A child, traveling alone, encounters hotel trouble, a young woman begins her healing journey thanks to a sexual assault victim's advocate, a woman recovering from open heart surgery finds respite with a a gruff nurse and post-avalanche, Missoula unites.

Transcript : The Kindness of Strangers - Part 1

Marc Moss: Welcome to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

We are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Close to the Edge” If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].

The pitch deadline is February 17th. I look forward to hearing from you.

This week on the podcast…”But it had the corkscrew off ramp. Which in a wheelchair is amazing! Wind blowing in your hair. Like you’re like going so fast you don’t know what’s going to happen.” “…I finally decided that I needed to do something. I didn’t have my phone, so I couldn’t call anybody…” “And I calmed down eventually and he says, is there anything else?” “I had shown up right before they had pulled a car under 50 feet of snow and a house was being dragged apart as this car was being towed out.” …four storytellers share their true personal story on the theme “The Kindness of Strangers”. Their stories were recorded live in-person in front of a sold-out crowd on December 06, 2023 at The Wilma in Missoula, MT.

Winter is traditionally a time when we slow down. Our indigenous friends, during winter, share stories that they don’t share at other times of the year. Tell Us Something acknowledges that we are gathered on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Ponder eh, Salish, and Kootenai peoples.

Traditionally, storytelling is reserved for the winter months for many tribes. This was a practical choice given the fact that during the other seasons, people were busy growing, gathering, and hunting food. It is in the winter, with the long dark evenings, the snow and wind blowing outside, that telling stories is used to entertain — and teach the children. Another reason for winter storytelling, is that many traditional stories contain animal characters. To be respectful, people wait until the winter when animals hibernate or become less active so they cannot hear themselves being talked about.

We take this moment to honor the land and its Native people and the stories that they share with us.

Thank you to our Title sponsor – Blackfoot Communications.

connecting people, businesses and communities. They know that strong connections matter. Connecting businesses, homes. communities. Connecting with each other. They keep people reliably connected.

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Remember that Tell Us Something stories sometimes have adult themes. Storytellers sometimes use adult language. That is especially true for this episode. Our second storyteller speaks frankly, though not graphically, about rape and the justice system. Sensitive listeners, please take care of yourselves. This episode may not be appropriate for children.

Our first story comes to us from Steve Rosbarsky. Steve journeys alone to the Junior Nationals tournament in Minneapolis. The absence of parental guidance sets the stage for a misadventure leading to trouble at a hotel. Stranded without a coach, an unexpected savior, Martin Martin, rescues the young athlete from a precarious situation. A series of escapades involving hotel ice baths, wheelchair races, and rooftop pool revelry culminate in a disciplinary showdown with the coaches.Steve calls his story “Three days, Two Coaches, One Martin Martin”. Thanks for listening.

Steve Rosbarsky: Taxi cabs kind of have a unique smell. When I was sitting in there, I wasn’t sure if it was me, I wasn’t sure if it was him, I wasn’t sure if it was all the people that had been there before me. The plane ride had a familiar smell to it, because it smelled like cigarettes. Just like the bus. Because back then you could smoke in the airplane.

So as I was riding in the cab, I was watching the little mechanical device sitting on the dashboard just roll through numbers. And it reminded me of Back to the Future. I had no idea what the numbers meant. I just knew that I had told him where I needed to go. And we’re on our way there. And when we got there he told me the total, which I don’t know how it added up.

And I filled out my traveler’s checks and signed it and handed it to him. And I got out of the car. And the cities are kind of a foreign world to somebody born and raised in Missoula, Montana. The way that the sidewalks are black and the light reflects off them and I walked into the lobby and the woman was super helpful, helping me check into the hotel.

She was so sweet. And she says to me after I, she gives me my key and tells me where the room is and tells me where the pool is. She goes, and don’t forget honey, you can leave the TV on all night if you want. Now the reason she said that is because I was 13. So, but I also looked like I was 10. So, she was, it was, she was super sweet.

I did leave the TV on, by the way. So, I was on my way to Junior Nationals. So, for us at the time, it was called the Junior Olympics. It was about a 3, 500 kid event that happened. And this time, it happened in Minneapolis. So, here I was, in my hotel room, by myself, with the TV on, which happened to have HBO, which was a bonus.

And then, the next morning I got up. I couldn’t eat that morning because I knew I had to weigh in, but the plan was, I was taking this trip on my own to get to St. Paul, and then I was going to meet my coach at registration. So this is long before cell phones, this time did exist. It was long before the internet, and so as I rolled in there, It was a hope and a prayer that I would meet him at registration, I guess.

I didn’t realize how much of a prayer it was. So I rolled up to registration and I sat there and I checked myself in and at that point for Montana I was a fairly successful athlete. So people from Montana kind of knew me, but I was traveling on my own and I went and I made it through weigh ins and I sat in registration and lunch came and I could eat so I did go eat.

Didn’t have a lot of parental supervision, so I’m sure it was hot dogs or nachos or something fun. And then, it was getting darker, and it was getting later. And my coach had not arrived yet. So I don’t remember being super panicked about this, but I do remember being like, Hmm, I think I’m going to have to go back to my hotel room soon.

So I think it’s four blocks that way. I remember in my head, I was like, I’m pretty sure it’s four blocks that way. Well, in walks this guy, with his t shirt tucked in his sweats, and his belly just slightly protruding from the waistband, and this bold mustache, and he goes, Hey Stevie! What are you doing? I said, Oh, I’m waiting for my coach.

And he goes, Ah, that’s great. Who’d you travel with? I’m like, Oh, I’m by myself. He goes, No, no, no. Like, Who’d you come with? And I go, No, I’m by myself. And no, like, Where are your parents? And I go, no, I came by myself. And he goes, no, you did not. And I go, no, I did. And he goes, no, you didn’t. And he goes, come with me.

And we went to a payphone, which, for you guys that are younger, there used to be this little booth that you would open and walk in and put a dime in, at that time. Dimes are these little silver coins that we, I’m just kidding. So, anyway, using an AT& T calling card, which that’s too much to explain, I called my mother and this person picked up the phone and he goes, Hello, Mrs.

Rosbarski, which was not her name since she very proudly is not a Mrs. Rosbarski anymore. He said, I am Martin Martin out of Butte. He goes, if you want to call a sheriff’s office and find out who I am, you can call them. I do work with them, but I am, your son is staying with me for the rest of his stay here.

And given this was 1989, she went, okay. So what was amazing about this was that Martin took me to my room. We took everything out. We checked out of my room. We checked into his room and he had this whole team of kids, but they also had a lot of rules. Like, you couldn’t swim before you fought, and you had to eat well, and he watched everything they did, and I was like, oh my god, this is so, so impossible to deal with.

But I also held this deep gratitude for it at the moment. I was like, how interesting is this? And he took care of me and included me in this team from the start. From the moment he picked me up in registration, I was part of that team. And everything they did, every practice they had, I was, he just brought me in.

And I didn’t know him very well, but he just brought me in. Well, then it came to be the fight day. When fight day showed up, my coach miraculously appeared. And so my coach showed up for that, and I had I think five to seven fights that day. I had taken bronze the year before, and so I was, I was set on winning this one.

My semi final match was really hard, and back then the referee used to come out and hold your hands like this, and there was no scoreboard. So you just sat there with your hand like, being like, I don’t pray much. But this is my moment, like, please raise my hand. And then you heard people clapping, and your hand was still down.

And you’re like, Okay. But I did get a bronze medal. So I was like, alright, not so bad. No, no, no claps. Hehehe. I was like, okay, not so bad. Um, I will say that one of my dear family friends when I came home said, Didn’t you get that last year? So, so It wasn’t quite what I wanted, so I was really disappointed about it, but also grateful I had something.

Like I said, that was a 3, 500 kid tournament. I felt something great. And then my coach said this. The magic words. This coach that was masterful at using withholding. He was masterful at making you sing and dance and do all the things to try to get any sort of approval. He goes, Stevie, you get to stay in my room with me.

I was like, okay, I’ve made it. And so I went in this room, also staying in this room with us, was actually a future Olympian in Taekwondo. And so I was really excited, like, these are like the people I look up to. And the very first job I had, getting in there, was to fill a bathtub full of ice. Which I kept doing, I had to go to the third floor, and the second floor, and then the fifth floor, to get enough ice to fill this bathtub.

And the part I was nervous about was I was like, I, this was well before Wim Hof was popular, but ice baths did exist, and I was like, Oh God. I really don’t hope I have to sit in here. However, it slowly got filled with these golden bottles of elixir. The champagne of beers, they say. Miller Highlight. So, as it was getting filled with beer, and this huge party was starting to take way, I got to do the one thing that I wasn’t allowed to do up to this point, which was go onto the roof, because there was a pool on the roof.

Which, for anybody from Azula, first, a pool’s amazing. But two, the pool was on the roof. So I got up there, and I don’t know how long I was there, it was blissful. I was just swimming, just taking it in, and when I came back down to go to the room, the hallway looked like the biggest party ever had happened.

There was wheelchairs tipped over, beer cans, no one to be found. And so I steered my way around all of this and made it back to the room. The room also was in the same state of disarray. And I was like, What the hell happened here? Right? Now, given I’d grown up around this tech model group where I’d been at a lot of parties at way too young.

So, I mean, I knew that it was a party, but I was like, this is a party. So I sat down on the bed, and about two seconds later, the door flings open! And these two kids come in, who I didn’t really know, but, you know, I was 14, 13, and they were 17. And they come in, they go, oh my god, Stevie, you missed this, it was the biggest thing ever.

Our coaches were like racing wheelchairs, and they tipped over, and they fell down, and all these things happened. And We should take the wheelchairs to the parking garage. And I was like, deal. Because the parking garage door is right outside the hallway. So we get on the wheelchairs and we’re wheeling down.

Now this parking garage is great. It’s like a Fisher Price parking garage because it Fisher Price were these toys that we Just kidding. But it had the corkscrew off ramp. Which in a wheelchair is amazing! Wind blowing in your hair. Like you’re like going so fast you don’t know what’s going to happen.

