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A quick warning, there are curse words that are unbleached in today's episode of the show, if you prefer a beeped version, you can find that at our website. This American Life, dawg.
OK, before you can understand how Bob's sister became the talk of the third grade and the big day that that led to the people still remember, I need to explain first that Bob's sister is a drawing the teacher in this third grade class, Mr. Ablow, spotted it one day while teaching math. So one of the students, Antônio, working on a picture.
I went over to him and said, put the picture away. It probably did that two or three times. And then the fourth time I went over and I just took the picture and. Yeah, and said I'd pay attention. It's about class. And I put it on my desk. He came up right before recess and is like, can I have my picture back? And I was like, what is this picture of anyways? And he said, It's Bob's sister who's my sister.
Turns out Bob's sister is a minion and which I don't even think Bob sister exists in the minyon world.
You're saying are you saying the minions like from the movie Despicable Me? Yes, exactly. And he just invented like a sister character for Bob. Yeah, apparently.
Mr. Robot, take the drawing to the bookshelf behind his desk and your photo of a wolf that was already there because it was clear if Antonio kept the drawing, it would continue to be a distraction to him and a couple of his friends who at that point were the only ones in class who really cared about Bob's sister. I was like, don't worry, she's not going anywhere.
She'll be right here. Any time you want to see her, she'll be behind me because the kids were into the picture.
Bob Sister. Yeah. And I didn't really quite understand why I never investigated why this picture was such a big deal. But, yeah, they would talk about it.
They would go up and look at it and yeah, it was a thing.
Why were you guys so excited about Bob's sister, do you think?
I think it's because it was like another distraction in class that people could talk about. Not straightforward enough.
There was this is Dylan, one of Antonio's friends, who was into Bob's sister from the start.
Describe the drawing is just like an octopus. And then it had two eyes and then tentacles coming out of it.
I my sister was an octopus. Bob's sister was an octopus. But Bob's a minion.
It didn't really have anything to do with that. And was he referring to the minyon, Bob, or mine? No, no, it's not. I see.
Was it a good drawing? It was like. An eight year old's OK drawing. Like, it wasn't amazing, but it was like you knew what it was. This whole question, is it an octopus, is it a minion, Antonio, who sister about that he doesn't see Bob sister as a Pakman ghost with big eyes.
But he said and I thought this is surprisingly mature for somebody in elementary school, he thought part of the appeal of Bob's sister was there is open to interpretation.
I really don't know what it is. It's a thing. I don't know what. It's lots of different things.
You could think of it as mentioned. That looks weird. You could think of it as fly guy with the legs get like a real Pakman goes with the guys. If Bob's sister was different to everybody, I never went with one of them. We just like we didn't say anything or anyone could believe what they want.
But the thing was key to Bob. Sister was Bob's sister wasn't actually any one sister.
His name was just Bob's sister. No space. That's really funny. And we didn't come up with a gender either.
So Bob sister gender unspecified, left on the bookshelf near the photo of a wolf until one week when Mr. Obama went on vacation and the kids had a substitute. When Mr. Obama came back up, sister was gone, vanished, disappeared, and was all the kids wanted to talk about.
This is the point where everybody in class gets very, very interested in Bob's sister. There's kind of all the speculation about like what happened to Bob sister. She's stolen. Was she murdered?
Did she die?
And so I go and, you know, I look a little bit looked under the desk.
I looked behind the bookshelf and just the substitute I did actually.
He had no idea what I was talking about, which was good enough for me. I really for me, that makes him suspect number one.
There's your guy. Do not watch any crime drama at all.
There are all kinds of theories about what happened to Bob's sister and turning on Dylan said it was really fun to talk about various abductors, including animals from an alternate universe.
But Dylan says the prime suspect for his classmates, that other picture on the bookshelf, they just decided that the wolf gave it because it was like it was like right.
Like above the wolf.
Like the wolf was jealous or something. Didn't really know why. They just that's that's what they said. Who said that? Basically, everybody, I mean, is a wolf, yeah. The chatter about Bubb sister does not go away, which is funny, but also, you know, Mr. Obama's got a curriculum to get through and I'm kind of vaguely annoyed because, you know, there's a lot going on in the school day.
And I don't have much time to think about a picture of Bob's sister, but they're kind of pestering me about it. And then one other student, Dylan, actually pipes in and says, can we have a funeral for Bob sister? And then, like, what are you talking about? And they're like, well, she died. Something happened. And I'm like a funeral for Bob's sister picture.
And I say, yes, probably just to get them to stop talking about Bob's sister Brasso. This is the kind of teacher he is, is that sometimes it's smart to take some detours, follow things the way they lead. And they're like, when?
I don't know when. I don't know when this funeral is going to happen. And they're like, when? When's it going to happen? When we are going to have a funeral for Rob's sister. And so then finally, I'm like after the recess on Friday.
That was Monday. Rest of the week goes pretty normally, Mr. Blauser. I hope that they would forget about the funeral by the end of the week, but no way.
The murmuring about it, preparing for it, which he has no part of the eight year olds are the ones organizing this and thinking it through.
Finally, Friday arrives the big day, the day of the funeral. Kids come back into the room from recess. They're pretty giddy and pretty excited.
