From a bottomless abyss of sleep I awoke. The clouded border between dreams and consciousness was still vague in my mind. I scrambled through the darkness to locate the ringing telephone in my living room. A call in the middle of the night never brought good news. That much was certain. I tried to prepare myself for what awaited on the other end of the line but I still dreaded finding out. Not daring to wait another ring, I grasped the receiver and picked it up with a galloping heart.
“Hello?”; I spoke in a hoarse whisper. The ‘mental cobwebs’ were still thick in my groggy state. Nothing could have prepared me for the raw, terrified voice on the telephone. A frightened child on the line was crying and inconsolable. The intensity of his emotion was sobering. Natural empathy for his plight gripped my soul.
Any other time, such a shrill voice and discordant message might have seemed like a prank call but I knew immediately it was real. The hopelessness in his voice was genuine and my heart ached for him. There is no way to fake that level of anxiety. I struggled to find the right words to calm and console the little boy.
“Can you please help? I think my daddy is very sick!” The panic stricken child began to cry again. I judged him to be three or four years old, based on the timbre in his voice and the level of his vocabulary. At that moment, there was no one else in the world but us; separated by an unknown length of electronic wire.
Although I have no children of my own; I felt a strange, paternal kinship with him. I desperately wanted to ease his fears but I was at a loss of how to accomplish it. I had no idea where the child was calling from. I began to suffer from the same contagious feeling of helplessness until it almost overwhelmed me too.
Adrenaline started flooding through my veins to help me wake up. Slowly, my thought processes and logic grew clearer. I knew I had to be level-headed and calm because I was possibly his only hope. My previous anxieties of failing him faded as I regained my composure.
I wondered if he was the child of someone I knew. Perhaps I was on his parent’s speed dial; or merely the last number they called in their phone. Despite a definite feeling of familiarity, I couldn’t place his frail little voice among my friend’s children. I had no way of knowing if he was calling from the same town, or clear across the country! If mine was just a phone number that he called at random, it would be extremely difficult to summon emergency personnel to assist both of them.
I did my best to assure him that we would get his father to the hospital immediately. That seemed to calm him down considerably. Unfortunately, when I asked where he was calling from, he said: “I’m calling from ‘here’.”