You’re trying not to go backwards. And then when we hit the bottom, we were just grabbed. This huge security guard just scooped us up. And we were like, oh, crap. I’ve been in trouble before, so I was like, oh, no. So he picks me up, and he takes us into the, and I didn’t know they had these in hotels. It was like an interrogation room.

It’s a pretty bare, bare table. He’s asking us what we’re doing. We’re like, uh, this thing. And, you know, I don’t know. We didn’t have any supervision. We’re trying to make as many excuses as we can, but in came my coach. And they were pissed. Now, I’ve been yelled at before by them, but they were really mad. So they came in, and we’d go up to the parking garage.

So here’s the unique thing about the parking garage, is that when we got back up there, these are the same people who were racing wheelchairs. They start really digging in at me. Now, I’ve been yelled at enough times that it eventually turns into that Charlie Brown teacher, wah wah, wah wah, wah wah. But at one point, we were stuck doing Pago.

So if you guys have never done Taekwondo, or hopefully you’ll never see this if you do Taekwondo, but there, there is this punishment, corrective behavioral practice that we do in Taekwondo called Pago. So I’m going to show it to you. Pago looks like this.

So Pago provides this amazing time for your coaches to really yell at you. And so I was looking over at this 17 year old boy that was with me, and he’s panicking. Like, I can see him physically panicking. And, and I remember looking at him, and the coaches had gone off to, like, laugh or talk, whatever they’re doing.

And I said, you have to stop crying. And he looks over and he goes, because it only gets worse. And he was like, just deep panic. So then there, my coach’s wise decision then, after they let us up out of Pago and we went through all this, was, you can sleep on the fire escape. So that’s where we slept. And then in the morning I was allowed to come in the room and get my stuff, and I got back in the taxi, back on the bus, back on the plane, made it back to Missoula.

I was kicked out of Tijuana for three months because of that whole event. But here’s where it gets interesting, this guy Martin Martin, coming back to this person. So, I lost track of Martin Martin for about 13 years. We didn’t go to the same tournaments. I had started at that, you know, shortly after that, going to U.

S. team trials and just a different experience. But then in 2003, I finally divorced this Taekwondo family that I’d had for a really long time. I was very loyal to them, so it was a very hard shift. So when I went onto this new organization, who was part of it? Martin, Martin. And so, as I was navigating this, like, Am I not being loyal?

Am I dishonoring this like heritage that I have? Can I do it on my own? The one thing that came back was this guy, and so the very first term I saw him, he came back with his T-shirt with tucked in his sweats and his belly protruded just a little bit further than it did before. His mustache was a little gray and his hairline was gone.

It was high when I met him, but it was gone. Um, but Martin, Martin was one of these people who when he showed up at this moment. That I didn’t know I needed him, he was there. And when I was all of a sudden opening my own school 13 years later, this guy, Martin Martin, that’s his real name, from Butte showed up and he was there again.

And I’m forever grateful for those lessons. My beautiful kids are sitting there. None of what I have would have been possible without people like him. So, so I go. Thank you.

Marc Moss: Thanks, Steve.

Steve Rosbarsky was born and raised in Missoula Montana. He has two beautiful children, Lydia and Eddie. He is so grateful to his partner Gwen and the joy that he feels being the long term parental type figure to Evani and Cecelia. Steve is also proud of his beautiful granddaughter Ronnie. He owns and operates a Taekwondo School here in Missoula. Steve is a sustainable project coordinator for Missoula Habitat for Humanity. He holds gratitude for all the moments this life has provided. Learn more about steve at tellussomething.org. https://www.missoulatkd.com

Remember that at the top of the show I mentioned that our second storyteller speaks frankly, though not graphically, about rape and the justice system. That story is next. It is about 12 minutes long. If you have children listening, you may want to skip through this story.

Maria Merkley’s traumatic encounter, guided by Sammy’s support, led to resilience and empowered her to begin the journey of reclaiming her life after assault. Maria calls her story The Advocate. Thanks for listening.

Maria Merkley: All right. So in the story, Oregon, my favorite red ale is still to this day. Um, they’re, they’re right from buoy. Sorry, from buoy buoy. Um, and the bartender just told me that they were switching out the keg. So I was going to have my second beer. Um, I was alone at a bar, which was usual. Um, I had been divorced for a year.

Uh, when I got divorced, I had told myself like, all right. Whenever I want to go do something, doing it, like, an excuse not to do it, being alone, like, I can’t do it. So, if that’s the only reason to go and not do something, was being alone, like, I had to go and do it. And, I loved it. So, the very first concert that I went to, uh, was a band called Kaleo.

They were actually kind of like part of why I got a divorce. And, um, I know, music is really powerful. Um, and, uh, But their opening band, I’d never heard of them, and they were named Judah and the Lion. And, uh, so that was like my first concert, you know, so ironically, a year later, Judah and the Lion is their opening, like, own headliner.

They’re playing at the Roseland Theatre, downtown Portland. A week before that, I was actually at this same bar, uh, because I had gone with a group of friends to see another band, Iration. I went and saw concerts, like, regularly. Um, and, uh, I, uh, I don’t know if I finished my second beer. Um, I woke up and I was face down naked in a hotel room.