So finally, I'm like, OK. Game on, let's go funeral. I have no idea what is about to transpire all of a sudden, boom, the table's kind of move out of the way. The leader of the funeral comes up with the stool to other students, bring to tables and grab the flowers. Apparently, a bunch of girls had been making posters.
They write Bob's sister's funeral on the board, the leader of the funeral, and he prepared a eulogy to his friend Theo.
Don't get in front of the class holding a microphone, Mr. Biochips, in the room, the rest of the class is totally on the edge of their seats, just waiting for this kid to start the funeral, like paying more attention to him than they ever pay to be ready for it.
He starts out kind of ad libbing about welcoming everyone, thanking everyone for coming to celebrate the life of Bob's sister. Now, how did you know what to say in the eulogy?
We didn't we just said, like some things that sounded about right, like something that like that, you might say at a funeral that might make someone cry. Do you have your eulogy there? Yeah, check it out. Could you read it? Okay, one sec.
And then it sort of Minocin says, sort of back and forth, Shiomi, so because I didn't really know. Bob's sister was a great person. People thought that Bob was just a drawing on a piece of paper, but I knew he was anything but that. But she is still in here. She made me think I could do things in school. If she was here today, she would say, keep on trying.
That's really nice. It sounds like you were trying to be sort of inspiring. Yeah.
Had you seen a eulogy in a movie or something that, you know. Never.
Well. The other would the Thero was also really good. I just want to say something about the special person here, Bob Sister. She was such a good friend to all the potatoes and especially Mr. Potato Head potatoes were another fascination and Mr. Obama's class that year. What an honor it was to have her with us. God bless her. And then on the back of the room, Mr Brough, here's a boy crying, I would say almost wailing, but it was like a real cry.
And at first I'm thinking, oh, my God, now they're just turning this into a joke.
And then I realized that he's actually seriously crying like, this is not a joke cry.
And I walk back, I walk back there and everyone kind of turns back. Everyone's looking at both of us. And so I ask him, I'm like, what's wrong? What's going on? How, why? Why are you crying? And he's like, It's because Bob's sister died. And I was like, it's not about anything else, maybe. And he's like, no, it's Bob's sister's died. And it's just so sad. Mr. Obama thinks maybe it was really about his dog dog, that boy had grown up with a dog just two weeks before his mom had sent an email to let him know.
But Mr. Mesoblast, really not sure if you're old enough to catch a glimpse of what death means, and then I look up and then the whole kind of feel of the classroom has changed.
It's gone from kind of giddy excitement. This is a fun thing to have.
The class is nervously laughing and the other half looks like they're on the verge of tears. Like there's about three girls that are like kind of really sad. And I was like, oh, no, what if I created like, this was this was reaching an emotional level that I actually had never experienced before.
And I've been teaching for about 15 years.
And I never felt kind of this, not that it was getting out of control, but it was it was leading to something that I didn't know how it's going to end, honestly.
Like, I don't know what's going to happen next. Like, if three other kids start crying, I don't know how to handle a situation. Right. Like they never experienced that. In a classroom, it's so interesting, it's like it's like they were playing around with, I don't know, like with a Ouija board and joking around and suddenly they accidentally summoned a demon into the room. Yeah, in a way.
And for me that I was I was right there on the Ouija board with them. And and so this monster's in the room. You've unleashed this, like, really good kind of a primal force like this. Grief, right?
Yeah. Grief. Death. Mm hmm. And I mean, one of the really neat things about third graders, it's I mean, there's a saying you they stop learning to read and are reading to learn. So it's like it's an age where their world gets a lot bigger. They kind of are experiencing real things. And I think a funeral is one of those things. Like they probably all heard of the funeral.
They read them in books, but most of them probably hadn't been to one and didn't know what that felt like. And Mr. Obama felt responsible to help them through this new experience, like he had lots of others that year. So he took control of the room back from the kids and address them all. I was like, well, funerals are kind of serious sometimes when you go to a funeral.
It's very sad because you're missing the person that's moved on. And sometimes it reminds you of other people who have moved on. And it's important to remember those people and it's important to be sad.
And this is the end of the funeral which worked every snap out of it. The demon left the room. Next was free time times they all enjoy and everything was fine.
But at the end of the school year, when the class stood in a circle and each kid names something that they remembered like from third grade, a couple of the kids said Bob's sister's funeral.
It was a moment for Mr. Obama, who sometimes, you know, you're joking around and it's all light and fun and trying something you've never done before and some bigger subterranean force gets unleashed. That's what I show is going to be about today. Those moments when you get a glimpse of all that feeling that's there down below, hidden from sight. WBCSD, Chicago, it's this American Life. I'm IRA Glass.
Stay with us. They're going through the eye of a needle, so let's move now from young people contemplating death to the exact opposite.
Older people realizing that their lives are saved and feeling great about it. And one place where people are feeling that feeling lately when they get the coronavirus vaccine all over our great nation, over a million people a day are now getting the vaccine, which, you know, still leaves most of us speaking for myself, jealous and wondering what happens in those little rooms. Nurses are coming out of retirement sometimes that pay to volunteer and give us shots and try to save us all.
Tobin Lowe, one of our editors here, his mom is one of those nurses that's been doing vaccinations in California. I want to ask you about the first person that you gave the vaccine to. Can you tell me that story?
