I will never forget.

{Author's Note: The names have been changed in this article.}

I walked out of my house on Saturday morning, preparing to mow the lawn. It was going to rain later and I wanted to get it out of the way. I stuffed my iPod in my front pocket and adjusted the ear buds. I could not help but notice the thirteen year old neighbor girl walking up our driveway with a cordless phone in her hand. She looked panicked, but was polite.

“Henry fell down and my mom needs your help.”

Henry lives across the street from me. He’s an older dude and very nice. He and his wife June are always interested in our kids. Our conversations always start with us yelling across the street, but I usually walk over and we chit chat for a minute or two. Nothing heavy. Lawn. Sidewalk maintenance. Gutters.

I ran across the street and through the front door. Mary was on Henry's stairs. She is the mom of the thirteen year old. She said, “Henry’s in the bathroom. I can’t move him.”

In the background, I hear Henry’s wife loudly crying and praying.

My heart is racing and I leap up the stairs. I had been in Henry’s house, but never upstairs. I expect to see a guy with a broken hip.

He was wearing shorts and sock and shoes, sprawled out on the bathroom floor, oddly twisted with his arms under him. No shirt. When I saw him earlier, I was going to poke fun of him mowing the lawn without his shirt on. It had been very hot that morning.

Mary said again, “I can’t move him" and then "I don’t think he’s breathing.”

I stand over him and reach under his arms and pull him up and over. Over and on to his back. He is heavy. His face is purple. There is blood and mucus on his face and the floor.

I realize that Mary is on the phone and she has been the whole time. She’s speaking to a 911 operator. She asks me, “Do you know CPR?”

I haven’t trained in CPR since the ninth grade. But I watch TV. “Not really. Kinda. I can try.”

I reach up and grab a hand towel off the wall. It is yellow. I wipe the blood and mucus from around his open, slack mouth. His face is very purple. I open his mouth and angle mine to his. I breathe into his mouth.

Blood and mucus shoot out of his nose and over the side of my face. I forgot to pinch his nose shut.

“Do I pinch his nose shut?”


I pinch and breathe again. His chest rises and when I pull back, my air come back out his mouth, gurgling. I breathe in again and gag. I almost throw up. It is a reflex and I can’t control it. I adjust my stance and move to pump his heart.

I place my hands on his chest over his heart and push down. I break his ribs. They are bending and cracking under my hands. I can feel them shifting as I compress his chest. But I have to keep pushing. I actually start to count like it matters.

Two. Three. Four. Five.

I switch to breathing in his mouth. Mary reminds me to sweep his mouth. I turn his head and clear out mucus and blood and what might have been some vomit. I align my mouth to his. My teeth and his teeth click together. A feeling cannot forget. His chest rises and sags with my breaths. I ask Mary what ratio of breaths to compressions. I do not hear what she says.

I compress his chest again. The grating of his ribs together is less repugnant. I am getting used to this. I am getting very tired. I expect him to start breathing on his own. He does not.

This goes on for less than five minutes.

I hear the front door. Someone runs up the stairs.

The medic calmly says, “Let’s bring him in the hallway.”

We lift his body and carry it. He’s much lighter when lifted by two.

The tech determines that the hallway is too small and we pick him up again and carry him to the bedroom as four or five other paramedics rush into the house.

They are in control.

I walk out of their bedroom and walk down the stairs and across the street. I am mostly holding back the sobbing. I walk into my house and wash my mouth and face in the kitchen sink, trying not to let Greg see me so upset. Our hand towel is white with green stripes.

Later, the lead paramedic stopped by our house and had very kind words. He thanked me for helping and said that there was nothing we could do. He took down my name for his report.

Henry died of a massive heart attack. He was 67.

I had a beer with Erik tonight. My bottle hit my teeth as I was taking a drink. I will never forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At least you can look back on this and know you did the very best you could. Imagine not helping, then he dies, and for the rest of your life you are reminded that 'maybe I could of saved his life'.

But instead you get to look back on this with the satisfaction that you gave it your best effort.