Saved by a Cup of Joe
Phil was a 40-year-old Bridgeport cop with 18 years on the force. I saw him for a psychiatric consultation following an incident one night on Norwalk’s mean streets.
While Phil and his partner were on patrol, they received a radio call about a fire in a clothing store. With Phil driving, they arrived at the scene. Phil’s partner got out of the car and looked through the store window. Sure enough, a burning carton sat in the middle of the darkened store. Fire trucks were on the way.
Only a few minutes earlier, the officers had stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee. Phil’s Styrofoam cup sat on the dashboard. Phil reached for it, sipped some java, set the cup back on the dash, and was leaning back when the front window of the patrol car exploded. Phil felt a sledgehammer-like blow to the chest, near his right armpit. His body slammed back and then fell onto the seat to his right. He was shot. Phil reached for the radio but couldn’t get to it. Bleeding profusely, he felt light-headed and confused. The next thing Phil realized was his partner shoving him over, jumping into the cruiser, and throwing the vehicle into gear. It stalled.
Shots began hitting the car’s hood and what was left of its shattered front window. Finally, Phil’s partner got the vehicle started and raced to Norwalk Hospital, where Phil underwent a series of operations. Phil was kept on morphine for six days while neurosurgeons attempted to repair the shredded nerve complex in his right armpit.
Weeks later, Phil had only limited use of his weakened right arm. The nerves serving it had been irreparably damaged. He could barely lift things, and burning sensations radiated from his armpit down to his fingertips. The pain he felt was agonizing, especially at night or in cold weather.
Six months of physical therapy helped a bit, but Phil’s right arm was basically useless. Phil could no longer be a police officer and was forced to take a disability pension. He’d always dreamed of being a cop and had planned on a 25-year career. But it was not to be.
A few months later, the perp was caught after killing a woman in a mugging. He confessed to having shot Phil from the roof of a four-story building across the street from the clothing store. He’d also set the small fire, hoping to draw cops and firefighters so he could shoot a few of them.
Because of his injury, Phil couldn’t tolerate the cold weather—it caused searing pain in his right arm. So he and his wife were going to move to a warmer climate, probably Florida.
Phil became profoundly depressed and dreamed almost every night of the incident and the profound repercussions it had for his career and life. Every twinge of pain he felt reminded him of the shattering glass, the shots in the dark, the blood, his fear, his confusion, the sounds of that night, and the frantic ride to the hospital.
Phil told me about the shooter’s trial:
“I snuck a pistol into the courtroom, Doc. The officers at the courthouse entrance were friends of mine, so they let me bypass the metal detector. I was gonna kill the guy since he ended my life. And he killed that poor woman. I was ready to do it, but at the last second, I couldn’t.
“You know what? The guy’s rifle had a four-power scope, and the cross hairs were right on my heart. But when I leaned back after putting my coffee back on the dashboard, the bullet hit me near the right armpit instead.
“Can you believe it? If I hadn’t been leaning back when the guy pulled the trigger, he’d have blasted my heart. I guess I’m lucky, if you wanna call it luck. I was saved by a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.
“And now we’re moving to Florida,” Phil said with a sigh. “Hey, Doc, you know what they call Florida?”
“They call it God’s waiting room.”