Oh, remind me a little bit, because I've been doing this now for my mom.
It was dad. Oh, okay.
So, um, so tell me about vaccinating Dad. Okay. I had not given a vaccine in 15 years, and so he was my first vaccine after 15 years. He was a good sport about it and it all went well.
Was there a kiss afterwards or is that unprofessional?
You know, we were in a work setting and so, you know, I was all business. It's not always our business.
Feelings do bubble up to the surface. What if I producers David Kestenbaum was curious about what happens when people get the shots. He talked to nurses who have been administering the vaccine, sometimes going through this kind of intense moment with total strangers, one after another.
Here's David. Iris Sanchez heard they were looking for nurses to volunteer in Texas in an email. I don't think she even finished reading it.
Oh, my God, I got so excited because I know that these spots fill up really fast. I just kept looking in on my hands, were shaking like the league was the league. I want to beat everybody to that. I don't want to get left out.
So that's how people describe signing up to get the vaccine.
That's you know what? Yeah, you're right. It's still a pretty face. Like, there's this rush of like I want to be the first one to sign up for it.
I guess it's at vaccination station number two or number 10, Varis, wherever they put her that day, she's in the Alamodome in San Antonio, this huge stadium where the Spurs used to play. I imagine them down on the court, but she's like, no, no, we're up in the hallway where you get your beer and nachos. That's where they're giving the vaccines, though somehow the word vaccine seems inadequate. I call it the precious.
You call it the precious. I call it the precious. So let me tell you about the precious. If everybody wants to know about the precious, I call it the precious. It's just so precious. So you have people in the drawing room and what we call the pharmacy. And, you know, it's five minutes pharmacy and you can't go in there. It's like the Wizard of Oz. And they have people actually drawing up the vaccines and they put them on a little tray and then they're covered with this drape and then they lift up the little tree and you have all these little precious vaccines on there and you get to pick one and then you have to put it underneath the drape.
I'm going to table and people will say, why are you hiding the vaccine? Why don't you want me to see it? And it's like, no, it's just it's very light sensitive. So we have to keep it covered so I can be asleep until it's ready. And then I'll give you a vaccine. I said, look, it's here. It's right there. You are getting vaccines.
Pfizer, for the record, says that once the vial has been thawed, it is OK to expose the vaccine to room late, people are nervous about getting vaccinated, not because they don't want to be protected against the deadly disease. It's so much simpler. They don't like needles. Iris has a whole strategy for dealing with that.
You just have to look, just don't look. And I talk to them. I'm like a little chatterbox bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. And I'm like, OK, we're done. And they're like, oh, I'm distracting them. So they have they're like, this woman will shut up. But there is a reason for my madness. It's just talk. And you're distracting them because they're like she's going to shut up when she's going to give me the shot so they're not expecting it.
And then bam, there you go. It's done. Iris volunteered to do this. She's not getting paid her full time job as an endocrinology. So a lot of patients with diabetes, it's been a rough year.
One of her favorite patients died from covid. In this moment, when people get the shot, it can be intense. She only spends a few minutes with each person, but people tell you stuff.
I had this young man who was in his 40s and he came in for the vaccine. And this was on a Tuesday. And he said, you know, my my parents are really happy that I'm here, as my father just died on Friday from covid if he didn't make it. So my parents were just so sad and they're just happy that I'm here because they don't want to lose their second child, because if I die, then they don't have any more children.
That was sad, Lisa. Oh, my God. In the 40 seconds. Yeah, the man told Iris it was his parents who had actually gone online to sign up, but they could only get one appointment. They decided he should have it. I thought it was more important that he get the shot. He qualified because he had an underlying medical condition. The guy should ask a picture of him and his brother. He'd made it the home screen on his phone.
Tobins mom, who you heard earlier, Vivian Lo, told this story about a different family, so I had this woman who came in who brought her mom in, and I looked at her health questionnaire and she had answered no to everything, that she never had an allergic reaction. You know, she wasn't on any immunosuppressants. All the answers you. No. And so I said, great, you know, let's let's give you your shot. And so I, you know, actually delivered the vaccine.
And as I was already injecting it into her mom's arm, her mom said, well, I'm glad that's over because, man, I had a really bad reaction to that flu vaccine, you know?
Oh, no. And I. I said you had an allergic and anaphylactic reaction. I said, were you hospitalized? Oh, yeah. You know, and then the daughter just jumped right in and said, Mom, it's fine. You were fine. This is irrelevant information. You needed this vaccine. You got this vaccine. The daughter was so intent on protecting her mom.
Iris has had uncomfortable situations, too, like this one guy gone online, managed to get an appointment, but he wasn't diabetic. He didn't have a heart condition, wasn't over 65. If there's any reason she can find to legitimately give someone a shot, she wants to. And sometimes she gets people in by asking their height and weight to see if their BMI is 30 or over. His was twenty nine point five. It's rounded up.
So in his case, he was obese, he wasn't overweight, he was obese. So that's what qualified him for the vaccine. And I like to say I'm not I'm not trying to offend you, you know, but you qualify there like it's OK. For once. I'm happy to be overweight and if I can get the vaccine.
There can be an intimacy to this moment of getting the shot, I think, because there's a way in which getting the shot is like passing through a portal out of this awful year. This other nurse, Amy Carramar in New York, told me she feels that way with every single shot.
