Recently, I was stopped in construction traffic on my way home from work, waiting to go another 30 feet before stopping again, when I became a spectator of tragedy and heroism. My mind was occupied with the trivialities of traffic and life as I intermittently stared at the miles of stopped cars in front of me and the peaceful field next to me. I was staring at that field next to Highway 58, when a red pickup truck raced by, over-steered on the edge of the emergency lane, rear tires kicking up gravel as it turned completely sideways and for a split second seemed to stop.
I had just enough time to think, "Oh no!" before it seemed to burst into a violent series of sideways rolls and vaults until it landed serenely 100 feet away in the middle of the field. It landed upright, passenger side cab top was crushed, and there were no occupants visible through the open side window that was square to me.
A car behind me pulled off, and I realized I haven't just been watching an elaborate stunt on TV, there are people out there and someone has just volunteered to help. That thought snapped me out of my voyeurism and into action as I also pulled my car over with no real thought of what I could do.
Without thinking, I ran after the other man over a crushed barbed wire fence and heard him say there is a woman lying there. I came up to the woman who seemed to be resting on her side, breathing laboriously and mumbling something. I was replying, "You're going to be OK." The other man had continued to run toward the truck, and without breaking stride called out, "there is a dead dog lying there." I saw what he described and called back, "I'm going to look for other people," as I started to run in a line 30 feet from him.
The other man reached the truck and at the same time I saw the silhouette of the driver, slumped over in his seat, with a seat belt fully extended. Not seeing any other people on the ground between the road and truck, I went back to the woman. She was still mumbling as I'm standing over her trying to think of the first step from the many CPR classes I've taken through the years.
She was breathing and mumbling and all I could think was to not move her to cause more pain or possible damage, but I felt just completely useless and helpless. Only then did I think to call 911; "surely someone has already called," I thought, as I frantically tried to remember how to dial my phone. I heard a woman call from the road, "I'm a medic at the base," and I felt some relief as she came up to the fence asking for help through the tangle of wire.
Just as I started to respond to the calm 911 operator who said, "what is your location," I saw the beautiful site of a white SUV with a CHP logo on the side. The off-duty medic was feeling for the woman's pulse and looking at her pupils as I realized it had been some time since I had heard the woman murmuring.
The patrolman performed the same procedure and was unpacking his yellow emergency kit when he got to the scene. The two rescuers gently maneuvered the woman onto her back with head cocked back and I realized they were beginning CPR. My very sporadic and rusty training didn't really prepare me for what happened next.
As the officer began chest compressions, someone asked if there was anything he could do to help and the patrolman quickly replied, "You can breathe into this mask," that he had just assembled and laid on the woman's face. I looked around the group and paused before I said that I would do it as I kneeled down in broken glass next to the woman.
The policeman instructed me to pull down her chin, place the mask firmly over her nose and mouth and blow two big breaths into her when he stops pumping her chest. I don't how long we kept up the pattern, but I had time to reflect how truly amazing it was to have people who are trained to handle this trauma and that it must be a fairly common occurrence for them.
My CPR training prepared me that ribs probably would break as they did when the officer was pressing deep into the woman's heart and lungs. But though I had blown into the mouths of several CPR mannequins, the training didn't prepare me for the visceral experience of being in the face of a person's body who was reflexively taking agonal breaths or the fluids that had been filling her lungs foaming out her mouth.
I stop the retelling of what was, for me, a traumatic event to relay to you my continual thought of gratitude for the rescuers. I didn't even have the presence of mind to ask their names. These people stand in for us when tragedy strikes and put on their boots every morning to face even more brutal disruptions of life than I described above. They are my heroes.
They're not the adrenaline-charged, running around with dynamic rhetoric cops of TV. They don't look out their car window and decide whether they're going to help. They walk calmly into conflict. They respond when off duty and in street clothes. They are prepared and ready. And, without pause, they start pumping someone's chest and blowing into their mouth once their pulse stops even though they know that only two out of 100 people have a chance of a normal life once CPR is started.
CPR isn't as easy as training class; it is hard work and incredibly, well, messy to put it mildly. It is also dangerous to the rescuers' health, as there are many diseases that can be transmitted through bodily fluids. They are literally in someone's face as their life is leaving them. Yet, they try.
So I say thank you to the heroes who take our place when we are unable. These men and women who take abuse from people fighting their traffic ticket four and a half days out of the week and then walk out into a wreck and start pumping a stranger's heart and then do it all again the next week. Thank you to the firemen who arrive with even more skill and equipment, even though some of their team are simultaneously fighting a fire miles away on Tehachapi Mountain. Thank you for being prepared. Thank you for doing it every day. You are my heroes.
Tim Moore, Tehachapi