It was not how I imagined the week of police training would end. We were safely on board a private jet and taxiing down a side access road to the runway. I was amazed they came so far to get us, and they made it all happen within hours of my call for help. As we lifted off from the ground, I said a quick prayer and realized we were blessed, and my son would soon be in safe hands. On the flight back to Ohio, I asked myself, how many times did I let another cop down, or a victim, because I wasn’t willing to go – or fly – the extra distance they needed me to? Had I always been generous with my time and resources when another police instructor called for help? The crew on the plane said, “We will come as far as is necessary to keep you safe and get you where you need to be.” I started to wonder if we should see our law enforcement duties in the same way.
A week before our unexpected flight we were an unassuming family driving from southwestern Ohio to Chicago for the ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association) conference. I was eager to learn as much as I could, and eager to teach my workshop, Engaging & Innovative Slide Design, for the other educators and trainers. It was the first time I had been able to offer any of my training programs in 7 months.
It was back in September that my son, Richard Jr., was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma bone cancer. Richard’s world had been turned upside down and our family’s with it. He had made it through 6 rounds of aggressive chemo with good results and had just completed his stem-cell transplant which greatly weakened his immune system. After the month long hospital stay, he had several weeks before he had to start his radiation, and he wanted to get out and live a little.
Richard knew I held the ILEETA organization in high regard, and wanted us to honor our pledge to teach a workshop in Chicago. While there, he planned to celebrate his successful transplant by visiting the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), and travel up to the 103rd floor Skydeck. It has several glass rooms that stick out from the side of the building, some 1,353 feet above the ground. The rooms have glass floors that you can stand on – if you dare – giving you a one-of-a-kind view of Chicago. It was the topic of discussion during our 6 hour drive to the conference.
The entire week was going well at the conference but Richard wasn’t getting his strength back like we had hoped, and by Thursday night, we were growing concerned that he was hiding how poorly he felt. He started to get sick any time he would eat or drink, a common occurrence from his cancer treatments, but we wanted to be overly cautious. We knew he was becoming dehydrated, so my wife and daughter took him to a local hospital the following morning to get some fluids.
The “Police Instructor 201” workshop I was teaching went great on Friday afternoon, even though I lost my concentration multiple times during the 4 hour training. I wondered how things went at the hospital. I figured they were back upstairs in the hotel room, deciding what time we would be going up in the tower tomorrow. The next day was supposed to be a sunny Saturday afternoon – perfect for viewing the city scape. Little did we know that he would be viewing it from a much higher altitude?
Just as the workshop was ending my daughter, Nadia, walked into the room and told me that her brother had developed pancreatitis (a side effect from the aggressive chemo), and was still at the hospital with my wife, Gloria. My heart sank. He had already been through so much misery, fighting the bone cancer, and missing out on his junior year as a cadet in the Army ROTC program at Ohio State. We hurried out of the hotel and I returned with Nadia to the hospital.
We arrived as Richard was being wheeled into a private room to be admitted. Gloria, the most wonderful wife and greatest mother a kid could hope for, looked concerned as she watched over her child. “This isn’t where he belongs. I wish we were at Children’s in Columbus,” she said. I wholeheartedly agreed with her but I reassured her, “they will look after him just the same until we can get him back home.” I was terribly wrong.
A nurse came into the room and said the doctor wanted her to access Richard’s port, a tube implanted in his chest, just under the skin, that allows easy access for chemo drugs, blood products, or fluids. I told her that was a good idea but I was a little surprised she came in without a mask or gloves on. I figured this hospital may wait until they are in the room and dismissed it, but then she opened the specialized kit for accessing the port and pulled out the large needle with her bare hands. I asked her, “What are you doing?” as I stood up from my seat. She was hovering over his chest, feeling around for the port when she cynically responded, “I’m accessing his port like I told you.” In that moment I realized they did not have the knowledge and experience to care for our son.