You know, I say, are you ready? I always say, are you ready? Which is a little bit which isn't just about like, are you ready for me to put, like, a needle in your arm? But is more about like, are you ready for this? It's like, are you ready for the new world?
Yeah. Yeah. So you mean. Yeah. Are you ready for something different. And here we go. We actually have a recording of someone getting a shot that kind of captures this. We put a mic on Tobins mom out in California.
This man, James, gets sent to her. He'd gotten their way before his appointment. They go over the paperwork date of birth.
He's 82 years old. He says, all right, just relax this side there. You're great. You've got flu shots before. Oh, yeah. Yeah. So this is just like that. That's. Glad it's over. Oh, boy. Had a young woman, and as I was going over the instructions, as I was going over the consent, she just burst into tears again.
Amy in New York and I put my hand on her shoulder and I said, Are you OK? And and she just said, you know, I just I'm having a lot of feelings, like I've just been so worried. It's like the the tension has been so taut, it's been so tight and and everybody's been surviving with that. And then I we sit down in this moment together and it's like snap, you know, but it's it's a big force.
It's like if you let go before then, you know, everything was going to fall apart. The whole world was going to fall apart. And if you let go right now in this room, you know, maybe not all the vaccinations end the same way.
She says after people get their shot, they have to go to an observation area just to make sure they don't have an allergic reaction.
It's funny because you're walking in, you know, I walk my person, so I'm not going to just send them down the hall and say, like, good luck now, you know, let's do this big thing. So I walk by person to there and they go usually a big smiley person at this point because they're like it survived the moment, you know, and they go walk into a room and then the room is just a bunch of people sitting six feet apart, you know, texting on their phones.
Welcome to the afterlife. Yeah. Yeah. It's exactly as you remember, a bunch of people sitting on their phones, other phones, texting.
We really should change that, she says, fill the room with balloons, something. David Kestenbaum is senior editor of our show. Back to Penny for your thoughts. We were talking here at the show about the theme of today's program, What lies beneath the surface.
One of our producers, Lily Sullivan, mentioned something that a bunch of us know quite well, that she wonders what happens beneath the surface in the mind of one of her friends who also works here at the radio show. Over the years, she has talked to a number of us on staff about this. She's read articles trying to better understand. And finally, just this past week, when several she tried to get to the bottom of it. Here's Lily, Diane and I have worked together for four years.
We started at the show at the same time we were the junior staffers and we became the kind of work friends where we had neighboring offices. So we'd overhear everything through the walls. We'd go into each other's offices, close the doors, pull down the blinds and talk. We'd always sit on the ground because, I don't know, chairs felt weirdly formal. And then one day she told me this thing. She said, I don't introspect, hardly ever, hardly at all.
Meaning she spends almost no time looking inward. She doesn't really think about herself, her thoughts, her feelings about the world almost ever. This got so deep in my head to not introspect.
I didn't even know that was possible. As if there's a menu, somewhere of ways to be an introspection is just an option that one could choose or not choose.
I didn't even know there was a menu.
And how could it be true? I would watch her confounded, Diane says, insightful things. She's considerate, always considerate, by the way, exceedingly. And I think. How did you anticipate those needs? How did she have that insight? She doesn't look inside. I assumed we're misunderstanding each other, though.
She must introspect. She must reflect on all sorts of things.
She just doesn't use the word introspection to describe it. Like, we're probably doing the same thing, we just don't categorize it the same way. Diane says no. Well, since you started asking me about this, I've been thinking about it, you know, and like I knew we were going to talk about this.
So, like walking into the grocery store the other night, I was walking in and I was just like, what would I be thinking about if I were introspecting right now?
And I had no idea. I was like, what could you possibly think about? Besides like, there's some red, you know, shopping baskets. I'm going to take a red shopping basket. Oh, this is a spinach mix. Does it just spinach or is there kale? Like, that's literally all in my head. I can't imagine what else you could be thinking about, but I was like, I feel like I know if you are an introspective person, you could be like lost in your thoughts.
But I just can't be in the greatest.
Here's what I think about at the grocery store, I think there's a red shopping basket, should I get a basket or a cart? I don't like the rickety ones. I can imagine shopping for a big family. I wonder if I'll ever have a big family. That ship has probably sailed. Must be expensive.
Why did my mom always ask the person bagging groceries to help her to her car?
Whatever happened to Volvo's? A bit of a hole in the headrest of her Volvo when I was five. I was I for she was so sad. I was. I like that second looking at me so mad. What's he mad about?
I wonder how much that cashier makes people nice to her.
Must take a long time to memorize all the codes to the produce so you don't need that shit anymore. I'd be bad at it too.
People ask her if it's hard to like that question or find it rude.
A lot of my thoughts are just imagining other people's thoughts and feelings all tangled up with my own.
It's probably like ninety five percent of what I think about.
Diane says she doesn't do that at all and one of the reasons I believe her is that she remembers the moment that she first realized that her brain works this way. She told me that thinking about one's thoughts or not thinking about them, she was 24 before she realized it was a thing at all. She's reading a book of essays by a doctor.
There was a story about a girl or young woman who almost died of flesh eating bacteria from like walking on some grass.
