JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
One cold early morning, Jan. 11, 2021, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Terryanne Barbour was leaving her house to go workout.
This was a part of her daily routine before starting her work day as a physician assistant for the 87th Healthcare Operations Squadron on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. However, this morning would prove to be far from routine as Barbour would face a situation unlike any she had faced in her career.
“I was kind of in a rush [to the gym] and I was going across a bridge in Browns Mills, New Jersey,” said Barbour. “From the corner of my eye I saw this hat, white with two pom-poms. I thought to myself, ‘I think that’s on the other side of the bridge, I think there’s someone on the other side of the [railing on the] bridge.’“
Barbour stopped her vehicle and put the gear shifter into reverse. She reached the woman wearing the hat and rolled down her passenger window.
“I asked her if she was okay and she said no. I could see that she was shaking and crying,” said Barbour. “There was a feeling in my stomach. We talk a lot about it in medicine - follow your gut.”
Barbour took action. She exited her vehicle, approached the woman carefully and grabbed the woman’s arm.
‘I need to jump,’ Barbour recalled the woman saying. ‘I can’t do this anymore.’
Barbour attempted to flag passing vehicles, to no avail. She knew that the woman had been out for a while due to frost being on her jacket. In an attempt to connect with the woman, Barbour remembered her medical training.
“In my medical career, I’ve dealt with suicide a lot,” Barbour said. “Even here [on Joint Base MDL], depression and suicidal thoughts are cases that I deal with, but never in my career have I actually dealt with someone who is in the act of committing suicide. I remembered thinking back to active shooter training - to make yourself as human as possible, so that’s what I did.”
Barbour introduced herself.
“My name is Terryanne, I live down the road. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
‘I’m done. I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough,’ the woman retorted. She asked Barbour, ‘how deep do you think the water is? How cold do you think it would be?’
Barbour noticed the woman’s belongings on the ice below, knowing the water would be freezing.
After 25 minutes, a vehicle stopped. A man exited the vehicle and introduced himself as Mike, a U.S. Marine veteran. He sat next to Barbour and the woman, and offered the woman a cigarette.
“That was able to open a conversation,” said Barbour. “They were talking and he showed her a tattoo on his arm with names, some from other Marines he knew who died either from suicide or on deployments.”
The woman opened up, introducing herself and explaining that her brother committed suicide, jumping off the same bridge.
“She blamed herself for it,” said Barbour.
Mike was able to call the police and shortly after they showed up. Four officers arrived at the scene guiding the woman over the railing back to safety.
“I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say or feel. After the whole ordeal, I noticed that Mike was in tears. He came over to me and started hugging me,” said Barbour. “Once I got back into my car, I drove not too far down the street. I ended up calling my mom and telling her what happened.”
Barbour made her commute to work on time and, once arriving, spent time texting a close friend, U.S. Air Force Maj. Elizabeth Golden, 87th HCOS family medicine physician.
“I was sleeping at the time and I heard my phone go off a few times,” said Golden. “[Barbour] walked me through what had happened, and I remember her being shaken up, and rightly so.”
Barbour and Golden have been friends for a year, and worked alongside each other during Barbour’s certification process.
“I wasn’t surprised to hear what she did,” said Golden. “She’s caring and won’t think twice about helping someone else. She’s someone that’s able to quickly get a read on a situation, and know how to act from it. I was really proud of her. She did the right thing.”
Reinforcing this instinctual nature, Barbour reflected on the situation and suicide prevention.
“I don’t think I would do anything different. I wasn’t thinking, I was just acting,” Barbour said. “There’s still a taboo around mental health and talking about depression. It’s such a hard subject to talk about. It goes back to being an active listener, being present in the conversation, and knowing what resources are available.”
Barbour drives through the same bridge on her way to work every day, and says that she cannot forget the image of the white hat with the two pom-poms.