By Vincent Kituku
“My ear is itching,” said a 10-year-old boy, the lone survivor of a two-car accident that claimed the lives of four people. He had been given attention by first responders, who then prepared him to endure traveling to the nearest hospital – a two-hour drive by ambulance.
This is the story, as told by a paramedic veteran, of how a simple act of touching a young boy changed his life and perspectives about his career.
He was just beginning his career when they were alerted of a horrible accident during one of those deep winters of Alaska that occurred about two hours’ drive from Anchorage. But his station was about a 45-minute drive from the site of the accident. “The accident was as it was advertised,” he says with a breaking voice. There were three fatalities from the initial impact and two critically injured passengers. One of the two injured passengers died shortly thereafter.
With the lone survivor stabilized for the long drive, the young paramedic kept monitoring him. About 20 minutes after they left the site of the accident, he heard the boy say, “My ear is itching.” The paramedic scratched it. A few minutes later, the boy said the top of his head was itching. That was followed by a scratch. Then the boy mentioned other parts that needed scratching, after which he received the same attention each time.
After a while, the young paramedic moved closer to the boy’s body and touched his hand. He held the boy’s hand until they arrived at the hospital. There was no more need of scratching here and there. The boy never said there was any other part of his body that needed scratching from the moment that touch started.
Today, the young paramedic is a deputy director of paramedics and testifies that this touch was a turning point in his life. The boy recovered well, but the paramedic feels like he was the one who benefited the most. He learned that while there is no substitute for professionalism, human touch is also critical.
I recalled a profound insight that Dr. Mark Smith, a dentist and friend of mine, shared with me as I prepared to deliver a keynote speech at the Idaho State Dental Association’s annual convention. When a company or organization invites me to speak, I usually interview individuals in the industry in order to learn and develop a customized presentation.
Dr. Smith, referring to all dentists, said, “We must remember the teeth we work on are attached to people.”
The paramedic deputy director said that we can’t get all tied up with professional techniques and forget that we are helping our fellow human beings. Regardless of what we do, there is a fellow human being in need of our touch. For years, I have been raising funds to help poor orphans and other vulnerable children in Kenya with high school tuition, through Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, a 501(c)3 organization that I founded. I felt that paying tuition and keeping children in school was enough.
However, in January of 2013, I went to Kenya and met the students we sponsor. I listened to a girl tell how she misses school for some days each month because she lacks personal hygiene supplies. I saw the uninhabitable structures they call their houses and the sticks that were held together by strings that they used as their beds.
That marked a turning point in my understanding of how helping others requires listening to their needs. It is easy to think we know what is most important for others. But it is only when we open our minds, eyes and ears that we fully understand the scope of what is required beyond our first impressions. All that little boy needed was to be touched, as we all do.
© Dr. Vincent Muli Wa Kituku, motivational speaker and author of “Overcoming Buffaloes at Work & in Life,” is the founder and executive director of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, a non-profit organization that raises tuition and fees for poor orphans and other children from poverty-stricken families in Kenya. Contact him at [email protected] or (208) 376-8724.