And I immediately started panicking that I was going to get a flesh eating bacteria also, which is like not how I usually operate at all, ever. And I burst into tears and was really upset about it.
And I was like, what's going on? Are you OK? And I was like, I just am worried.
Then I'm going to die from flesh eating bacteria. And also my parents are going to die one day.
Like it all just came rushing and I was really upset about it and he was like, oh wow. Like you don't spend any time at all thinking about this usually do you? And I was like, no, like it's just something about reading this book made me realize that, like, I'm going to die one day and so are my parents and I don't feel good about it. And he was like, oh, well, like maybe if you were more introspective, like you took a couple of minutes every now and then, you would end up like bursting in tears.
After that, Dan would occasionally try to force herself to sit down and introspect and always felt hard to assess kind of fake and boring.
And let's just dispel this categorically. Diane is no dummy.
She's incredibly focused. You can go to her with a big, complicated story and she can hold the whole thing in her head immediately, get how everything's connected. She also happens to have a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from Stanford. So she's not one to namedrop. I asked Diane if we could try to do a rapid response game. I wrote up some of my burning questions. Just answer quickly. Yes or no?
Oh, fun. OK, I'm ready. OK, OK, here goes.
If you see something, does it pull up other random associations and memories?
Sometimes rarely. And then does that memory lead to other random memories that then start coursing through your head?
No, just if it, if I have one it'll just be the one and I'll hang out there for a little bit.
OK, do you spend a lot of time feeling just mildly guilty or mildly regretful about a thing you said a few minutes ago? No, I don't. Do you think about your opinions and why you have those opinions and whether you actually should have those opinions? Oh, wow, um. I feel like I don't really. This is not going to sound good. I don't think I have that many opinion or if I do, they're not strongly held.
This did not help me get it, it confirmed for me that she doesn't think about all the things I think about, but I still didn't get what she thinks about instead what is going through her head. And I understand her story. This all sounds we tried to describe to each other our experiences of consciousness. Sorry, everyone. First me. I think it feels more like like a washing machine, like of thoughts jumbled up. And I'm like jumping from one thing to another, but it's just like all in there, mixed together, going and going all the time.
Does that feel familiar? Not at all.
I think it sounds like you, but I don't think it sounds like me.
OK, I feel like so what can we like could you try to like think and like if you had to describe what it's like? Because when I was singing about this, I was like, oh, I wonder what appliance Diane would be like if you were to think for a second about of what it feels like inside my head.
Do you have any sense of I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is like I feel like like a video camera, just like pointing to things in the world and like it like goes in.
Most of it doesn't stay very long and goes right back out, OK, and the thing that it's pointing at, is it pointing at thoughts in your head or is it pointing at actual things in the world, the actual things like a very literally like like if my eyes were.
So the video. So do you just mean your eyes.
It's like, um, yeah.
I think it's like I'm taking a spend like 90 percent of my brain just taking in the inputs and.
Wow, it's really.
I mean, even in quiet moments, which I feel like I've had a ton of lately. I just end up like staring at the window and not thinking about anything and just observing the world around me. Hi. Is it is it nice? Like, what does it feel like? I think before before we started talking about all of this, I, I thought it was bad, like I thought there was too much space in my head that was like going to waste or something.
But now that we've been talking about it like. It is nice to have room, I feel like it lets me like I feel generally. Sensitive to the world around me and to other people, and I think it's actually kind of nice that there is room to let the world in. It was like I had thought all humans were land creatures and that I kind of more or less understood our species, and then I found out that there are people who live in the ocean instead.
And I know that I'll never live in the ocean. But now the dyads explained it to me. Put what's in her head into mine. I can imagine it. I spent the weekend just moving my eyes around my apartment, landing on different objects, just blinking. Julie Sullivan and Diane Woo are both producers on our show. Coming up, what lurks beneath the surface of a sunny California afternoon if you have the kind of job that you see it, that's in a minute.
Chicago Public Radio when our program continues.
It's this American Life, I'm IRA Glass. Today's program, What Lies Beneath. We have stories of stuff that is usually hidden from view coming to the surface. We've arrived at Act three of our show, Act three, one if by land, three if by sea.
So it's a conceit of a certain kind of story that in one day you can glimpse the entire world. This next story is kind of like that.
Somebody catches a glimpse of something bigger in just three hours of a typical workday.
Producer Dana Chevis tells the story, a few weeks ago, I was calling around talking to paramedics and EMTs in California. At the time, covid cases had skyrocketed and I wanted to see how the first responders were doing. I talked to this one guy, Sam Gabler, he's a firefighter and paramedic in San Francisco, and he told me the story. It actually happened back in August, all in one day, one of those perfect sunny days. Tons of people were outside that afternoon enjoying the weather.
And Sam was looking down at a woman who was caught on a cliff. Where was the woman?
She was probably. Two hundred and fifty feet down the cliff, and it was kind of one of those things where where she was standing, it wasn't super steep. She could kind of stand in balance. But there's no way to get down there. Honestly, to this day. I don't know how she made it down that far in that spot. It just didn't make any sense. And she had some some scrapes and bruises on her. So I'm assuming she fell at some point and just happened instead of rolling down the cliff into the water.
She rolled on to this fairly flat spot with a rock to hold on to which I was incredibly lucky because with her in that state, there's no way she would have survived if she went into the water.
