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'We All Have a Special Mission'

March 24, 1993|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Carol Denise Edwards was struck by a modern kind of lightning two years ago, when, as an emergency room nurse at a Sun Valley hospital, she tended to an injured Rodney King.

Since then, she has been subpoenaed 15 times by grand juries, defense lawyers and prosecutors, has testified for the prosecution at two trials and has been hospitalized twice for dangerously high blood pressure.

In emotion, time and money, the case has cost her dearly. But it hasn't changed the desire that drew her to nursing in the first place, nor has it changed her commitment to getting involved.

We know this because last week, the lightning struck Edwards again.

This time, she was driving to her second job, an insurance agency she owns in Chatsworth. At a gas station near her office, she noticed a commotion; someone was waving his arms, someone else was down.

Edwards swerved across two lanes and pulled up next to the pump and became part of a major news story again. She was the first medical professional to come to the aid of the 74-year-old man who had just been shot in the head by a carjacker as he gassed up his gold Mercedes-Benz. Naghi Ghoraishy died at the scene, a Mobil station at Lassen Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, despite the efforts of Edwards and others who tried to revive him. Ghoraishy's assailant is still at large.

Several days later, Edwards sat in her insurance office, half a block away from the Mobil station, and reflected on not one, but two, brushes with urban tragedies.

"I always seem to be at the wrong place at the wrong time," she said, smiling a little and shaking her head.

But that's not really true. Disaster is what Denise Edwards does. As an emergency room nurse, as an insurance agent, as a first aid instructor, calamity is her calling.

She has spent 30 years working emergencies--in the Civil Air Patrol, in the Air National Guard and the Air Force, specializing always in search-and-rescue missions, airplane crashes and forest fires. She teaches wilderness survival, too, and in her spare time is shopping for an airplane. Eventually, she hopes to pilot helicopters.

Her dream is to return to her native Utah after she retires and get into the mountain search and rescue business. Flying, after all, is one way of getting closer to God.

So is prayer. Every evening when Edwards arrives at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley for her 13-hour shift, she sits in her shiny red car for a while before going in. For a quarter of an hour or so, she listens to classical music and reads Scripture. Just before she steps out of the car, she always ends with the same prayer: She asks the Lord to help her be the best nurse she can be that night--the most skillful, the most compassionate, the most empathetic.

Her spirituality is essential to her work, for she sees nursing as a kind of ministry.

"I've gone through some tough times in my life, and I have a deep belief in God," she said. "I asked God how I could best serve him, and it came to me that nursing would be the best way. Nursing is the closest I could come to Christ-like behavior."

She won't discuss those times, or much of her personal life. "I'm divorced," she said. "Let's leave it at that."

But she is open about her involvement in the King case and forthright about the anguish it caused.

"My desire is to do everything I can to make this world a better place, and what happened that night and my involvement in it, I knew would be very destructive," she said. "The thought of testifying made me sick. I knew all the officers who were involved, and I knew it would be destructive to them and their families. But I had to do what was right. I had to tell what had happened."

She learned the hard way what happens when media lightning strikes. Your words are no longer your own when you are interpreted for a larger audience.

"It really bothers me when I get misquoted and nobody will stand up and correct their error," she said.

In the state trial, Edwards testified about a conversation that officers Laurence Powell and Timothy Wind had with King in which they compared hitting him to a game of hardball.

Some news reports had her accusing the officers of "taunting" or "provoking" King.

"I have said time and again that it was not 'taunting,' " she said. "I thought it was stupid, inconsiderate and in poor taste. But I don't think they were trying to provoke him."

Mayhem is an expected part of life in any emergency room. But there's something different about witnessing it on the street, as Edwards did in Chatsworth. In context, the violence is all the more senseless.

"Here was a man, going about his routine, and for such an insignificant thing like a car, somebody would take his life," said Edwards. "In a few years, it will be worthless metal in a junkyard."

When she reached Ghoraishy, he had no pulse. She tried try to clear his airway, but his mouth kept filling with blood. Edwards yelled for her gloves, but a bystander couldn't find them.

Undaunted, she began scooping blood out of his mouth and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation through a small plastic mask while someone else compressed his chest. She found a pulse, then lost it.

Paramedics arrived and took over. She stood back and watched as they finally pronounced Ghoraishy dead.

She didn't realize until a fire fighter handed her a bottle of hydrogen peroxide that she was drenched with blood. She used it to clean her hands and the face mask, drove to the police station to make a statement, then went home.

If an arrest is ever made in the case, she'll probably be asked to testify. And she'll do it, of course, because it's her job.

The day after we met, she left a message on my answering machine.

"I want you to know," she said, "that I really don't feel I have done anything so special. It's just that we all have a special mission and that is to help each other. And I just hope I can always be there to do that."

So do we, Denise.

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