Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Adventures in Reporting #1

A few weeks ago I was telling someone that I have been a news reporter of some kind since 1985.

"I bet you have some stories to tell," the person said.

And I do. Only I rarely tell them.

However I thought I might offer up some of the more interesting things that have happened in my work. The stories that have stuck with me.

These are the things that never make print. Not secrets, because I don't tell the secrets, but things I've seen and done and people I have interacted with.

I'm not going to write about anything current, so if I've interviewed you lately, don't worry! I also won't use real names. But this is a small area and it might not take much detail for someone to figure out who someone is.

This first story has recently came to mind, so I am going to relay it.

The Interview with Ms. Rose

Many years ago I went to interview one of the local historians for a story one afternoon. It was a sunny day in March. The birds were singing and daffodils were blooming. Spring was upon us.

Ms. Rose, as I shall call her, had in the past let me know that she did not like me very much. We'd had a falling out many years ago over some historic preservation issues. I once was quite active in historic preservation and similar activities (I am not active in those things now though I remain quite interested in them.). We had disagreed on certain aspects of some things going on at the time which I won't go into in an effort to be vague.

In any event, I had let it be known through various channels that I harbored no hard feelings and hoped she felt the same way. It took a little while but things between us had mended to the point where I was not uncomfortable with the idea of meeting to do a story on her pet project at the time.

Her house in one of our local small towns was a piece of history itself and I stood outside for a few minutes admiring the architecture and enjoying her flowers before knocking on the door. She was waiting. Papers were strewn across the table and books filled with information that she thought I might need for my story were piled on the kitchen counter.

Ms. Rose was a large woman with a powerful voice and keen, piercing eyes. She was never wrong about anything, either. Least ways, not that she would admit to someone like me.

We sat down to talk and as I took notes and asked questions I became aware of a change that came over Ms. Rose.

She started stumbling over her words and she leaned a little to one side. She couldn't complete a sentence and seemed to be having trouble connecting her thoughts.

"Ms. Rose, are you okay?" I said, setting aside my notebook and camera. "Do you feel alright?"

She laughed shakily and asked me why I asked. "You're missing some words," I said. "This isn't like you."

"I think it's my blood sugar," she replied. "I just need some juice."

Visions of Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias flashed through my mind as I hurried to the refrigerator. I took a glass from the dish drain and poured her juice and hustled it back to her.

She drank it and shortly thereafter she seemed to be better. Not quite her old self, but better.

However, she still was leaning a little to one side, and while the slurring of her words wasn't as pronounced, it was still there.

I could not continue the interview because I was so worried about her. I thought she should go to the doctor or the hospital and said so. I offered to take her myself.

She said she was fine and that she thought maybe she just needed to lie down. She cut me off mid-sentence as I attempted to cajole her into seeing the doctor and told me to leave.

Ms. Rose's forceful personality told me she would broach no more nonsense from me, so I didn't argue perhaps like I should have.

I know I suggested again that she see her doctor before she closed the door behind me.

I was rather shaken myself as I drove home because I knew something wasn't right. I worried about leaving Ms. Rose because she did not have family close. I knew no one would check on her for a long time.

When I arrived home, I decided to call her stepson, since I knew who he was and I thought he was the closest family in the area (this was before I had a cellphone). I left a message for him on his machine. I told him what had happened and asked him to check on his stepmother. I wasn't sure he would; the word on the street indicated strained relations there.

Late that evening, when I'd heard nothing from the stepson (I thought he would at least call, but he never did), I phoned Ms. Rose.

There was no answer, and I feared the worse.

I called back intending to leave a message telling her that I was on my way into town to check on her when she picked up the phone.

I told her I had been worried about her and so was calling to see if she was okay.

"After you left, I thought about what you said and I drove myself to the doctor," she told me (fortunately that was only three blocks away). "He thinks I might have had just a little stroke. Nothing serious, though."

I was stunned. I had never seen someone have a stroke before, and I hope I never do again. To be sure, I had feared that might be the case, but then the juice had seemed to help and I couldn't be sure. I didn't have much experience with blood sugar issues, either so I didn't know the difference.

I wrote the story from the notes I'd taken before she began slurring her words and from a follow-up telephone call, I think.

Ms. Rose did not suffer damage from this small stroke that I was aware of, but not long after that she began losing weight. A year or so later, when she died from a fall, she had dwindled down to next to nothing.

I have often wondered if the stroke affected her appetite.

I also have wished I'd had the fortitude to order her into my car so I could have driven her to the doctor myself. Maybe those few minutes would have made some difference in her life, but I suppose there is no way to know.

Anyway, that's the story of the day I interviewed Ms. Rose and learned that I am not very good in a medical crisis.


  1. I think you're very good. What else could you have done? You called her family and you called her back yourself. I'm sure if you didn't get her, you would have even done more. Wow, that was scary.

  2. That was pretty scary. I guess we are our brother's keeper, aren't we... You couldn't load her up and take her to the dr. but at least you did what you could. That experience could be the basis of a great mystery novel, except instead of the "real" ending, your story could have the character die of some kind of poisoning or something. Then you would be embroiled in a local scandal. I can't wait to hear the end!

  3. Rose sounds like an ornery woman. Asking you to leave was odd... her attitude must have been a result of the stroke I would think. Not at all sure how I would have reacted.... maybe call the paramedics from my cell phone once outside her house. I'm glad you called her son... at least it was an attempt to help.

    The Blue Ridge Gal

  4. Di -
    This was pre-cellphone. I called someone as soon as I got to a phone, which was about 10 minutes after I left her.

  5. Wow - what a story! You are a sweetheart to do what you did. Just think if you hadn't been there? It sounds like she probably had some other health issues going on that she didn't want anyone to know about. If she was fussing with others, including family members, it could have affected her relationships. Maybe that is why she was so grumpy. Anyhow, she died knowing that you cared about her, and that's a priceless gift.

  6. Incredible story! I think you did everything possible that you could have done. Trying to force her to get into the car might have upset her more and caused further health issues. You did far and above what most people would have done. And she left this world knowing you are a kind and caring person.


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