When you are a journalist, your humanity gets pushed down, and that is excruciatingly hard.
On Monday morning, I woke up extremely early because I had to be in Meadow Lake, a three-hour drive away, to cover a really important court case in regards to a tragic school shooting a month before.
As a journalist, I had prepared my go-bag (the bag many journalists have which has some spare clothes, a lot of batteries, cameras, and all the things you may possibly need in case of emergency) the night before and woke up ready to role. More or less, the alarm went off and I sleepily rolled out of bed ready to get behind the wheel with pre-loaded podcasts (for the drive) and a pre-made smoothie. I made the choice to wait for my coffee to brew at home so I'd have a good wake-me-up on the road.
That two minutes, that changed everything.
Within an hour of being on the road I was the first vehicle on the scene of a horrific accident. I had been driving and watching the distant tail lights of a vehicle ahead of me. It appeared those tail lights turned off the road but only minutes later it would become all too real that instead, those tail lights had gone into the ditch.
The semi-truck ahead of me had been in a collision with a truck, a collision I did not see, and the semi had hit the ditch. By the time, only a few minutes later, I came upon the scene as the following car it seemed like the semi-truck had maybe lost control and lost some of it's load. I actually initially assumed it was wood.
I dodged debris on the road and when it was clear that it was a mess, possibly a disaster, I pulled into a side road a bit ahead of the semi-truck and turned on my hazard lights. From my perspective, it appeared the trailer had careened into the snowbanks at the side, not that uncommon in Saskatchewan.
Once safely parked, I took a moment to take in the situation, put my coat and winter boots on, grabbed my mittens, grabbed my phone and exited the car. I still had headphones in listening to a podcast and turned a flashlight into the darkness of the early morning to see the damage on the car I was driving (there was plenty including a flat tire). I looked back, saw the semi and thought to myself "this is going to close down the highway while they clean the scene up".
'If I had not grabbed my coffee, I'd be telling a very different story.'
I finally took out my headphones and heard... well, nothing good. It became clear there was something serious happening. Within 10 minutes of me pulling over an RCMP vehicle had showed up on the scene, and as my sprint began I was quickly turned back to my vehicle. I called my newsroom and told them something was happening. I watched on as a STARS air ambulance landed on the scene only feet from me, ready for the real tragedy that would unfold in the next two hours.
That accident claimed three lives - a young woman and two children. Many others were brought to hospital with critical injuries.
If I had not grabbed my coffee, I'd be telling a very different story.
It's not the near-death experience that hits a journalist as much as the reflection of your response in that moment. I ask myself why I responded as "journalist" rather than a "human".
I have been the first on the scene of serious situations a handful of times at this point in my career and in most cases walk away feeling comfortable (not particularly good). But this week I'm really not sure.
My first thought went to "I need to be at this court case." It was an important court case for Saskatchewan, for my news organization, and for Canada. I did need to be there. But I had left with hours of spare time before I was actually needed in the courtroom, I had time.
My second though was "If the highway is closed - that's news," And so my first instinct was to make sure that message was relayed, that traffic would be moved through a different route of this very important section of highway. I had to call the newsroom.
My third though was "is everyone okay?" That is where I struggle and I have some immense guilt. Although outdated, I have training when it comes to emergency situations and I don't know if I could have changed things, but I'll never know because I didn't react quickly enough, in this respect, to try.
The role of the journalist is to be the objective observer, and in this situation when the job needed to be done, no matter my thoughts at the moment, I did it. But when you go home, when you look in the mirror, you still have to face your own reflection and think about your choices that day.
There is a deep conflict within many journalists I know, not just myself. I feel guilt about many situations, not just this one. But I think it's important to remember why you do what you do. Today I may be struggling with that idea and although it's a simple statement - reporting on trauma sucks - it's important but its hard. It's important but it takes a lot out of you. It's important, but as a reader, remember that there was a person behind those words, there was a person behind those pictures, and that person's role in the community is to be there in a really messed up situation.
But that person also has to ask themselves a lot of questions once the energy of the newsroom or action of the situation calms down, and they don't always like the answer their reflection gives.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada