Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The importance of introspection

If you live in the state of Minnesota, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the horrible incident involving University of Minnesota-Duluth sophomore Alyssa Jo Lommel. It was last December when Lommel was found unconscious on the front porch of a home next door to where she lived with roommates. After an evening of doing tequila shots, a disoriented Lommel passed out, thus enduring temperatures in the double digits below zero for approximately nine hours before she was discovered.

After suffering severe hypothermia and significant tissue damage, Lommel, if she survived, face a long recovery process that in all likelihood would result in amputation of limbs.

Thankfully, Ms. Lommel did survive and, as reported last week, is recovering at her parents’ home in St. Cloud. The unfortunate aspect of this story is she did indeed have to succumb to amputation.

Despite amputations up to the knuckles of fingers on both hands and parts of both her feet, the college sophomore plans to return to the Duluth campus in the fall to continue her studies in psychology and sociology.

"Obviously, there is going to be a lot of work that needs to be done, but my goal is to be up in Duluth in the fall," Lommel said.

While I admire Ms. Lommel’s positive outlook in what has likely been the most tumultuous period in her young life, I was rather disappointed in what appeared to be a flippant dismissal of the incident that led to her dire situation.

"People can say that I was underage drinking in college and that's what caused it, but in reality had it been a sunny day, I would've woken up and been like, 'Oh my gosh, what am I doing here,' " Lommel said. "I just want people to be aware that this happens to people all the time, unfortunately. Beware of the cold."

Lommel said that before this experience, she thought she wanted to be an addictions counselor. Now she wants to be a social worker.

"I've always wanted to help other people," Lommel said. "Now I am in a position where I have been through a lot and I can help other people realize that they can come through, too."

I may be reading this totally incorrectly, but I get the impression that she is absolving herself of any responsibility for this incident. After all, she enthusiastically mentioned on her Twitter feed the afternoon of Friday, December 6 that she was planning on doing tequila shots that evening. As such, one could argue the intention was to be quite inebriated by evening’s end. With that in mind, did Alyssa give her friends/roommates a “heads up” that she may need some assistance that evening? Did she arrange for a ride home knowing full well she would be in no condition to drive? In reading accounts of this incident, she was given a ride home by a truck full of guys who dropped her off at her house and then drove away without ensuring she was safely inside. Given the frigid weather, I can’t comprehend that kind of thoughtlessness (unless the driver and fellow passengers were also drunk, thus impairing their common sense). Obviously that wasn’t Alyssa’s fault, but it does beg the question if she even knew the guys who drove her home.

I hope I’m not coming off as heartless, as that is not my intent here. I simply believe Alyssa’s traumatic incident can serve as an effective deterrent to young people being put in potentially vulnerable positions. No, I’m not naïve enough to believe that Ms. Lommel’s testimony would in any significant way curb underage drinking on college campuses. However, I am confident that her story can absolutely be a cautionary tale on what happens when there’s a lack of accountability. I understand this may be lofty expectations to heap upon a 19-year old young lady. That said, it appears she has a indomitable spirit as well as a strong support system in terms of dealing with her physical and emotional scars. With that in mind, I believe she will ultimately achieve her goal of helping others cope in the aftermath of their own horrific experiences.

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