire alarm by mistake or as a prank. We stood up and waited to hear which alarm had been triggered.
The notification came: fifth floor of the medical office building. We grabbed our jackets and walked casually in that direction. It occurred to one of us, “Wait. There’s not a fifth floor in that building. The fifth floor is the roof – the helipad.” We puzzled for a second, and walked faster.
We arrived to the elevator and pushed the button for the fifth floor. The button illuminated automatically, which was a bad sign; it should require a key to unlock it. We puzzled at this for a moment as we rode up.
The elevator opened into a small storage room. We exited the elevator through this room and headed out onto the roof to locate the malfunctioning sensor. It was night so it was dark, and the weather was overcast, rainy and extremely windy. From each corner of the roof sirens blared and lights flashed. In the center of the roof stood the helipad, equipped with giant floodlights that shined on the surface as well as into the sky. It was an extremely chaotic environment for mechanical work.
As we made our way out to the center, one of us noticed that a fire station on the wall had been pulled. We both puzzled at it for a moment; it must have been pulled by someone, but no one is allowed up here. But the elevator had been unlocked… Our hair bristled as we turn around to look. Roy gasped and turned toward me with shock, “There’s a woman on the roof!”
In the far corner across the helipad we made out the image of a woman in a hospital gown climbing under the rail that led to the edge of the building. We exploded into a sprint toward her. She turned towards us as we approached. Holding the rail with one hand she dangled her other arm and leg over the edge. “Stay away or I’ll jump!” she screamed.
Roy turned to me in horror, his face white as a ghost. His hands trembled as he fumbled for his phone. He turned and darted into the darkness, leaving me standing alone with this woman. Sirens blared, wind blew, lights flashed; Roy vanished, the woman dangled, I stood still and stared at here with wide eyes.
She screamed out to me: “I’m going to jump and you can’t stop me!” I shook my head, “I can’t talk to you until you come to the other side of the rail.” I yelled back. She repeated herself, as did I. I could tell she wanted to say more, so I repeated myself again, “I cannot talk to you until you come over that rail.” She looked at me for a moment and looked down over the ledge. I played out the scenario in my mind of her disappearing over the ledge. I hoped I would not witness it.
She yelled back to me and again I shook my head silently and waved her forward. She peered at me intently and put one foot through the rail. Overly eager, I stepped toward her. She yanked her leg back and dangled it again. I apologized and backed up two paces. Again she screamed and again I replied – we can talk on the other side of the rail.
I had learned from my martial arts training how to make an effective impact statement during high-pressure negotiations. There were several techniques, one of which was the broken record. You simply state your desired outcome, and repeat it regardless of what the other person says. This prevents the person from making progress in their own argument. I realized I had done this only after the fact; in the moment I was moving on instinct and grasping at straws.
Again she put her leg through and this time I let her. I gave her more space and she added the other leg. Considering this good enough, she started to talk to me. Again I shook my head and motioned her to come all the way through. Frustrated, she complied. She climbed through and stood with her back in the corner.
I was now in a precarious predicament and unsure how to proceed. I weighed the options of running towards her and tackling her or trying to draw her further out. The distance was too great; I had to draw her out further. She obviously wanted to talk so I asked her what the problem was. She yelled a response and I indicated that I could not hear her over the sirens and wind. I remained in place as she took two steps towards me. Again she called out, and again I indicated I couldn’t hear and signaled for her to move forward.
Now she was four paces from the rail; I had the distance I needed to charge her. But she put her right hand up her left sleeve as though to draw a weapon. I suddenly felt as though she might charge me, weapon in hand. I drew the only object I had, a two-way radio, and prepared to throw it into her face should she approach with a weapon. She continued to yell as she walked slowly toward me, fishing in her sleeve all the while.
In an flash I caught Roy out of the corner of my eye. Under the cover of the the lights on the helipad, he had circled behind her and was making his way into the corner. He signaled to me from behind her back and I acknowledged him. The time was now. I sprinted directly at her. She turned from me right into Roy’s giant arms. I was there immediately scooping up her legs as we dragged her kicking and screaming into the storage room.
We entered together and I shut the door behind us. We managed to push the call button for the elevator while wrangling this woman. It seemed like it took an eternity to arrive, and as it opened five armed police officers charged off of it and into the room. Roy had called for backup when he had disappeared earlier. The officers asked the woman for her compliance, which she denied. They promptly slammed her to the tile and hog tied her. A search revealed a pair of scissors in her sleeve that she had stolen from the ER. They thanked us and hauled her away without any ceremony or ado.
Roy was giddy with relief. He shook my hand hardily and commended me on my composure under pressure. For the next week I was a hero at work. Roy and I told the story many times. My employer heard the news and bought me a ten dollar gift card to the hospital gift shop, which was an insulting gesture. I spent it all on penny candy which I gave away to my friends and coworkers. I was nominated for as a star employee, but since I was subcontracted I was ineligible to win.
Had the woman have jumped, she would have fallen five floors and landed directly in the entryway of the adjacent building. Needless to say she would have splattered like a watermelon full of chicken bones. I was pleased with myself for preventing this, but more pleased that I had performed well under pressure.