I explained the protocols for stem-cell patients to her, “Ma’am, I understand things may be different here, but back at Nationwide Children’s in Columbus, nurses come into his room with a mask and gloves on. If they are accessing his port, they put on sterile gloves, a mask, and a gown, that are individually packed. Then they require anyone sitting in the room to wear a mask during the process. Using your bare hands to shove that needle through my son’s skin, while breathing directly above it, is not an option.” She stood up and looked a little shocked by my explanation, and then responded with, “that would get annoying if we did that every time we came into a room.” It took everything I had not to let out my “Copitude” (you know the one that gets us into trouble), and tell her what I thought about her being inconvenienced by my son’s immune system.
I stayed the night with Richard and hoped the antibiotics would start to help relieve his symptoms so we could get him back to his medical team in Ohio. When Saturday afternoon rolled around the test results had come back from the day before showing more problems with his gallbladder and pancreas. The hospital gave us a list of options that were all forbidden by the stem-cell transplant. We knew we needed to get him back to a hospital that specialized in pediatric cancer.
We had been in contact with his doctors since we took him to the hospital the day before. With the new test results in hand, I called them again and told them about the hospital’s lack of safety protocols and inexperience with cancer patients. I asked if it was safe to head home with him in our van or if we should hire an ambulance?
The transportation manager from Nationwide Children’s Hospital said “Dr. Gross ordered our flight crew to come and get Richard and bring him back here, where he belongs.” I was relieved, “That is wonderful news,” but I was curious, “How many times will the helicopter have to stop and refuel to make it the 375 miles to Chicago.” He sounded puzzled, “We are sending a jet for your son. It will be in Columbus in a few hours to pick up our nurses, and then it will be there a few hours later. Your son will be in Columbus by midnight.” I had never even considered such a thing but I was glad they did.
It was 4 hours later when two RN’s, wearing flight suits, walked into Richard’s hospital room. I had never felt so comforted to see someone I didn’t know. They had flight wings on their right chest and the butterfly logo from Nationwide Children’s on their left. One said “We’re here to pick up some Buckeyes and take them home.” I just smiled and I could tell Richard was as relieved as I was. The flight home on the medical jet was 50 minutes. It looked like a large Learjet that had been converted to transport a patient and medical team. I flew along in one of the extra chairs. It was a little cramped with the equipment hanging around and it was louder than most passenger jets, but it was the best plane ride I have ever been on.
As you might imagine, I am a little biased when I say Nationwide Children’s Hospital is the best there is. They chartered a private jet to come and rescue my son, and deliver him back to the specialists who knew how to care for him. How far would you go to help another, when it is in your power to act?
How Far are You Willing to Fly?
We should be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder in our common cause – to prepare the finest guardians possible. By aiding those law enforcers around us, we build a strong foundation of knowledge that develops into wisdom and courage for our profession. Not sharing it is a waste. Organizations like ILEETA, serve as a foundation of integrity and are role models for law enforcers around the world to follow.
I was surprised how far the hospital was willing to come to get Richard, and their response when I thanked them: “We will come as far as is necessary to keep you safe and get you where you need to be.”
How far would you fly out of your way to help, when it is in your power to act? When you hear a veteran officer giving bad advice to a rookie, do you correct it before the new officer gets into trouble or traumatizes a victim? When you see poorly construed training, do you step forward and correct it before someone is hurt? When you see a new instructor struggling with a presentation do you step in, show them the ropes, and share your training resources with them?
A poorly trained nurse or doctor, appear to be more detrimental than a poorly trained police officer – but they are both a danger to society. Like the hospital, the law enforcer may be around for decades impacting the lives of thousands of citizens, and endangering his fellow officers as well. The recipe for a good police officer includes generous portions of courage, patience, and stubbornness mixed with as much wisdom and humility as you can find. These traits, along with a determination to improve our profession, will provide skilled and worthy protectors for our society.
When you see a victim in need, or another officer who could use your wisdom, will you say, “I’m willing to go out of my way to keep you safe, and I will get you where you need to be?”
Richard Neil is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to law enforcement educators and trainers – www.LEO-Trainer.com