I believe that anyone who has ever had to give another person CPR never forgets the experience. Many of us train to give this lifesaving treatment, but few ever experience more than practicing on one of those plastic dummies, complete with lungs and Sani wipes.
The actual experience is very different.
Three times in my life now, I have had to give lifesaving CPR to someone. The first two times were to my son who had a condition where he would go into such a sound sleep that he would stop breathing – also known as infant sleep apnea. Something much more serious that the adult form we hear of today.
The first time he was 5 days old and literally stopped breathing in my arms, quickly followed by a seizure where his arms suddenly opened to his sides and his entire body went stiff. Fortunately for us the nearest fire department was less than three blocks away and the first responders arrived in less than six minutes.
Of course, it felt like forever, and by the time the fire trucks pulled up, my son had literally been passed around the entire room. Every aunt, grandparent, and family friend had had a go at trying to revive him. I had just grabbed him back fearing that all these well-meaning attempts, which were getting more and more violent as anxieties grew, were going to do more damage than help. I breathed into his little lungs several times. He had taken two ragged breaths on his own probably from the brute force of my breaths.
What followed was a nightmare by any standard. No explanations, just continuous heart monitoring and alarms that told hospital staff whenever his heart rate dipped below a certain level.
I had to learn infant CPR. Our information was sent out to all of the local ambulance and fire stations – I had the phone number for the closest fire department on speed dial and could bypass 911. I couldn’t shower or do anything that required me to move watchful eyes from that baby and all his monitors unless someone else was able to take over. There were not too convincing assurances that he would grow out of this. Sometimes I felt like I was just sort of waiting for him to go to sleep and not wake up—like I was constantly grieving.
It was during this period that I had to perform CPR on him again! Usually, when the alarms went off indicating his heart rate was getting too low, it only took a simple gesture to bring him back. A hand on his back, fingers brushed against his little face. He would always sigh contentedly and take a deep breath in.
This went on for some weeks until one day, curled up in his little green and lace bassinette, he didn’t sigh and breathe. The gentle hand on his back shook him ever so gently – nothing. A firmer shake – still nothing.
I know it sounds crazy, but everything speeds up and slows down at the same time when you get into these crisis situations. At least that is the way I experience it. AND, this was the terrible situation I had been waiting for. The moment he might die.
I picked him and the monitor up and ran to the living room then set him on the floor and grabbed the phone like I was supposed to. I put the speaker on and pressed speed dial number 1.
I don’t remember much of what the operator said, or what I said for that matter. There was only this baby in front of me, my baby, and he wouldn’t breathe.
I loosened his jumper, looked in his mouth, and tilted his head back. Gently, gently I pinched his nose and breathed slowly one very short concise breath. I watched his chest fall and did another. These breaths were nothing like the much too big blasts that I gave him the first time in my panic and ignorance. This time they were very small and gentle so as not to hurt his little lungs. I used two fingers pushed gently on his chest just above his little sternum counting out loud “1, 2, 3, 4 …20.” Two more gentle breaths followed by 16 compressions, two more tiny breaths. I watched his pinkness fade to paleness then turn flush with blue. Tears flowing down my face so hard, I could barely breathe myself. Two breaths, two fingers, “1,2,3,4…15.” Two breaths, his little chest falling and rising so shallow. A woman was standing over me. She took him and put a mask with a large round rubber bulb attached to it. She squeezed the bulb ever so slightly and it pushed air into my son’s lungs.
A man hooked his hand under my arm and helped me to stand up and walk to the ambulance.
He was breathing on his own before we reached the hospital. The woman, whose name I will never know told me that I had saved him.” “You did everything right,” she said, “you breathed for him and helped his heart to move and pump the blood.” That was 30 years ago.
Last night while doing some mundane crap around the apartment, I heard a young woman from the building scream, “Help me somebody help me.” I mean really scream it.
At first I thought the old dog that lives there had died. She’s a beautiful old pit bull that barks and growls at me almost every day. I went to the balcony and called down to her in the yard next door, “is it the dog?”
“No, it’s my boyfriend. He’s an opiate user and he’s OD’d.”
“What? Call an ambulance, I’m coming down.”
Why I went down, I don’t know. Really, it’s usually my policy to steer clear of that kind of thing and I wasn’t too happy to know that my next door neighbor was an opiate user either!