An overwhelming, like, smell of smoke. Like what I would imagine it was what it was like back in the 50s when people just smoked everywhere. Cause it was like, it was horrendous. Um, I saw my clothes. I saw a man I’d never seen before. And I just, like, I had to get out of there. I had to get out of there. Uh, I, as I’m putting my clothes on, they are just vomit all over.

And the smell is just awful. And then my pants were also damp. So I’m putting these clothes on and I just am trying to get out of there. Uh, I get out of there and I’m walking downtown Portland. And I can’t feel anything. I don’t know what I’m doing. All I have is my wallet, and I’m like, okay, like, what can I do?

A snowflake falls, and I’m like, well, fuck, I can’t, like, stand around and walk around downtown Portland. You know, in this condition, it’s gotta be cold. There’s snow. So I get a very expensive taxi ride back to Longview, Washington, which is where I lived. I end up getting with a family friend who had suggested going to my primary care doctor.

And at the time, that sounded, uh, reasonable. Um, this primary care doctor continued to tell me that since I didn’t know what happened, he was labeling it as risky sexual behavior, and then continued, uh, to perform an exam on me. Uh, this exam, after the fact, he realized there was so much trauma to my body that he then suggested that I go to the hospital to see a sexual assault nurse, the same nurse.

I went home, um, because I was distraught. I didn’t know what happened. It was the most horrific appointment I’ve ever had. Um, I don’t remember my rape, but I remember that, that doctor’s visit. I finally decided that I needed to do something. I didn’t have my phone, so I couldn’t call anybody, and I was like, well, you know what?

Okay. What would my older sister do, like, and I was like, okay, she would tell me, like, to go, to go to the hospital, but I was terrified of having the same experience that I had just had. I got there. The nurse was really nice, and she brought in, uh, a sexual assault victim’s advocate, Sammy. This girl didn’t look much older than me, but she had just this kind, understanding empathy on her face, and she I sat through that whole interview with the police officer, and that police officer, to this day, Officer Bestman, he told me words, because I was trying to figure out, like, man, like, I only had two beers, I can drink a lot more than two beers, and like, remember, like, from 6.

30pm to 4. 30 in the morning, there’s nothing, like, nothing, like, that’s never happened before. And he said, Maria, you can go out and have one beer. You can go out and have five beers. You can go out and have 10 beers. That is your right. But no one has the right to take advantage of you. I tell myself those words over the past six years, um,

a lot, um, those words really mean a lot to me, um,

Sammy, uh, my victim’s advocate was just incredible, um, She’d been through most of the process already, so she was able to walk me through it, and was that, like, guiding hand and that shoulder to cry on, and was just able to be everything that I was needing. Uh,

One part of the process, so the officer that, um, made that statement, he was a local officer in Longview, but the crime happened in Portland, so I was dealing with the Portland, um, detectives. And they had told me to try and strengthen my case, um, a good thing to do would be to give a hair sample. Uh, I don’t know if they didn’t know necessarily what that entailed or not.

Sammy had never gotten to a point with another victim where they’d gotten to that point, so she didn’t really know, you’d think, just a couple plucks. We made the 45 minute drive to Portland, Sammy and I, because she came with me to every appointment with my detective. And they had me flip over my hair. I had hair about, like, down to here at that time.

And, uh, they just kept snipping and snipping and snipping. And when I finally, like, lifted my head up, I looked at Sammy and I could just, I knew, I knew that it wasn’t what either of us had thought that it was going to be. And they had taken about baseball sized, like, chunks out of my hair.

That 45 minute ride home, I could just feel it, I could just feel it, like my hair was gone.

And Sammy got me to an amazing hairstylist, Carlina, um, and she gave me the cutest buzz, um, buzz cut, and like it was a bob, and it was so cute. And so then when I touched my hair, I didn’t think about what had happened, and I wasn’t re traumatized.

At the same time, I was facing troubles at work, um, which was really hard for me because I was living in a town where I didn’t have family, and so like, my work was like, my family. Um, and it was Sammy who had told me, like, Maria, that’s not okay, like, they can’t be treating you like that, like, you have rights, and encouraged me to stand up.

She did the same thing about my encounter with a doctor. She told me, Maria. Maria. He had no right to talk to you like that. That is not okay. You can do something about it. I did, um, it took years, uh, but something had come of those complaints. To this day, that hair has not been sampled, um, and the man in the hotel room was not charged.

After that, I was afraid to, like, go places. I was afraid to be alone. I have tattoos. I wore long sleeves because I was afraid to, uh, be able to be identifiable, um, from people. My mental health finally, like, dropped enough that I came back home to Montana.

But Sammy, to this day, um, she actually just came, uh, and visited me and my daughter. And is still such a, like, huge part of my life. She encouraged me to start to do things alone again. I went to New York and went to a concert at Madison Square Garden, alone. I went to Iceland, alone. I went to Tulum, alone.

