Welcome! Throughout the month of June I’ll be sharing some excerpts from the three books in my Heroes of the Tundra series. It’s set in the real-life town of Churchill, Manitoba, on the shores of Hudson Bay. Sign up for my blog posts and you won’t miss anything.
Saturday, August 1
CONSTABLE BEN KOPER PULLED HIS POLICE truck over to the side of the road across from Ruby’s Café & Emporium. His first day back at work in nine months, and already he was running late. He slammed the truck into park and stared up and down Kelsey Boulevard, on high alert for any movement between the buildings.
Last November, a polar bear had attacked him in this exact spot. He hadn’t been back to Churchill since then. Goose bumps skittered along his arms. Rationally, he knew that bears had been spotted along the coast and probably hadn’t made it into town yet. But his anxiety and the acid in his stomach told his brain a polar bear could be anywhere, now that the sea ice had melted.
Ben grabbed his mobile phone with the coffee orders on it and stepped out of his truck, pulling his baseball cap down to his sunglasses. He slammed the truck door and strode to the pavement of Kelsey Boulevard. The rest of the street sat quiet, while Ruby’s 6:00 a.m. crowd was hopping with its early morning breakfast specials. He could see people eating at tables through the huge front plate-glass window.
When he hit the middle of the street, his heart sped up, jackhammering in his chest. His feet refused to move past the centre of the road, like he’d struck an invisible wall. Adrenaline shot through his limbs. His vision tunneled into black holes. Sweat poured down his back and gathered on his forehead. He put his right hand on the grip of his service weapon, trying to get some equilibrium. His throat closed, and he leaned over with his hands on his knees. Deep breaths.
Deep, deep breaths Trying, trying…
Dan Sherman, his therapist, sounded in his head. “Look for five things around you to centre yourself. Repeat them to yourself. Then count them down one by one.”
Panting, beads of sweat rolled down the right side of his face over his scarred eyebrow and ear. All he could see was the concrete road and small rocks littered about.
There’s nothing but the road. Concrete, rocks, concrete, rocks…
He needed five things. His boots wouldn’t move. He stood hunched over in the middle of the street, trying not to throw up his meagre breakfast. No other objects around; nothing else to see. His feet… he couldn’t move his feet.
Running shoes, white and pink running shoes… Where did they come from?
“Ben? Ben,” a lilting, female voice broke through his fog. “Are you okay?”
A hand touched his shoulder, his sore right shoulder, and he flinched. Finally. He could move. He reared his head up and collided with the face belonging to the voice.
“Ow.” The woman let go of his shoulder and grabbed her nose while he staggered sideways.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he stammered. He reached forward to steady himself with his right hand but dropped his phone on the ground with his other hand. The woman dove for the phone and swiveled around to give it to him.
My husband was in the financial investment industry prior to joining the military. He won a trip for two to Las Vegas for a four day weekend as part of a company-wide incentive plan, so off we went to Sin City. It was actually a wonderful trip as we saw Siegfried and Roy with their white tigers, and a musical that I can’t recall. (Those white tigers were my main memory and favorite thing!) However, after seeing the S&R show, the crowd spilled out onto The Strip and joined in with a huge wave of people flowing down the pavement. We were shoulder to shoulder with people and being carried along organically. People were openly drinking beer and other alcohol, and the crowd was raucous, to say the least.
We were being crushed in this crowd and even though it was going in the direction we wanted to go in, I started having trouble breathing. Then I got crushing chest pains and thought I was having a heart attack. My legs shook and I grabbed my husband because I was afraid I was going to fall down and be trampled. He managed to maneuver us over to the hotel-side sidewalk so I could take a breath. However, things just got worse. I wanted him to call me an ambulance I was so sure I was having a heart attack.
However, smart man that he is, he pulled me inside the hotel and found the breakfast cafe. (Las Vegas really is open 24 hrs a day and they were serving breakfast) He ordered me black tea and toast, rubbed my hands, and spoke soothingly to me. I gradually calmed down. It was visceral, uncontrollable body experience that I’ll never forget. I just had to ride it out. It was also the one and only – thank goodness – panic attack I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve experienced anxiety on a much smaller scale but never anything that bad again.
Have you ever had a panic attack or been with someone while they were having one? How did you cope with it?