Saturday, 18 November 2017

Did I tell you about when... I didn't save a life

Have you ever thought about the time you’ll be called up to the plate, when you’ll be asked to go beyond the call of duty to help your fellow man. Maybe to save a life. More and more people these days have completed some kind of first aid training, CPR, heart massage, recovery position, but do you know how you would react if you really had to use it, if it was you standing between someone and ‘the light’. Many of you do and have made a crucial difference to the course of someone’s life. I had that opportunity once and it didn't go so well.
It was a scorching midday and I was taking a breather at Fat Yianni’s after performing my morning obligations. The ice in my frappe had all but melted and I was pondering a dip and a snooze before the evening’s rush, when I heard the panicked screams of a girl. Soon she was running past, calling for help. I stood and called her back. All I could illicit from her was that her grandma was unwell and she was in the pizzeria round the corner.
I ran, almost dragged by the girl. What I found was three generations of family surrounded by bystanders, standing by. Two generations distraught and at the epicentre, the third, an old lady in her eighties laid out on the stone floor. She had had some kind of attack. She wasn’t breathing and I found no pulse. I tilted her head back and checked her airways. I tried to find out if she had choked or anything but all I could get was that she had fainted and fallen from her chair.
“She was fine. She just fainted. Just fainted.” These words became a mantra, over and over to ward off the possibility of anything more sinister.
My mind danced cartwheels trying to remember what I had learned. I looked around, maybe someone with more to offer than me would stand forward but that person had already stood forward and it was me, just me. I opened her mouth, took a breath and gave it to her. It returned like a deflating balloon. I tried again. The same. I kept at it until a friend arrived.
“You know about this stuff?” I asked. He shrugged.
I kept going. I stopped and asked if anyone had called an ambulance, you know how easy it is to forget the most basic things in these situations.
I heard mumbles of “maybe” and “Did you?”
“No, I thought…”
“CALL A FUCKING AMBULANCE!” I shouted. “NOW!”
I joined my fists and began to thrust above the diaphragm, counting. I didn't know what I was counting but it seemed the right thing to do. I reached 20 thrusts and put another breath in the old lady. When I was at school, our biology teacher had procured a pair of pig lungs from the next-door abattoir. We took turns inflating them. This is what this felt like. The chest rose and fell blowing dead air into my face. I returned to the thrusting. 1-2-3-4-5-6…20 blow. Was there a blockage? Would I need to do an emergency tracheotomy? Did I need to intubate? WHY WOULD SHE NOT BREATHE?
I don’t know how many times I went through this cycle. I don’t know how many breathes I had put in but she seemed no closer to gasping than I was to giving up
The holiday rep had arrived and was comforting the family.
“WHERE IS THE FUCKING AMBULANCE?”
I couldn’t tell you how long this went on but I felt futile, impotent. I turned to someone, I don’t know who and demanded, “How long had she been here?”
“They came for coffee…” Then some conferring.
“How long had she been like this before I arrived?”
More conferring.
“Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.”
I dropped my head. She had been long gone before I arrived. I had been trying to wake the dead.

...

The ambulance never did arrive. I think a doctor arrived. But the final nail in the coffin was when a old Datsun pick-up was brought to remove the body. The family were inconsolable. I remember telling them it was the most discreet method to move the body. I told them that she had gone with her family around her, with the sun on her face. I didn't know what else to say. They wanted to believe me but I knew I was just covering up things that just should not have been covered up.

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