Every once in a while my anxiety gets the better of me, and I will miss something. But I’m hoping after today that that doesn’t happen again. Uh, that by telling my story of freed myself from this and freed myself from the guilt and the shame that other people put on me, that was not my fault. And there’s other people, this is the most unreported crime.

And I would do it all again because I still hope that one day I get a call from Portland. And they tell me that they actually decided to do something with my case. And that they actually decided to charge the bartender who had slipped something in my drink. Or charge the man who had been nice to give me a ride home.

And I hope that I get to call Sammy one day and tell her this happened and it was all worth it and it was all because of her. She was the best stranger that could have walked into that room that day. I just want to end with the other strangers that have helped me get to this point are my silent, my like, silently paid strangers, my therapists.

Um, I had a great one, Jana in Longview, who I don’t know how I would have managed everything without her. And then here I had Ellie. And then I had, uh, Nicole. And then I had Shelly, and, uh, now I have Liz, and I know that Liz is going to help me be the best mom that I can be for Sophia and teach her to stand up for herself and know that no one has the right to take advantage of her.

Thanks, Maria

Maria LaDonna Merkley is a proud full-time single mother to her beautiful 18-month-old daughter,
Sophia- LaDonna Merkley. Maria was born in Whitefish, Montana, and grew up in Hamilton, Montana, and has had the pleasure of calling Oregon, Arizona, and Washington states home. She is a full-time student at the University of Montana, working on her Bachelor’s degree with a major in Psychology and a minor in History, with a Secondary Education Iie-sen shure !!!!! . She hopes to share her love for traveling with her daughter and travel to all 50 states before Sophia is ten years old. Her long-term goal is to move abroad to live and teach anywhere there is a mild winter!

Coming up after the break, “And I calmed down eventually and he says, is there anything else?” “I had shown up right before they had pulled a car under 50 feet of snow and a house was being dragged apart as this car was being towed out.”

Stay with us.

Remember that we are currently looking for storytellers for the next Tell Us Something storytelling event. The theme is “Close to the Edge”. If you’d like to pitch your story for consideration, please call 406-203-4683. You have 3 minutes to leave your pitch. Our friends from the Deaf community are welcome to pitch by emailing [email protected].

The pitch deadline is February 17th. I look forward to hearing from you.Thank you to our Title Sponsor Blackfoot Communications. Learn more about them at goblackfoot.com. Thank you to our Story Sponsors who help us to pay our storytellers. Missoula Electric Coop , a member-owned rural electric cooperative that serves electricity to members in parts of Montana and Idaho. You can learn more at missoulaelectric.com Thanks to our second story sponsor, The Kettlehouse who strives to match the quality of their beers to the quality of the Montana outdoor experience. Learn more about them at kettlehouse.com. Thank you to our Accessibility Sponsor, Reep Bell and Jasper allowing us to hire American Sign Language interpreters at this event in order to be a more inclusive experience. Learn more about them at westernmontanalaw.com

Thanks to our media sponsors, missoulaevents.net, and Missoula Broadcasting Company learn more about Missoula Broadcasting Company and listen online at missoulabroadcastingcompany.com.

Thanks to our in-kind sponsors: Float Missoula – learn more at floatmsla.com and Joyce of Tile – learn about Joyce and the work that she does at Joyce of Tile.com.

Alright, let’s get back to the stories. You are listening to the Tell Us Something podcast, I’m Marc Moss.

Back in 2020, Mandy Northcott faced heart surgery complications. Feeling alone in a hospital amid COVID restrictions, Mandy tries to put on a brave face for her family and friends. Her emotions and feelings build inside her to a fever pitch. A gruff nurse, Keith, changed everything with empathy, teaching her to accept help and cherish human connection. Mandy calls her story “Open Heart”. Thanks for listening.

Mandy Northcott: I was diagnosed with lupus in 2005. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, um, and basically what that means is that your immune system that’s supposed to be protecting you attacks your own body and it can wreak havoc and it did, um, for about two years. And fortunately, I recovered from that, um, to the point that I could live a pretty normal life for the next 10 to 15 years, but it made me very aware of what was going on in my body.

Um, so then in 2019, when I started having strange heart rhythms, shortness of breath, light headedness, I couldn’t finish a workout without, um, having to take a break. I talked to my doctor about it, ended up at a cardiologist, and sure enough, my mitral valve in my heart, um, was not functioning properly and needed to be replaced.

Um, it may have been damaged in that initial lupus flare, not sure, but, um, it’s a pretty good culprit. So, at 43 years old, I was scheduled for open heart surgery. Um, I chose to have my surgery in Spokane, Washington. Uh, for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is, uh, my sister in law, Michelle, lives in Spokane, and she’s a nurse, and I knew I’d be in really good hands for that critical recovery period, um, when I got out of the hospital.

So, surgery was, uh, February 26th of 2020. Um, everything went as planned. It was five days in the hospital and back to Michelle’s house, house for recovery. Um, about a week later, it was clear that, uh, things were not going the way they were supposed to, um, I couldn’t breathe, I was nauseous, I couldn’t walk to the garage to get in the car, um, and so I was taken back to the hospital by ambulance and it was discovered that I had, um, fluid that had built up around my heart and lungs, which can happen after open heart surgery.

