The first time Lane Blake Gordon went to Howard County General Hospital, he just about died -- he was told his heart stopped beating for a minute and a half.
Now he goes back every week -- driving from his home in Owings Mills to the Columbia hospital as a Sunday hospitality volunteer, helping patients and their families in the emergency room.
It is a measure of the gratitude Gordon, 37, feels for the paramedics and hospital staff who saved his life Aug. 21, when he suffered a heart attack while playing baseball in Columbia's Centennial Park.
"Believe me, I'm not a saint," he says earnestly. "But when I went down, nobody cared who I was -- rich, poor -- they came together and took care of me. It's been an eye-opener -- it woke me up.
"Let's get rid of all the prejudice and love each other," he adds fervently, "because it's all we have."
Gordon puts on a maroon hospital volunteer jacket and bustles about making coffee for patients waiting to be seen, finding an ice pack for a child's bruised knee, stocking cubicles with boxes of gauze bandages.
A friendly man with a ready smile, he regards as his most important duty carrying messages from patients to their families in the waiting room.
"You think the worst [experience] is the patient's, but it's not. When you're brought into the hospital, you're the person suffering; you see the fluorescent light bulbs in the ceiling and you know you're getting the best possible care."
But family members are in the waiting room, separated from their loved one.
"They are the ones who have the highest stress. Because once you separate the family or the spouse from the individual back there, they're lost," he says.
"Thank God for the people here at this hospital, that they bridged that gap. Even when the doctors were working on me, they came back just to relieve [my family's] pain. And I looked at that and said, 'You know, that's a nice thing to do.' "
Gordon's is a close-knit family. He and his wife, Lynda, were high school sweethearts who came to Baltimore from Philadelphia 10 years ago to open a branch of the Gordon family business -- a food brokerage.
The Gordon family remembers the Centennial Park outing as though it were yesterday. It was the first time that Gordon, a baseball aficionado, had played on a traveling team in Howard County. He was running bases when he realized he could barely make it to home plate. He thought he had dislocated his shoulder; he was breathless and in pain.
The ambulance crew picked him up at the baseball field and had just pulled up to the emergency room door when paramedic Adam E. Zielinski noticed the heart monitor making odd noises -- noises that meant Gordon's heart was vibrating, not beating.
"How do you feel?" he asked Gordon.
"I feel a little faint," Gordon replied. Then his eyes rolled up and his heart stopped.
His wife and daughters Valerie, 12, and Brooke, 8, followed the ambulance.
"We were so scared," Valerie recalled. "I was trying not to cry, but I couldn't. People around the ambulance were running, they were screaming orders to the doctors and I just burst into tears."
Lynda Gordon was concerned for her husband and the girls. "I heard them say, 'Start CPR!' " she said of the resuscitation effort. "The main thing I was thinking was to get the girls into the hospital so they couldn't see. When I got inside, a nurse behind me said, 'It's OK. They got a rhythm back.' "
Zielinski, the paramedic, recalled his efforts to get Gordon's heart restarted on that scorching day. He tried a cardiac "thump" on Gordon's chest, then electric shock. Nothing happened. But after the second shock, Gordon's heart resumed beating.
"He woke up and he said, 'What happened?' " said Zielinski, who later received an award for saving Gordon. "I told him, 'You don't want to know.' "
Later, Gordon would recall dreamlike details from the time when he hovered between life and death. "I heard two voices. The first said, 'You'll like it here. This is a wonderful place.' The second voice said, 'Go back, it's not your time.' "
While Gordon struggled for life, the Rev. Arthur R. Lillicropp III, then the hospital's director of pastoral care, guided his stricken family into the chapel.
Lynda Gordon says she is still grateful for the chaplain's kindness. "Go be with your husband," he told her, offering to stay and comfort her daughters.
She says hospital officials knew what they were doing when they assigned her husband to work in the emergency area. "He knows firsthand what it's like," she said. "He has a lot of insight. He sees things."
One insight Gordon gleaned from his near-death experience was the importance of family.
"It's for the people that you come back," he said. "The people that love you. I was scared of death. Now I'm not afraid anymore. I came back for a purpose."
Pub Date: 5/26/96