Week 11: Learn CPR and First Aid

A couple of months ago, Q and I took the subway to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens to celebrate her birthday. She had no idea where I was taking her, and I thought I was a brilliant husband for devising such a surprise. Later, the surprise would be on me when we discovered that in early March, nothing is in bloom at the Botanical Gardens. At least Q enjoyed the tea I bought her at the gift shop café. So she claims.

But on the subway ride to Brooklyn, our hopes had not yet been dashed and while she tried to guess where I was taking her, an older man in the corner started making sounds like a wounded animal. On the New York subway, which can in equal parts be a showcase of odd human behavior and a performing arts center when you just want to read in peace, the first instinct is to ignore. Thankfully, Q isn’t as jaded as I am and recognized the sounds for what they actually were – a man having a seizure.

Without thinking, she ran towards the man, holding him so he wouldn’t fall and injure himself. While calming him through his seizure, she directed the frozen people around her to press the emergency button and get help. Fortunately, when we stopped at the next station, a nurse in the adjacent car rushed in and helped the man through the end of his seizure. Throughout this entire incident, I stood several feet away, gripping the pole, unable to do or say anything.

I don’t have the innate ability to help people in distress that Q has. In the few times where we’ve been together in emergency situations – the seizure victim, the biker in Chicago who got hit by a car – I’ve always been running behind her, wanting to tell her to stop in fear of germs, disease, or further injury. But there’s nothing I could possibly say to prevent her from helping others, and frankly, that’s what impresses me about her. Many of us hope that in the worst kind of situations, we would run into the fire and make the selfless decision. I’m pretty sure I’m the one in the back calling 911, scared to touch anyone, hoping someone else knows what they’re doing.

It’s not something of which I’ve been proud, and certainly being married to Q sheds even more light on my inaction in emergency situations. Q had a great teacher; her mother Andrea, a former EMT who has taught Red Cross training for over 25 years, ingrained these skills and attitudes in her practically from birth. So when it came time for me to learn CPR and First Aid skills, there was little question as to my choice of MANtor.

treading water

Andrea can’t even count all the emergency incidents to which she’s responded; when I ask for an estimate, she guesses over 100. One story she tells often involved a stopped car in front of a traffic circle about two years ago. It was during a huge snow storm, and the car was stopped so that the passenger side door was pressed up against a snow ridge, unable to open. Andrea’s EMT sense activated when she saw the young woman in the front passenger seat making wild hand motions inside the car. She ran to the car to find the girl’s father slumped over the steering wheel, not breathing, while the girl was hysterically crying, unable to get out of the car. Andrea calmly directed the girl to put the car into park, while she simultaneously helped the man out of the car onto the ground and yelled to the cars behind her to call 911.

While other people began directing traffic, Andrea got the man down on a towel in the middle of the road and began CPR. After four or five sets, the ambulance came and the EMTs took over. The man had a massive heart attack, but survived thanks to Andrea’s quick thinking. When Andrea tells me this story, she doesn’t brag or boast the way that I surely would had I the wherewithal or courage to save a man’s life. It’s just something that happened and something she did.

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