And it needed to be removed, so I had a second surgery, pretty major, on March 10th of 2020. Now, when I awoke from this surgery, I had, um, two big tubes coming out of either side of my body. And these tubes would continue to drain fluid off of my torso, down into these two big jugs. And these two jugs sat next to my bed for the next 10 days.

They were my constant companions. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without them. I couldn’t go for a walk without them. I had to have help. And, you know, things went pretty much as they do in a hospital. Nurses coming and going, doctors coming and going, Michelle bringing me home cooked food because I was on the, like, heart special diet, and the hospital, um, hospital food’s not great to begin with, and the heart diet is, like, The bottom.

So I was like living on, um, those chocolate protein drinks they give you. I think it’s Ensure. It was like the only thing I could palate. Um, so the food from Michelle was really welcomed. Um, but About halfway through the stay, you know, it’s March 2020. It’s COVID, right? So everything starts shutting down.

The hospital shut down to visitors. No more Michelle. No more home cooked food. March Madness was shut down. There was no more Gonzaga on the TV. And, you know, I kind of shut down. The nurses still kept coming and going. And I thought of them as Michelle, right? It was like all these Michelles coming and going from the room, and they were fantastic, but there was more and more of a barrier between me and the nurses.

Um, they were covered in protective gear, and they spent less and less time in the room for safety of me and themselves.

So about halfway through this stay, um, in comes my nurse for the evening, and it’s this old white guy. And he’s not a Michelle. And he does everything different than all the other nurses, right? He does everything wrong, in my opinion. And, um, like, one example is he had his own blood pressure cuff and stethoscope, and he took my blood pressure, whereas every other nurse would just hook me up to the machine that was, like, next to the bed, push the button, write it down, or put it in the computer and, and move along.

And so at one point I called him out and I said, you know, you’re doing everything different than all the other nurses. Like, I really am in this delicate part of my recovery. I’d like things to be consistent, and he looked at me and he said, Well, they do it wrong. I do it right. I get accurate readings. And that was that.

And I was like, okay, there’s no arguing with this guy. I’m gonna let him do his thing and move along, right? You be you. He left, and I hoped he would never come back. And of course, the following night, in comes the old white dude. But I know what to expect this time, so he goes through his routine. And, um, I’m waiting for him to leave so I can get back to, like, Seinfeld reruns.

And he says, let’s go for a walk. Now, at this point in the hospital, I had two jobs. One was to eat, because, like I said, I’d lost my appetite completely, um, from the procedures and the medications. I had no appetite. I was nauseous a lot of the time. Um, so eating was really important, hence the protein drinks.

And to walk. Walking would help facilitate that fluid off of my body, um, and just start to bring back my strength. Um, I had, I was really weak by this point. So, I let him load the tanks, right, my constant companions, onto a cart. We get the IV stand, I’m in my hospital gown, and we go shuffling down the hall of the hospital.

And we shuffle back, and there’s no conversation. And, um, we get back to the room, and he’s getting the bed situated so that I can lay down again. And I’m stopped in front of the sink. And if you’ve been in a hospital room, you walk in and there’s always a sink and a mirror. And I’m looking in the mirror for the first time, like really looking in the mirror at myself.

I haven’t had a proper shower in well over three weeks, so my hair is matted and bed headed and greasy. I’ve lost a ton of weight. Like, I’m kind of scary skinny, and the other time that I was like that was with that initial lupus flare. I got really skinny, and it was really hard to come back from that.

And so I was a little terrified at what I saw in my face. And I’ve got bandages, and, and scars, and wires, and tubes, and shit from my neck to my pelvis. I mean, I’m covered in crap. And I’m looking at myself, and I just go. I’m so fucking ugly. And he hears me, and he says, Let’s get you into bed. So I get into bed, and I’m settling in with my pillows and such, and he goes, What was that about?

And I was like, I, this sucks. I feel like crap, you know? Like, it, it sucks. I’m ugly, and, and this is hard. I’ve been here, and I know what it takes, and it just fucking sucks. And he goes, You know what I see? And so this is when I look at his name tag. It’s Keith. Keith says, I see a really beautiful young woman who’s been through two huge procedures and is having a hard time, but is doing her best.

Tell me what’s going on. And I was like, it’s okay, I’m fine. You can go. I know it’s crazy out there, like, I know you have more patients on the floor that you need to check in with. I’m fine. You can go. And he goes, no, you’re my patient right now. I’m here for you. Tell me what’s going on. And he pulls up one of those, like, 500 pound chairs that’s in the hospital room, and plops down next to me, and just looks at me.

And with him looking at me like that, I mean, I cracked wide open. I just cracked open and started bawling. And I realized how much I’ve been holding. Like, here I’m the patient, but I’m, I’m trying to protect all of my caregivers. You know, they, they’re doing so much for me already, and the world is crazy with COVID, and, you know, I don’t want to worry my parents.

