Tonight I was out for dinner at a fine restaurant
within walking distance of my house. I was sharing table with a woman whose presence in my life I cherish. Just as my duck confit was arriving, a woman at the table behind us slipped into some sort of seizure: Her eyes rolled back in her head; she became entirely non-responsive. Her dining companions began to freak out, and a woman at another table who turned out to be a nurse rushed to the victim’s aid.
At first, everything seemed okay. The stricken woman was clearly having a seizure of some sort, but she was breathing. She had a pulse. The nurse barked at someone to call 911, and continued monitoring her new patient’s condition. I approached her and said, “I am trained in first aid and CPR; can I help you?” She said, “I’m a nurse,” and I replied, “Oh, then you know more than I do; I’ll let you do your work.” She looked at me gravely and said, “Stick around. I may need you.”
Within a couple of minutes, the victim stopped breathing. Several folks helped to move her to the floor. The nurse tried to get a pulse. No pulse. So she started CPR. I was stunned. I’ve practiced CPR on dummies several times in my life, but I’ve never seen it done on a human being. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I realized that the nurse was having trouble keeping track of her count, so I knelt down near her and started counting out loud with her, just as I’ve been trained to do. “And one, and two, and three, and four, and five,” we chanted together. Her compressions were textbook perfect: straight elbows, rhythmic, strong. Probably breaking ribs. Such is the nature of proper CPR.
The EMTs arrived and took over. At first they were able to get a pulse, but the woman was still not breathing, so they started up with that bag-thing of theirs, to get air into her lungs. They hooked her up to a heart monitor that I could see from my seat (I’d returned to it when the EMTs arrived, so as to stay out of their way). The thing was not quite flatlined, but not far from it, either. They took out their defribillator and hooked her up. The big, black, burly EMT (one of four) spat out “Clear!” and the woman’s body jumped.
Another EMT started asking the woman’s dinner companions about her. “She has a husband; I’ve already called him,” said a redheaded woman. “She had a baby six months ago.”
“Post-partem, six months, Mike! No meds, no history!” shouted one EMT to another. There was another “Clear!” and her body jumped again. The monitor seemed a bit more active, but what the hell do I know? A waiter carried food to a table; I heard a drink being shaken at the bar. And a beautiful, vibrant human being lay dying on the floor. Her lips were blue. No, really: blue
They got her onto a gurney and hustled her out to the ambulance. I bowed, hands clasped, for a moment of silent meditation, and then stared long and hard at my glass of French Merlot. I downed nearly all of it.
My dinner companion raised her glass and said, “Let’s drink to each moment, so precious.” I downed the rest and looked down at my duck confit, which no longer seemed appetizing at all.