It was the first weekend in January of 1985. It was the beginning of my fifth month of nursing school. My brother Bruce and I were driving into St. Cloud to go grocery shopping or something.
It had been a cold winter. The Mississippi River that ran past the front of the apartment we lived in was frozen over by a thick sheet of ice. We were on the street running parallel to the river and a guy we knew was driving toward us, so we stopped in the middle of the street, rolled down the window and started talking. Hey, it’s Minnesota. Happens all the time.
To my right was an open field that was considerably higher on the far end that sloped down quickly as it got closer to the river. As a result it became an impromptu sledding hill if there was enough snow on the ground. There was plenty of snow on the ground that year. It had snowed like a bastard in December, and there were a lots of people sledding. Young families with children. Older kids showing off, doing stunts as they slid down the hill, laughing and hooting as they trudged up the hill to do it again.
So, we’re catching up with Joe, cars stopped in the middle of the street, engines running, heaters blasting. We’re laughing and joking and laughing, and out of the corner of my eye, I catch movement. As a nurse, I would have highly developed observation skills. As a nursing student, I had heard this would be very important. But movement had caught my attention, and a kid in a gray snowsuit waddled past the front of our car and crossed the street. And I saw it happen.
The only thing on the other side of the street was a frozen river, but there was one spot not far from the bank that was still open. I had seen it, and had marvelled that it refused to ice over because it had been -30° and no part of the river shouldn’t have been covered in at least a foot of ice. But on this day I wasn’t thinking about that. I was joking it up with Bruce and Joe, probably planning a party soon…
We finished talking to Joe, and headed to the store. And that’s when my gut spoke up. “I wonder if anyone else saw that kid cross the street?” I said to Bruce.
“What kid?” Bruce replied. He hadn’t seen anything, and kept on driving. I swiveled in my seat and looked back. I couldn’t see anyone on the river. I didn’t see the kid. Well, there were a lots of other people out there, and his parents were there. They HAD to see their child. Maybe they had rounded him up. Maybe he didn’t end up on the river and was back having a blast sledding down the hill…
But my gut knew the answer. And I ignored it. Well, I tried. We checked off items on our shopping list, paid for our purchase and headed back to the apartment. By this time my gut was practically screaming at me. I mentioned the kid to my brother again. I think I had done this a few times in the store, too. He was getting irritated and told me to shut up already. As we neared our apartment and the sledding hill and the river, I knew what we would see; I was filled with a feeling of dread that surpassed words.
Emergency vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring were heading toward the river. More vehicles were already on scene. No one was sledding down the hill. They had all gathered at the base of the hill, surrounding the first responders. Divers were summoned. They would search in vain. That child’s body wouldn’t be found until June or July, fifty miles down river.
His name was Paul Thomas Raden. He was four years old.
I don’t think I slept for a month, and I had nightmares when I did. I seriously thought about killing myself. It’s one of those things you never get over. You learn to live with it.
I don’t know if this is one of Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ Rules, but it should be. And for every nurse or anyone that’s even thinking about becoming a nurse, it should be the First Rule.
Always trust your gut. It’s never wrong.