How far down was the water from? From where she was probably another 50 feet. The woman looked fairly young, late 20s, early 30s.
And she was in a state like maybe she'd hit her head or she was intoxicated. It wasn't clear she wasn't answering questions. Samms Firestation covers an area of the city that includes beaches, Golden Gate Park and these cliffs west of the Golden Gate Bridge where people go hiking. So Sam and another firefighter put on face masks and harnesses, clipped into ropes and lowered themselves down to her. When they got there, the woman was clearly in distress, but not because she was stuck on the side of the cliff.
She I remember her saying a lot about how cold it is taking everything from her. And this disease is messing with her mind and she doesn't know what to do and just being so overwhelmed at whatever. I didn't ever get specifics of what she was doing before covid are or what her life was like. But she just kept saying, you know, this disease is messing with me. I don't know what I'm doing. I don't have any reason to live, like, just all this crazy stuff.
And you're like, you know, in your mind, you're like, man, I. I mean, this is this is crazy what it's doing to people.
They put her in a harness and clipped her into the ropes.
The rescuers up above started hauling the three of them back up the incline at the woman was grabbing onto the rope, which is the intuitive thing to do when you're hanging off the side of a cliff. But it's actually really dangerous. The thing you're supposed to do is lean back, trust your harness and the ropes to hold you and let your rescuers haul you back up. She wasn't doing that and she wasn't in the right state of mind.
And so you're you're like fighting this person to not climb up the rope, but to also walk their legs up to the cliff. It's all right. It's incredibly difficult with someone who isn't really able to follow commands. I mean, you're you're basically like a therapist at the edge of a cliff on a 50 foot cliff, like trying to treat this person enough to get her off the cliff without getting yourself hurt. I mean, it's really hard. Yeah, it's kind of crazy.
There were multiple times when I was getting frustrated and I just needed to, like, stop and calm myself down and look back like, oh, wow, that looks really cool. OK, all right. All right.
Stop talking about that.
We're going to do one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other. Trust your rescuers or you might fall backwards off a cliff. It feels applicable to all of us right now trying to make it through this pandemic. It worked for Sam and this woman with a lot of effort, they made it back up the slope, they put the woman into an ambulance and started driving back to the firehouse.
And that's when we hear on the radio, stand by for the surf rescue.
Someone had spotted three kids in the water at a beach nearby. They seemed like they were in trouble. The currents at that beach are really strong. They can be deceptive.
So he puts a U-turn on on the street and we start going back to the beach. So, you know, I'm peeling off my partisan dirty clothes and trying to get into my wetsuit. And I don't know if you've ever gotten into a wet suit, but it's kind of difficult, especially when you're sweaty, it's sticky and you're in the back of a fire engine that's driving through to the beach.
It's it's quite the spectacle. So we show up and it's just a sea of people. I've never seen this many people at the beach before.
It's a nice day during a pandemic. There's nothing else to do but go outside. Sam told me when paramedics see crowds like that, they know they're going to have a busy day. The road is high above the beach, and from there, Sam can see three little dots in the water. He makes a mental note of where they are and he, in about seven or eight other firefighters, hop into the back of a special pickup truck for surf rescues.
It's got lifesaving equipment like surfboards on it, and they drive down to the beach. Sam head straight into the water. But from there, he can't see the kids anymore. The waves are too high, so he starts swimming in the direction of where he'd seen them from above.
I didn't realize at that as I was getting into the water that my captain, who had gone to a higher perch, was screaming at us to not go in the water. Oh, really? I didn't realize that. Like she was yelling at us. And luckily I didn't hear him because I was gone. And why was he saying, don't go in the water, though? He saw how far out that the people had gotten sucked out in the channel and he thought it was too dangerous for us to see to go out there.
It was it was too far of a swim for us. So I swam out there and and the first person that I see is this kid who looks like 13, 14, maybe 15 years old, and he's bobbing up and down by the rocks. Looked like he was trying to get out. And I'm like, Hey, are you OK? And he said, I'm stuck. OK, grab onto this. We throw him a little floaty device that we swim with.
Look like the things you see on Baywatch carry. Yeah. So so we throw on the device and pull them away from the rocks and then I'm like, hey, what happened? He's like, well these two girls ran and I tried to get in to help them out. And I was like, oh, so there are two more people. It's like, yeah, like OK, where do they go? And he's like, they went that way.
So he just pointed point. He pointed to the open ocean and I couldn't see.
So I'm like, OK, now I'm like calculating in my mind, you know, I can't see where these people are. I've got one patient with me, you know, I can't just leave him.
What do I do to other rescuers? Swim up at that moment and take over there maybe 100 hundred yards out at this point, Sam, start swimming into the open ocean. He's swimming and swimming and swimming. He's getting tired, a little scared.
And now I'm like, man, I'm getting pretty far out here thinking about trying to make it back in. And then I see one of my co-workers who is a really good surfer and a good swimmer, and he's booking it on this surfboard.
And I figured obviously he can see something that I can't and I just change my angle to that line. It was him and another guy out there and we all kind of get out there and they found the two girls. So one of them was was in the water still with their head above water. She was treading water, OK? And the other one wasn't there anymore. And one of them reached down and grabbed her as she was sinking under water.
