Over the past two months I’ve been humbled by my inability to do anything when people start dropping around me. Oddly enough, this has happened three times during that period.
The first time was just before Christmas. I was having a meeting with several clients, when one of them, whom I had just met, slumped over, eyes still open, but no longer really with us. One of his coworkers kept him from falling out of his chair. Someone left the room to call 911. The client started groaning, but still wasn’t really there. I had no idea what to do. I was anxious and afraid.
After looking awkwardly at the others at the meeting, who all seemed uncomfortable, I fled with the pretense of urging the person calling 911 to call faster.
“A man has passed out in our office,” the caller said on the phone.
I could see the client and the caller. The client stopped breathing. His coworkers hastily brought him to the floor, ripped open his shirt, and started CPR. I felt a bit of relief that someone seemed to know what to do.
I tried to correct the caller. “Tell them to hurry. He’s not breathing!”
They got him breathing again, but barely.
The paramedics arrived and after 45 minutes, took him from our office. He was pronounced dead 45 minutes after that. He had a heart attack. The last person to speak to him was me. And the last person he spoke to was me. For a moment, building web sites, having a job, seemed pointless.
A few weeks later, while riding the bus on my way to work, the woman next to me slumped over and fell on the floor. At first I thought she had fallen asleep, but she didn’t respond right away after hitting the floor. I was listening to my iPod and reading, so I was slow to react or realize what was going on. After a few seconds, she did get up, with some aid from another woman. She looked yellow, but insisted she was okay.
Then she passed out again. This time I caught her and laid her out on the seat. She regained consciousness but we told her to stay put and wait for the ambulance, which the bus driver had called. I stayed with her until the paramedics arrived, and then got out of the way. Fortunately, she turned out to be okay. But I was a bit shaken given the promixity to the previous incident with my client.
Then, this past Friday, I took my mom to the hospital because she broke her shoulder. We got in an elevator, and an older man and two women, one of which looked like a nurse, got in with us. We were all going to the same floor, and I was nearest to the buttons.
During our ascent, the older man seemed to be leaning a bit toward me and my mom. But I thought he was just looking at the buttons to see which floor we were going to.
When the doors opened, I pushed the “Doors open” button and waited for everyone to get out. The older man remained at the back of the elevator. I gestured that he could leave before me while I held the door open. Then he started to fall.
I caught him. Or rather, since he was well over six feet tall, and at least 250 pounds, I pinned him up against the wall to keep him from falling. His skin looked yellow or blue. His eyes were open, but he didn’t respond when I asked if he was okay.
Everyone else had left the elevator and no one could see what was happening. So I did the only thing I could do, started screaming for help. After the third or fourth cry, my mom popped her head back in to see what was going on. Then the nurse-looking woman appearred. She said she would go get a wheelchair, and left me, all of five feet and eight inches, 155 pounds, holding up this man who was nearly twice my size.
Then she came back. My mom later said there was a wheelchair outside the door, but I was too busy struggling to keep this man upright, since he had suddenly become complete dead weight. The nurse-looking woman tried to help. I asked her what to do, hoping she would know. I was thinking we should get him to the floor, as I had seen done with my previous heart attack victim, because that was my professional opinion—he was having a heart attack.
His weight was too much, and I pulled his legs out and eased him to the floor, the best I could, with some help from the nurse. The elevator doors then closed, because my mom had stepped inside the elevator and was no longer preventing them from shutting. Either I reached back to hit the open button or my mom stopped the doors from closing in the nick of time.
When the doors reopened, there were several people peering inside. It was hard to tell whether the were civilians or medical staff. I hoped the latter, but no one made a gesture to help us. I felt completely useless again. I had no idea how to help this man, whom I thought was surely dying.
Some guy flashed some sort of badge. In my mind, that made him officially more qualified to help out than me. So I got out of the way and told him to take over. My mom and I then continued on our way. I felt a strain in my hamstring and my hands were shaking. Later I noticed a lot of dead skin on my jacket.
I don’t know what happened to the man. But given what I had seen when my client died, I’m standing by my heart attack diagnosis. We were in a hospital, so I hope they were able to save him. I guess I’ll never know.
While these incidents are traumatic and sad, I must confess that when I retell these stories, they are tainted with humor. After the client died in our office, we were told that it’s natural to joke about the situation as a means of coping. I called a friend after the elevator incident, and said, “Another guy died on me.”
She thought I was joking.