They’re in Utah, and they would love to be there with me. Um, I don’t want to worry my husband anymore, or my five year old daughter, who’s about to be, like, removed from school because of COVID, from kindergarten. I don’t want to worry Michelle, who’s doing her best to smuggle me smoothies through her friends in the hospital.

And I’m, you know, I’m, I’m I’m crying and I’m raging and we’re laughing at some point and, and I realized that he’s holding my hand and that that was good and okay. And I calmed down eventually and he says, is there anything else? I said, no, you know, I feel a lot better. Thank you, Keith. Thank you. He goes, ‘Cause I do actually have to go check in with all the other patients on this floor.

I was like, yeah, you should do that. Um, and he, you know, he proceeds to gather up his blood pressure cuff and his things and walk, he’s leaving. He goes, you know, I’m here all night. Like, call me if you need me. I, I will come right back. And I said, you know, I believe you. Thank you. And he leaves. And I don’t call him.

And I never saw him again. You know, but I’m just so damn grateful for Keith. And him taking that moment, here’s this guy that I judged so harshly to begin with, and yet he was exactly who I needed, um, to, to get through where I was. And I take it as a lesson to myself, um, you know, one, the judgment part, like, come on.

And also just like, in the world right now, the way we are, like, Let’s ask each other how we’re doing. Ask your family and friends what’s going on. And then, listen. Thank you.

Thanks, Mandy.
Mandy Northcott is a mom, wife, pet parent, and general outdoors loving 47-year-old woman.
She left the flatlands of Iowa for the mountains of Montana 25 years ago and hasn’t looked back.
Mandy has been a farmer, tree planter, grocery store clerk, stay at home mom, non-traditional student, and now works as a medical coder and biller.

She loves hot springs, African drumming, dog walks, deadheading flowers, gazing at trees, and the quiet time in the morning before everyone else is up.

Currently, you will find her on the weekends cold dipping in the Clark Fork River and Rattlesnake Creek with like-minded souls. You can learn more about Mandy at tellussomething.org.

Closing out this episode of the Tell Us Something podcast, Katrina Angelina Shull shared her story about a community’s resilience that shines after an avalanche. Strangers become neighbors, uniting in kindness and hope for Missoula’s strength to endure hardships. Katrina calls her story “Extraordinary Neighbors”. Thanks for listening.

Katrina Angelona Shull: Some neighbors are absolutely fantastic creatures. Like neighbors that let you borrow their chainsaw when you’re cutting down a stump. Some neighbors are surly and try to kill your dog when it gets out and chases the deer. Some neighbors are absolutely fantastic. Like the neighbors that gathered around the avalanche that hit on February 28th of 2014.

Neighbors that might not have known each other gathered after a once in a lifetime event happened in Missoula. A snowboarder triggered an avalanche on Mount Jumbo and hit the rattlesnake area. This avalanche buried two young children and two older adults, husband and wife. They were buried for hours, and on that night, neighbors came together to help save these people’s lives.

They probed with the avalanche probes that they had handy because they knew at one point that they might need them and They were digging despite gas leaks despite the negative 20 degree weather They kept digging until all four people were found Michael Colville and Fred Fred Allendorf were buried under their own home for several hours a Young boy Was buried for, for about the same time.

Michael Colville, unfortunately passed away several days later due to her injuries. And I, as a filmmaker wanted to go and capture how many people had shown up just to help these people still after the aftermath, they kept showing up first. It was 50, then it was a hundred and people like Amy Cosio. We love you, Amy.

Tarn Reen, Morgan Nelson, they gathered together and got volunteers, they got EMTs, they got bulldozers, they got police officers. They just banded together and got this whole community wrapped around these people who had lost their homes. And when I showed up three days later, Michael Colville had already passed away.

And I didn’t know how to help other than what I know how to do, and that’s to hold a camera and do my job. And so I created a documentary on this. And I showed up with my camera, and when I got to that scene, I was flabbergasted. I sat there with my camera to my side and was stunned. I had shown up right before they had pulled a car under 50 feet of snow and a house was being dragged apart as this car was being towed out.

This house, Fred Allendorf’s and Michael Colville’s, was completely toppled over. There was rubble everywhere. The house was absolutely destroyed. And I sat there and I clicked into filmmaker mode. And I put that camera to my eye. And I started capturing what I saw. Now, when you’re a filmmaker, you are taught to not be involved.

You are taught to be a fly on the wall, you capture what you see, and you don’t say anything to anybody. But as soon as I saw people working, as soon as I saw people banding together, my heart kicked in, as I’m human. And I busted into human mode. And I stopped and I looked at a woman who was shoveling vigorously after this car had been toned out.

She’s trying to gather some of their belongings. And I just quickly asked, so why are you here? And she asked, I just, she answered, I just want to help. That’s all I want to do is I just want to help. And that was the continual answer I kept on getting. They weren’t there for anything other than to just help.

And I was flabbergasted by this. And as I’m gathering footage and I’m gathering Lots and lots of images of this just avalanche snow is not the fluffy snow snowflake snow. It is compact. It is dense. It is like cement and people are digging furiously with sometimes they were using part of the houses to dig.