It's it's a very weird situation because you don't you don't know how long she's been under. So you just have this like, you know, this fear, not fear, but this picture in your head of how bad it can be. The girl's lips were blue. She wasn't breathing, wasn't conscious. And we pull her onto the board. We have this technique where we've put them on the board. And so she's out of the water. She's on the surfboard, the rescue board, and she's not breathing.
We do some, you know, trying to do CPR in the water where you're just treading water is ridiculous. It's it's not very effective.
So you and your friend, you and your friend are in the water and she's on the board and you're doing CPR from the water. Yeah, we're trying.
So it's you know, it's really a team effort on having people stabilize the board while other people are trying to bob up and push down on CPR and then Bob back down under the water. And you're only trying to propel yourself up out of the water to try and get some leverage and do some effective CPR.
CPR, after all, involves pressing down hard on someone's chest, but they're not above her. They're in the water next to the surfboard, bobbing up and down.
You know, you're out in the middle of the ocean, not the middle of the ocean, but you're way, way far away from the shore. Like you can't see the shore anymore and you're focused on the patient. You're like, how do I get this person to breathe again? And somehow she just started coughing up, coughing up all that water. And I just remember, like, the heaving the just the whole like all the muscles just contracting and just the disgusting heaving and coughing of all this water coming up up out of her mouth.
And, you know, you're just like, holy shit, this is this is real.
So now both girls are on surfboards. Sam says they were probably a thousand yards out from the shore at that point, a current pulling them further and further from shore.
You know, this is like something I'll never forget, just sitting in the water there and having this this person who, I don't know, vigorously cough into my face and I don't have a mask on and she doesn't have a mask on because we're on the ocean. There's no mask in the ocean. And I just remember thinking, man, I really hope she doesn't have Koven.
And, you know, it's like there's so many other things to be thinking about right now. Like, you know, this person almost drowned and we're still in a dangerous position. We're getting sucked out into the shipping lane. I can't see the beach anymore. I don't know where we are or who's going to come get us. But I try not to get eaten by a shark. I don't know.
There's literally. Right. Like there's sharks there. Yeah, yeah. It's yeah, there's a ton of sharks out there, especially in deep water where we're getting sucked out. And so I'm just like just amazed at myself thinking about covid in a situation like this, you know.
And and I'll never forget looking looking over to my co-worker and we just kind of looked at each other as she's coughing in our face and I could see it all over his face, too. And we just had that like that nonverbal communication where we're both like, damn.
I can't imagine anything that's more pandemic twenty twenty than being swept out to sea in shark infested water and still not being able to escape the anxiety of covid, seriously.
I mean, it's like we've had plenty of surf rescues and cliffe rescues before. But this covid thing is is like new and it's, you know, the difficulty of colds and the stress of cold is much higher than normal. I mean, you know, you could have had 30 calls a year ago and it would be less stressful than having 15 calls in this new covid era. The kids were OK, by the way, and Sam didn't get covid, but for so many of us, the specter of covid is always peering over our shoulders, intensifying everything we do from the most extreme activities the surf rescue, cliff rescue to the most banal grocery shopping, teeth cleaning.
That anxiety is the ether we exist in now. There is one thing that's given Sam some comfort. Recently, the vaccine. A few weeks ago, he had his second dose. He said it lifted a lot of stress for him. Now he only has to deal with fires, sharks, cliffs, people who have stopped breathing, you know, regular work stuff.
Dana Chevis is one of the producers of our show. I pour boiling under so lots of things can go unspoken between family members, sometimes for years, sometimes forever, and we had this idea that it would be interesting to do a story where a parent talks to their grown up kid about something the parent wanted to talk about for a while but never had.
And we recorded a couple of these with different families. And the one that was the most interesting was this one.
This is weirdly, I'm a very nervous about this, dad.
Yeah, I am, too. To what degree? This is Chris Gethard and his dad, Ken Gethard, because you and I don't really like. We have a really good relationship, we don't like to sit down and have personal conversations that often. Now, Chris has been on our show now and then he's a comedian and his father wanted to talk to Chris about Chris's depression. Chris has depression. He's talked about it on stage and on his podcast.
He did a One-Man show on HBO about it, which makes his dad feel bad, probably because Chris is talking publicly about stuff that the two of them have never really discussed.
Chris didn't reveal his depression to his parents till he was in his early 20s and had an incident where he nearly died. And then a friend more or less forced him to tell his family his dad had questions about all that. Chris came into the studio having no idea what his dad wanted to ask about.
And they sat down and I don't know, maybe we should have expected this.
His dad didn't just jump right in with the stuff that he wanted to talk about as too heavy.
Well, the first one is actually a question from mom. Oh, OK. Do you pray? Can I ask Chris about pro-wrestling, just about sports, and I'm just, you know, why are you why are you such an NBA fan rather than a pro baseball fan?
You talked about their old neighborhood in New Jersey. You can tell Chris how much he hates celebrity endorsements.
Chris, ever do a celebrity endorsement? Would Chris ever do a sex scene in a movie, a nude scene in a movie before it just continued for an hour?
And then finally, hey, listen, there's a couple questions I definitely do want to hit, so let's go to them. I don't want to run out of time. Sure.
