||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Wheel in the Gurney
By: Dale Recinella
It happened so fast. One moment I was on the stairs.
The next instant I was hurtling forward, helpless to prevent the crash of my airborne body into the concrete wall at the base of the stairwell. That’s it. I was prostrate on the ground. Dazed. Disoriented. Embarrassed.
The administrator of the Jacksonville office where my misstep occurred suggests I see a doctor. I won’t hear of it.
“I’m fine,” I chuckle with male machismo better suited to a man twenty years my junior. “The only thing hurt is my pride.”
I am wrong. Less than an hour later I start to blackout.
Soon, I’m lying on a bed in the emergency room of a Jacksonville hospital. My mind reconstructs the event. The straight-line shadow created by the morning sun against the eaves must have coincided with the edge of the stair and the line of my bifocals. I missed the step. So much for aging gracefully.
The medical staff couldn’t be nicer. All are bustling busily with machines and wires and tape. Electrodes are affixed to my chest. Sensors are attached to my left arm and index finger. Every breath is monitored. Every heartbeat is mapped. Every impulse of energy that indicates this body is alive is captured and translated to printed record.
A burly but gentle male nurse introduces himself. He sterilizes an area of skin and inserts an intravenous port in my right arm. The fluid in the I.V. tube flows into my arteries from a bag suspended on a machine that automatically controls the flow. The chill of the intruding flow sends a shiver through my body.
The minister friend who transported me to the hospital is standing behind my wife. Both are to my right. The E.R. physician’s assistant has been in twice. He appears again.
“We need x-rays,” he announces, flipping through a chart. “Put him on a gurney and let’s get rolling.”
The words hit like a hammer blow— a blow harder than the one I received this morning as my head hit the wall. Haven’t I heard words like that before?
Yes. Recently. (1) It was the Governor’s top advisor on the death penalty: “…put them on a gurney and let's rock and roll."
An icy chill turns my veins colder than the first fluids from the I.V. bag. Suddenly, I imagine this whole scene in a different way.
What if this room were thirty miles away at Florida State Prison?
What if the nice medical staff were here to put me on a gurney and rock and roll?
What if my ride on the gurney were a one-way trip?
What if the fluids coming from the bag through the machine into my body were the chemicals to kill me?
What if the monitors and wires and tapes were to confirm that everyone has succeeded: that my heart has stopped, that my breathing has stopped, that I have been quietly murdered in a sterilized room?
What if my wife and friend were here to say, “Goodbye”, to claim my dead body?
What if all the life saving things I have experienced in the last hour were perverted into tools of death?
How horrible would that be!
My rambling thoughts yield to the names and faces of two brothers in Christ, the two men who have had warrants issued for execution this month. (2) One is even a Catholic. According to the press, he was mentally ill when he committed his crime and still is.
“Lose the what-ifs, ” I correct my thoughts. “The machinery of life is already being perverted to the service of death in Florida. It’s already horrible.”
(1) Quote from January 2000: "What I hope is that we become like Texas: … put them on a gurney and let's rock and roll." Mr. Brad Thomas, the Florida Governor’s then top advisor on the death penalty.
Source: Jo Becker And William Yardley,
Bush Backs Off Firm Limit To Death Row Appeals:
The Deal With Legislative Leaders Is Made On The Eve Of The Opening Of A Special Session On The Death Penalty,
St. Petersburg Times, January 5, 2000, also available on-line at:
(2) Both men were ultimately executed. Fourteen people have been executed in Florida since June of 2000.
First published: The Florida Catholic, June 15, 2000
© 2000 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
I Was In Prison
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed