by Ann Mathiews MSN, RN, CEN, TNCC
The sun was shining. The blinding light reflected off the apartment pool surface as Lori and I sat sipping frozen margaritas and watching our four children splash in the shallow baby pool. Laughing as freckles emerged on our skin instead of the even tan we were seeking, we joked about the customers that frequented the diner where we both worked. The customers confused us because we were both blonde and thin. Lulled into a false sense of security, Lori said, “I’m going to close my eyes a minute, watch the kids”.
“Sure”, I replied, sipping the icy margarita and starting a head count. One, my Jessica; two, my Alex; three, Lori’s Jimmy, and wait a minute…where is Lori’s Joey? I sat up spilling the margarita. The children were here a minute ago. Where was Lori’s Joey? I scanned the area around the pool. He had a ball earlier. I looked across the lawn and into the cabana. Where was Joey?
As I stood up to call for Joey, I saw a teenage girl waist high in the adult pool. She held up a limp rag and say “does this child belong to someone?”
I walked swiftly over to the girl taking Joey’s limp body and laying him down on the lawn. I had only seen infant CPR once in my life. Joey was three years old. I didn’t know if it would work. I shook his foot, looked, listened and felt for breath. I breathed into his tiny body watching the chest rise. I could feel a pulse, so I started five compressions, then I held him up to give him five back blows, then again from the beginning. Was I doing it right? I didn’t know. Keep it up, my self dialog cheered me on. My hands were shaking as I struggled to overcome the adrenaline rush.
A crowd gathered. My husband arrived and petrified he grabbed both our children and stood watching me. A lady with a ridiculous hat said “My husband knows CPR”. She tried to pull Joey from my arms.
“Go get him” I said shaking her off. And breathed into Joey’s mouth again. Someone woke Lori and she screamed as she realized it was her child. Standing frozen and watching me work to save her son, I saw her holding her breath.
Chest compressions. Five. Back blows. Five. Breath again. Better seal. Breath again. Chest rise. He coughed. I sat back. He coughed again. The paramedics arrived and swarmed Joey. I rose from my knees and took two steps back. Holding my breath, as equipment emerged and hid Joey from view. A stretcher appeared and in a blur Joey disappeared into the ambulance. The teenage girl said “I didn’t realize he was dead”.
Dead. Neither did I. I only saw a child not breathing. Joey went into cardiac arrest three more times in the ambulance. Each time the ambulance stopped, the paramedics resuscitated him. Following in our car, we prayed silently with tears streaming from our eyes. All the fears unspoken fermenting just below the surface. Arriving at the hospital we streamed into the waiting room as the stretcher rushed past us with a blur of firemen, paramedics, white coats, and green scrubs.
I stared at the clock. Each minute passing was an eternity. Did I do it right? I had only seen CPR once. Did I do it right? My husband silently holding my four year old and my two year old. Fear pasted on their faces. Even my two year old son understood the enormity of what was happening. I couldn’t comfort them, we just didn’t know yet.
A white coat came into the room. “Are you the mom?” He asked Lori.
“Yes,” Lori whispered and looked at me. I stood and put my hands on her shoulders willing her strength and hope.
The white coat had a big smile. “He is fine. Come see.” Relief washed over us. We ran to see the smiling face of the pale boy with the crooked grin.
“Why did you do that?” asked Lori mad and happy as she reached to hug her son.
“There was a penny. I wanted the penny.” said Joey unaffected by the near-tragedy.
Today Joey is a Pentecostal minister and I am a nurse and I teach CPR. The best part of being a nurse is not just knowing what to do in a crisis but learning each day to help people transcend their crisis, their pain, their tragedy. Hospice nursing, for me, is an honor. The honor is found in sharing very intense and memorable moments that shape the essence of people’s lives. Each day I try to be the change I wish to see in the world.
My favorite instructor was that visiting nurse who came to the home of an eighteen year old mother to teach her CPR because it was part of a high risk program out of the Valley Settlement House in West Orange, New Jersey. I wish I had learned her name but I will never forget the way she made me feel and the life she saved.