So and then Ken brought up Chris's depression. They wanted to know why Chris took so long to tell his parents about it.
Well, you know, when you finally told mom and that was, what, towards the end of college?
Yeah, I guess that was I think that was absolutely floored us.
I mean, we had zero clue. Yeah. You know, and on one hand, we're like the guilt, you know, we got to protect you. Why couldn't we see this? You know, but on the other hand, it's like, you know, why did he come to us even now? You're like that, Chris. You know, there was something on the Web a couple of years ago was something, you know, this is what I look like when a bad day, you know, or when I'm feeling depressed.
Yeah. And you said something to the effect, you know. You know, I'll tell my wife. I'll tell my brother, but I'll never let my parents see me like this.
Yeah. You know, and that was, you know, after we've known. So I just, you know, even then now it's like sticking out there. Yeah.
I don't know why. I don't know. I guess it would make me feel like I was like letting you guys down in some way or failing in some way.
I don't know. I don't know.
But you'd be, you know, would be the mom and I would be the first to there to help you and do whatever it took to, I know, protect you.
I don't know why I've never been comfortable with you guys seeing me that like that or knowing knowing that side of me so well. But I just felt like. It was a thing. To hide, I don't know I don't know why, I don't know why, because you guys did as soon as I told you, it was like everyone went into this mode where. I was so supported and I had always assumed that if I ever told anybody about it, I was going to be on my own.
Whereas when I kind of hit rock bottom and started talking to you guys about it, it was like instantaneously the safest I ever felt. Yeah, you know, I'm glad you felt that way, but, you know, I hope you understand where I'm coming from on this.
Yeah, no, I wish I talked to you guys about it sooner. I wish. And you did a fantastic job of hiding it from Mom and I, which I'll have all amounts of guilt over not dying, that you don't have that many guilt over that.
I mean, I was so good at hiding it, so good at hiding it.
And I don't know why I don't know why I never let you and Mom know about that. It's just not my instinct. My instinct is that that's going to worry you guys so much and you're going to you're going to have to sit around and be scared about me. And I don't want you doing that. And I always figured maybe I could push through it or it would pass or even I felt like maybe I'm just a moody kid and yeah, if you're feeling bad, you need help and stuff like that.
Chris, you know, I would like you to come to us at any point in time, but I'm not a professional.
I don't know what to tell you. I don't know if I'm making sense.
It's I want to be there. But but I don't want to tell you something wrong either. Yeah. That's always in the back of my head.
It's like, oh, God, if he comes to me, you know, you I might go to tell him something and, you know, all of a sudden he's going to be worse, you know? Yeah, I'm like, scared.
I don't I don't think I want you coming to me, Dad. I'm you know, I'm upset. I need you to talk me. I want to know what to say. You know, that's what you have a professional for, you know, and it's.
Does that make sense and if we're there, yeah. No, because I know that I know that's the truth. I know that's the truth. Like, I know you're not the guy to talk about that. It's part of what made it very hard to say it. But it doesn't I think I let that fear make me not talk to you about it, whereas what really happened is exactly what I should have known you would have done, which was.
You're not the guy to talk about it, but you're certainly going to make sure that I finally get you to the right hand to get me there.
You're going to I mean, that's that's one of the things I regret the most, is like you're not the guy who you were never you're never going to be the guy who I could come to and say, Dad, I'm really sad and I don't know why you weren't going to know what to say, but I should have given I should have given a lot more credit to knowing you were going to run through a wall to get me where I needed to go.
Yeah. Chris gathered and his dad can gather thanks to them for agreeing to have this conversation on tape, the story first ran on our show a few years back. Chris is the host of the long running podcast Beautiful Animals. A program was produced today by a vote of Cornfeld, the people who put a show together today and could be a matter wunmi on a baker, Susan Burton, Ben Calhoun, then John Tobin, Lousteau Nelson, Katherine Raimondo, Ari Sapperstein, August shipmaster Chesky Willie Sullivan, Christopher Salamat Tierney and Diane Wew, managing editor.
Sarah Abdurrahman, senior editor David Kestenbaum, our executive editor, Emmanuel Barry, special thanks to Gabriela Munoz, Christopher Brown and the folks at El Camino Hospital for letting us record vaccinations. Wicketkeeper Adam Fingerpaint and Casey Chrissa. Reinach and chuckling our website This American Life dot org. You can stream our archive of over 700 episodes for absolutely free. Also, there's lists of favorite shows, videos we made over the air, links to our TV program, tons of other stuff there.
Again, this American Life dog, this American Life is delivered to public radio stations by parks, the Public Radio Exchange and is always your program's cofounder, Mr Malatya.
You know, in his early career, he was a writer in The Flintstones, The Rescripting Swines and Bambam one day and one of the other writers said, Hey, how about this? Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. He couldn't help himself, adding a little stamp to it. And then, bam. There you go. Yeah.
I'm IRA Glass, back next week with more stories of this American Life. Just. Next week on the podcast of This American Life, one of our producers here at the show, Susan Burton, recently revealed a secret that she had kept to herself for decades from everybody in her life. And I do mean everybody nobody knew at all our family and a single friend. Nobody ever got her thinking about secrets. Why do we finally tell them if we do finally tell them stories you found in other people's lives, how about that next week on the podcast on your local public radio station?