But, I grabbed my jacket and keys and ran down. I’m older and wiser now and even had a CPR kit kicking around at one time, but my adult son had recently taken it and put it in his car. So, armed with my cell phone I ran down stairs and to the gate off the alley that led to the other side of the high fence between our buildings. The alley gate was impossible to open from the outside so the young woman left the man and put her phone down to open the gate and let me in.
I ran to the man lying on the ground and turned my phone’s flashlight on to get a better look at him. “Have you phoned the ambulance?” I asked.
“Yes, they are on the line now.” She repeated the address into the cell phone and put it down on the ground. It was at that point that I saw her Naloxone kit and a needle on the ground beside the man. I flashed the light over him. He was definitely blue. His chest wasn’t rising and falling. He was also a bit twisted along the fence. I grabbed him by the legs and pulled him away from the fence, then straightened him out. I leant my head down near his face—no breath.
The girl was asking the 911 operator how to administer the Naloxone shot.
“No,” the voice on the other side said, “you need to get oxygen into him first. You need to do CPR.”
I had already loosened his clothing and as the operator was advising us, I tilted his head back and pinched his nose. “Put your mouth over his and breath into him,” I told the young woman. Just like the last time over 30 years ago, everything sped up and slowed down at the same time. The difference was, this time I knew we were breathing for this man. We might also be preventing irreversible damage to his brain.
His chest rose and fell.
She leaned over, and took his nose in her hands and breathed in. “Please baby, please don’t die.” She cried.
I began doing compressions, just up from the sternum somewhere near the middle of his chest. “1, 2, 3, 4…30.”
“Tell me how to administer the Naloxone.” The woman called into phone on the ground beside her. It was on speaker. “No, keep with the CPR,” the operator advised. “The ambulance is on its way.”
“You need to breath for him again,” I told the woman. “Dammit when is the ambulance going to get here.” Again his chest rose and fell. “1, 2, 3, 4, …..30.” Two snorts, “He’s breathing, he’s breathing.”
I turn his head to the side and listen.
No breath. “You need to give him another breath.”
She leaned in, took his nose in her two fingers as I lifted his head, and watched his chest rise and fall. “Again.”
Finally we could hear the sirens in the distance.
“Someone needs to go out to the front of the building and show the paramedics how to get in,” the 911 operator said.
“Another breath,” I positioned his head. She pinched his nose and breathed deeply into him. Again his chest rose and fell. She did again and I began pressing his chest again, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…” Then she left and ran out to the road. “1, 2, 3…30”
“Two more breaths,” the 911 voice on the phone said.
“Sorry, I can’t put my mouth on his,” I told her. I just couldn’t.
“OK,” keep going with the compressions. You are doing great. The paramedics are almost there.”
“I am sorry. I don’t have my kit,” I told her continuing with the rhythmic pushes.
He snorted a single breath.
“He took a breath,” I called out.
“Great, said the voice on the phone.
The blond woman came through the alley gate with three paramedics behind her.
I stood up, and stepped away from the man on the ground and let the paramedics move in. They lifted him up and began carrying him to the street where their ambulance was located.
I followed them out and then saw the young blond woman sitting on the steps outside the gate. I paused and we looked at each other for a moment, then embraced and together we followed the paramedics the rest of the way to their ambulance.
“I have Naloxone,” she said holding the needle out to one of the paramedics.
“Oh you have some, great.” One of the paramedics said. He reached out and took it, then kneeled down to the man, pulled open his jacket and administered the needle in the fleshy part of his deltoid right through his shirt. Two minutes later, the man was breathing and coming round. The crisis was over.
I looked to the young woman beside me. Should I say something? Should I make some gesture of friendship after the incredible thing we have just been through together?
Nah, I don’t like a lot of drama in my life. “Do you need anything from me?” I ask the paramedics.
“No,” they respond together.
I reach out and gently touched the young woman’s hand, then turned away and headed back into my apartment building.
A few minutes after arriving back at my apartment, I heard the man who OD’d loudly argue with the paramedics because he didn’t want to go to the hospital. He also yelled at that young woman for calling the ambulance at all.
And you know that's life. He's alive to live another day and I would never have known how to help him if I hadn't learned all those years ago for the sake of my child.
BA Hubert lives in Vancouver British Columbia, a long time writer wanna be with the metal boxes of unfinished manuscripts and the rejection letters to prove it.