A Day I Will Never Forget
It’s been two years now but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I think about it often, I consider what would have happened had things played out differently that day or had I simply parked on the opposite side of the parking lot and gone in another door. It’s funny to think the chaotic events of my day led me to the right place at the right time.
November 30th, 2012 is a day that I will remember long into my late years. It was cold and the roads were slick with ice and loose snow. My driver's side door was falling apart so there was little protection from the frigid cold. My fingers and my nose were frozen and numb. I finally found a good place to park at FredMyer. Which, was much harder to do than it seemed, all logic had gone out the window as people seemed to park crooked and at other odd angles. I began turning in and a man in a large truck zipped around my car from behind me and pulled into my spot. I was a little stunned at first that anyone could be so rude but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Angry and cold I circled the parking lot again and found on the other end, a free spot (at the other end of the parking lot) at the very front of the row. Thank heavens, my son was four months old and I wasn’t looking forward to hauling his carrier though the parking lot.
I popped frozen fingers in my mouth to warm them, only to be rewarded by the biting pain of a thousand pulsing needles. Something not right caught the corner of my eye, an elderly woman laying in the road just off the sidewalk. I got out of the car and grabbed my son. My feet were swallowed by snow and ice that had become an unappealing mixture of dirty slush.
Strangers were gathering, so many witnesses yet no one could tell what happened. "No, don't move her," I said to spectators. We didn’t know if she had been hit by a car, had she painted, had a stroke or a heart attack, had she broken anything in her fall to the ground? Out of fear of there being internal bleeding, I was animate about not making anything worse by moving her until the professionals arrived. She wasn't breathing, she was still warm to the touch but no pulse. I reached for my own to be reassured it wasn’t just my frozen fingers, but I couldn’t find hers. Cries rose up for someone to do something, yet no one stepped up. I trained for this, I had trained for this since I was twelve. I had always had the skill but never had to use it. I set down my newborn behind me in his carrier, I could feel him with my foot.
It was at this point I was approached by a man who announced he was a volunteer firefighter and EMT. I have to admit that I was a little relieved that someone seasoned in saving lives would be there. He said he’d do chest compressions if someone would do the rescue breaths. All around me was a melody of people crying out for someone to do something, yet not a single one of them stepped forward. It disgusted me to be completely honest. Some stood there dialing 911 and others took pictures and videos on their phones, while tears ran down their faces. I could feel the cold seep into the legs of my pants as the frigid cold attached itself to the fabric and sucked out any warmth that they had provided me with. I shoved back my hair and carefully tilted her head back and plugged her nose. I sucked in a deep breath, the frozen air burned its way down into my lungs where it ached, then blew it hard into her mouth.
I paused and waited for the man to do his part and felt the prickles of annoyance dig deeper. He was in too much in my way for me to do it properly. In fact everyone had closed in suffocating close to get a better view. It felt like I was the one who couldn’t breathe, but I kept doing what I was and hoping that it would be enough to make a difference. A bagger from the store had come outside and handed me a torn plastic bag, something to protect myself, but I didn’t take it. I was far too busy trying to help this woman than worry about coodies I cannot honestly recall how many times I breathed into her, but finally something changed. I paused, “I think she inhaled,” I said, staring at her and waiting for it to happen again.
“No, No,” the man said, “That’s just a reflex.”
I ignored him, and placed my hand on her chest and held my ear over her mouth. “She’s breathing.” I said and the man and I both felt for a pulse. It was weak but it was there. I know it sounds sort of ridiculous to check if one is breathing, they must obviously be alive but…it was out of habit. People around us started cheering and hugging one another, crisis averted.
“We should move her out of the road,” someone said again.
“No,” I said again, “we don’t want to move her. “Wait until the ambulance gets here.” The poor woman began to throw up, I was nervous about moving her neck but I decided in helping to turn her head so that it could dribble out. No sense in her being drown in it after the ordeal she had just gone through. “We can try to keep her warm though.” I stated, I pulled off my winter jacket and laid it over her body, then stripped off my second layer, my hoody, and placed it under her head. People standing around began to follow my lead, laying their jackets over her.
I turned around, satisfied in the moment that the woman would live and my son was gone. I felt the frozen heat of sheer panic as I franticly scanned the crowd of people for my son. I searched for any sign of my son in the mass that had accumulated and was about to become hysterical when a woman called out to me from the back of the crowd. I pushed past the crowd quickly to get to her, “I told that woman to tell you I had him,” She said as though I would know to which woman she would be refereeing to, “I guess she didn’t. I just wanted to get him out of the street.” I checked him over, making sure he had all his fingers and toes before finally relaxing. I thanked her to having good intensions and ‘not’ running off with my baby. I asked her if she would kindly keep an eye on my little one while I checked on the woman and upon her agreeing, I positioned myself to be able to look after the woman and keep my son in my scope of vision.
The police, Fire Truck and Ambulance all arrived and began loading the woman up. The man who had claimed to be helpful and yet did nothing walked up to me, “Tell them what happened here.” Then he turned and he walked away. It reminded me of one of those old western movies where the hero never stays to be counted as such. I looked after him and thought to myself, ‘What did happen here?’ Someone handed me her wallet and I checked her name before placing it into her purse. I took the purse to one of the officers and asked if her family had been notified yet.
“We haven’t learned yet if she has any family.” He replied to me. No family? The thought made me feel horrible. Could you imagine having something like this happening to you, waking up in the hospital and having no idea what had happened to you? After they drove off with her in the ambulance I took my son into FredMyer. We couldn’t do much but we could get her flowers. I stood at the flower display for about five minutes trying to determine the best ones to get and finally decided that I would just go with my favorite flowers, lilies. When I had told my grandmother about which flowers I had picked she laughed at me and told me Lilies were funeral flowers. Oh well, I love them.
When I arrived I had lost my courage to tell her who I was. The plan was slip into her room and put the flowers in there and then slip out again. Though, as I tried to slip back out again she woke up. She seemed a little startled to see me standing in her room at all let alone to be in the hospital. “Who are you?” she asked me.
“I-I,” I stuttered, “Do you have any memory of what happened today?” I asked her. She told me she didn’t have any idea what had happened, she had been shopping and then she was there at the hospital. I set my son down and then took a chair and began to tell her what I knew, “I-I am the one who gave you rescue breaths.” I remember the look on her face as I told her the story, how worried she looked until I told her who I was.
Very unfortunately, she passed away about a month later. The up side is that she was able to have time to say goodbye to her much loved family and friends. To this day I keep in contact with her daughter, whom I met that day at the hospital. I was very happy to learn she hadn’t been alone in the world after all.
The only reason I was able to help this woman was because I had received training to do so. It doesn’t matter what field of career you are in or whether or not you think you will ever use these skills. If you take the time to learn them then who know, you might be able to make a difference one day as well. I have doubted myself for a lot of different reasons in my life but when I am really low I think of this day. I remind myself of what I did and what I am capable of. Please go out and get educated today, it could make all the difference for someone.