Sometimes they were using actual shovels and then there was a bulldozer involved, which did a lot of the work, but I look over and I see this young man who’s furiously digging on his hands and knees with his hands. In cement, basically. And he is digging. And he is digging. And I, my heart just exploded.

And I busted out of filmmaker mode. And went into helper mode. I was his neighbor at that time. I became his neighbor. I didn’t know him, but I saw that he needed help. Of some sort. So without speaking to him, I put down my camera. Might have gotten water damage. That’s fine. I got on my hands and knees and I started digging with my hands.

Because I didn’t show up with a shovel. I showed up with a camera. And I looked to him, and he looked at me, and we just had a moment of silence. And then he finally said, I’m looking for my mother’s last quilt that she was working on. Michael’s last quilt. She was a quilter. She was an artist. And so, I quickly got into adrenaline mode and said, We need to find this quilt.

We absolutely need to find this quilt. So I’m taking parts of the house, he’s taking parts of the house, and we are digging furiously. We had a bulldozer come and help us dig through, and finally we saw two needles, a bottle of buttons, and we knew we were on the right path. And it seemed like hours, but it must have been only about 45 minutes.

We found, we got enough of the quilt to gather it away, and he was so thankful. When I stood up finally, he said, You need to go to the hospital and I said, No, I don’t need to go to hospital. I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I looked down and my leg is profusely bleeding. I had knelt down on some glass. I couldn’t feel it at the time.

I just wanted to help. And as his neighbor at the time, I felt like that was the most important thing to do. But I was quickly shuffled off and said, You need to go see one of our volunteer EMTs. And I was I was asked to go to the emergency room to get stitches and I said, no, no, no. And they said, no, there’s a piece of glass in your knee.

You need to get that removed and go get stitches. And I said, no, no, no. Let this be a reminder. Let this be a reminder of the kindness of Missoulians. Because I was born here and I absolutely love Missoula. It would be such a shame to ever have to leave here. But Missoulians, we come together. Even if you weren’t born here, you’re still a Missoulian.

You’re welcome here. We have this Generosity, this heart to just help when it’s needed. And it was so evident in that moment. And as I stood up, I said, Oh my gosh, I need to finish this documentary. And so I interviewed Kjeldikot Dockum, that’s um, Michael Colville’s son’s name. And he was able to give me the most beautiful interview, and we made a documentary called Amplify Kindness.

Don’t look it up, it’s the worst documentary I’ve ever seen. But, the heart was there. And it was amazing to just capture everybody together looking for a solution. And Amy Kosio was so crucial in this. Her kindness, she had a quote in the video. It said like, when somebody stands up and they see a need and they fill that need, it just creates this ripple.

And that’s why it’s called amplified kindness. And you could be such a force of good in this world. If you just stand up for what’s right and do what’s right in front of you that you see needs to be done. And that soul will be gratefully, greatly missed in Missoula. But we can embody that greatness in our, in ourselves and in our children and what we do and when we go out from here, we can be kind.

And I know it’s been hard these last three years, but let’s embody that kindness that I saw that avalanche. And you’ll hear another story tonight about the avalanche in a very different perspective. But for me, seeing people in the negative 20 degree weather coming together to help people they didn’t even know.

That kind of neighbor is what belongs here in Missoula, Montana. Anywhere in the world, if we could take this, I would absolutely love to see this kindness be spread. But for me, as a filmmaker, I felt that that story needed to be told. And the biggest part of the story was how Fred, he moved on with his life, he has another, he has another life, he said, he quoted it and he said it’s like an addition, like a house has an addition, that house is now gone, it’s now rubble, but they built a new house in the spot where it used to stand, and he has a new life as an addition, and he says that the kindness of those people that helped him through that time was absolutely phenomenal, and I just hope that We can show that kind of kindness.

It can come in small little brilliant packages like Amy Cosio, or it can come in forms of 500 volunteers showing up to help neighbors dig out of a snow bank. But I feel like in any form, kindness is possible if we just try. Thank you.

Thanks, Katrina. Katrina Angelina Shull is a born and raised Missoulian who initiated Amplify Film Group in 2009 after studying at the University of Montana. She later worked as a news reporter for KTMF ABC|FOX, focusing on crafting impactful narratives in positive media. Katrina embraces projects with enthusiasm and enjoys aviation, hiking, fishing, and Jiu-Jitsu outside of work. Katrina is committed to visual storytelling, extending her efforts to creative copywriting, and has initiated Be the Light International, supporting communities in need through her team’s work. You can learn more about Katrina and her work at tellussomething.com.

Remember that the next Tell Us Something event is March 266th. You can learn about how to pitch your story and get tickets at tellussomething.org.

Tune in next week to hear the concluding stories from the The Kindness of Strangers live storytelling event, “I immediately get off of the exam table, and I get to the ground.” “Sometimes, a small act of kindness and compassion, as simple as buying a stranger a sandwich, can change someone’s life, and maybe even their death.” “Never forget. On 9/11, we leaned into each other, recognizing our shared humanity.” “Death. It’s final, it’s in your face, it’s unforgiving.”

Listen for those stories at tellussomething.org or wherever you get your podcasts.