My first encounter with death…up close and personal.

July 1999. I had been a police officer for about three years now, and I was working a DUI shift, when at about 1:00 AM, my police radio blared, “Motorcycle crash, with injuries.”  I was in the area, and responded with my lights and siren.

When I pulled up on the seen, I observed a Ducati performance style bike on its side with the headlight still on.  As I approached, I identified a man in his early 20’s sitting on the curb sobbing uncontrollably. The man was wearing a sharp black suit, and had stylish black hair, cropped on the sides and long on top. It’s strange the things you remember.  I asked him what I believed to be a logical question at the time, “Are you okay?” He began yelling at me and said, “I just killed my best friend, fuck no, I’m not okay!”

I then realized I had completely overlooked another person lying at the man’s feet. He was face down and positioned in what I refer to as the Superman pose…wearing the same black suit.

I immediately checked for signs of life. “Yes!!!” I thought to myself, “he’s breathing and he has a heartbeat.”  I thought that maybe he just got knocked out from the crash. That’s when I noticed his breathing pattern was not right. A gargled, labored breathing that sounded really really bad.

This was the first time I experienced what I now know as ‘Agonal Respiration’, or the ‘death rattle’. Agonal breathing is an abnormal pattern of breathing and brainstem reflex characterized by gasping, labored breathing, accompanied by strange vocalizations and myoclonus.” Bad news.

As I started to sweep the coagulated blood from his mouth, I noticed little balls of yellowish-white stuff in his hair and ears.  Then I saw he had a defined imprint on his forehead from the impact of the fall.

The agonal breathing continued, and because no one had ever told me about this before, I assumed his breathing was simply inhibited or obstructed from the blood in his mouth.  So, I continued to sweep the blood from his mouth with my gloved hand, and began reassuring him that help was on the way.

The horrible gurgling sound began to slow, and then stopped altogether. This silence was quickly replaced with the sound of the ambulance arriving at the scene. As the ambulance arrived, I realized the young man died…he died as I talked to him, willing him to hold on, as I held his head in my hands. I had just witnessed death…up close and personal, and unfortunately, this would not be the last time.

I remember asking myself, “What the fuck just happened?!”  I was overtaken by my emotions, I mean, no one ever told me death was like this. I had no clue it could be so drawn out and graphic. Death was no longer just a word in my vocabulary…it was real now, and it lives within me. It haunts me and gets replayed through my memories at the most random times. Sometimes, when I get into bed I’ll naturally stretch out in the superman position, and that is all it takes to spark those memories, and I find myself instantly taken back to that night. The sounds and smells are still so real…17yrs later.

Graphic, I know. But this is the direction I must travel with my blog to illustrate how real these situations are, and the emotions people are faced with. For there are only two ways to gain true perspective on a situation: 1) Experience it firsthand, and 2) Learn from someone that has.

My hope is to spark a conversation around the emotional survival of our nation’s first responders and warriors. If I am doing this right, you should be asking yourself, “So, how the hell do cops, warriors, paramedics and firefighters deal with this shit?”

Honestly, we don’t…I truly believe we have a learned defense system…kind of a personal process we go through to avoid accepting the realities of the trauma we are faced with. I call it “Conditioned Apathy”. It’s a practice of consciously and subconsciously decreasing our capacity to experience empathy. By compartmentalizing and suppressing these types of memories, as well as unintentionally dehumanizing people, we enable ourselves to operate in these crazy situations without making an emotional connection. We become desensitized.

To finish my story, I thought it necessary to share some background information about the scene I witnessed on that warm summer night.  The driver of the motorcycle was the best man at his friend’s wedding earlier in the day. The passenger who died was his childhood friend. The wedding party had just gotten back to the house when the passenger had asked to go for a ride around the block.  They had been drinking, and the driver had overshot the corner.  When they hit the curb, the passenger flew over the driver, hitting his unprotected head center mass on a tree, six inches in diameter. Those little balls of yellowish-white stuff in his hair and ear…you can imagine my pain when I found out what that was. The driver later plead guilty to DUI, and also to killing his friend.

Next week, I will tell you some stories about “Little Philip”… a kind and compassionate kid. Maintaining my commitment to transparency, I’ll even tell you about that time I cried in Marine boot camp…  yeah… that happened.

Until next week…less screen time and more face time, my friends.

Confessions of a Recovering Cop

copmeAs political leaders only provide knee-jerk reactions to community members fighting for voice, reform, and justice; in response to what they perceive as a resist police state. I do believe we, as a Nation are at what could be a tipping point. As the list of unarmed African Americans being killed by the police grows, citizens and police forces alike are demanding meaningful reform. And while our Nations community leaders and politicians debate over what this reform should look like, the list grows. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and Samuel DuBose – are just a few names of the most recent high-profile killings by the police.

To me; Meaningful Reform, does not mean more body cameras. I wholeheartedly believe it means an all new way of selecting, training and mentoring our nation’s police officers.

So, what is my purpose here? Simply stated. I want to provide the non-law enforcement, consumer of traditional mass and social medias the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of a 20-year medically retired veteran of police work.

Like most stories, I feel compelled to start from the very beginning. To tell you who I was a child. My dreams, my fears, outline and highlight the influences that formed this man today. But first, for the sake of transparency, I’ll share my first experience with death, up close and personal.

Following this post, I will continue to share my personal and professional experiences in life.

***Warning and Disclaimer*** Statements I make within this blog are my opinion, as I do my best to pull information from reliable sources. I WILL use:

– Profanity
– Sexual content
– Overly graphic, disturbing or offensive language
– Vulgar or abusive language

You have the right to agree or disagree with me; I do not care. Please do not assume you know my stance on any subject. I am doing my best to remain natural as I walk through this minefield of political, racial, economic and social issues. So please, do not continue to follow me if this does not sound like something you want to read. Please feel free to write me at phil.saraff@gmail.com. We can have a meaningful discussion.

My end goal is to help create social discussion, by highlighting the cause and effects of the current state of the culture of law enforcement. By the nature of the topic of this blog, I realize some may be offended, disagree or even maybe want to punch me in the face. Honestly, I do not care. And if that is the case, please feel free to stop reading my posts.

My blog is dedicated to every one of us. May we increase our capacity for empathy and create global compassion as it is the glue that holds society together. More face time and less screen time.
Philip Saraff CEO – 720.883.4105
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