How to Save a Life

As a nurse, I was given the opportunity to save at least a couple of lives during my career. I never had to talk someone off of a ledge or anything cool like that, but I did talk to a lots of depressed people and helped them try to find a reason to keep living.

That’s really the key to surviving a serious bout of depression. Not killing yourself. Suicide greatly decreases your chances of ever getting better. And it really, really messes up your family. Suicide is never a good idea. Talk to someone. Get some help. Do something!

Please.

When I was a nurse, I was certified in CPR. I think it’s probably a requirement for most nurses nowadays. I went through periodic recertification every year or two. And you need that refresher training, unless you do a lots of CPR. It was a skill I had to utilize only a few times in my career.

I think the only time that I may have saved someone with CPR was at the MVAMC. It was in the dead of night, of course. An old manic guy had collapsed in his room, and one of the other nurses discovered him laying on the floor, unresponsive. She called out for help, and all nurses on the floor went running.

If you don’t perform a lots of CPR, it’s kind of a tricksy thing. There’s a series of steps you’re supposed to follow, but in an emergency you tend not to remember them, and you can’t call a time out to check the manual. Adrenaline takes over your brain, and you just react.

This guy wasn’t breathing and I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I started chest compressions. And, I probably broke half of his ribs. That’s actually normal, especially with an elderly patient.

If you’ve never had a broken rib, or a lots of broken ribs, it kind of hurts like hell. And that’s probably what revived the old manic guy I was working on more than anything else. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and then punched me in the mouth, splitting my lower lip open.

Oscar Wilde was correct, again. No good deed goes unpunished.

I’ve unsuccessfully performed CPR a couple of times. Unlike TV, where everyone needing CPR survives and lives happily ever after, there’s about a 10% success rate in reality, and not everyone that survives lives happily ever after.

That’s why healthcare professionals have Advanced Directives and Living Wills, and 80% of us are DNR/DNI. If I collapse in front of you, just step over my body and keep on walking. I will fucking sue you if you even think about touching me.

I’m serious. I may punch you in the mouth.

I was a psych nurse, and there’s a little known fact about Psychiatry. The vast majority of our patients were sincerely depressed and suicidal while they were being assessed for admission. And the moment they learned they were going to be admitted, they were no longer suicidal.

In order to get admitted, you had to meet criteria. If you so much as whispered the S-word, you had to be admitted. And believe me, our patients knew the drill. Getting into the hospital was their primary objective. Their lives had gone to hell, and the hospital was their sanctuary and refuge.

There are many anxiety provoking aspects of psych nursing, but one of the worst is a patient that sincerely wants to kill themself after they’re admitted.

If someone truly wants to kill themself, they’ll eventually find a way. It’s true. I could suggest you talk to someone that committed suicide, but…

Our objective as nurses was to make sure they didn’t find a way to kill themselves while they were in the hospital. I had four patients take their lives while they were on my unit in my thirty years as a psych nurse, and it was a traumatic experience for everyone, staff and patients, every time.

I performed CPR on two of them, and I knew both times I wasn’t going to be bringing either one of them back. You don’t have to be a coroner to know when you’re looking at a dead person. They became organ donors, so they were able to help others in that regard. I do not recommend this method of organ donation, ever.

Life and death, they become part of the job when you work in healthcare. You win some, you lose some. You go on, or you quit because you can’t deal with it anymore.

But what if you’re not an healthcare professional? And you don’t have a lots of training? What if you’re just a guy riding your bike to work one morning? Then you might be my brother, Tom.

* * * *

My brother used to be a cook at the Perkins® restaurant in Sauk Rapids, MN. Like me, when I was I nursing school, he had a car that started about half of the time he wanted to drive it, and when it wouldn’t start, he rode his bike to work.

It must’ve been a morning that his car wouldn’t start, hence, the bike. And as he was pedaling his way to work, a panic-stricken woman ran toward him, screaming.

“Help! Help me! My son! I think he’s dead!” And she pointed toward a pickup truck in the yard, then ran to the house to call 911.

Her son was a teenage boy, and his head was stuck in the door of his truck, which was up against a tree in the yard. There’s a bit of a backstory to this. The boy was teaching his younger sister how to drive his truck. I’m not sure why they were driving in the yard, but it was Minnesota…

So, his sister was driving, and her brother was walking beside the passenger side of the truck, with the door open, giving her instructions on how to shift the manual transmission. I’m going to guess everything was going fine, until the truck got close to the tree. It was a really big tree.

It’s kind of difficult to imagine how something like this could actually happen, but the girl drove the truck really close to the tree–the passenger door of the truck was right up against the trunk of the tree–and wedged in between the door and the body of his truck was the head of the teenage boy, with the tree trunk as a giant doorstop holding the kid’s head hostage.

“His head was really fuckin’ stuck! His neck was caught between the door and the chassis and the tree. It was something so stupid even you couldn’t have done that!” Tom said, when he described the incident to me. “I tried to pull him out, but I couldn’t. So I ran around to the driver’s side. The girl that was driving was scared shitless. She was white as ghost. She had one foot on clutch, and the other on the brake, and her legs were shaking like crazy. Her brother was making all these weird choking noises, and his face was purple.

“I told the girl to shift into reverse, and she said, ‘I don’t know how!’ She was beyond freaked out, you know? She couldn’t fuckin’ move! The truck was in gear, if her foot would’ve slipped off the clutch, she would’ve chopped her brother’s head off, just like that.

“So I reached across her, and shifted it into reverse, then I lifted her leg just enough to engage the transmission to back the truck up. And when her brother fell to the ground, I reached in and shut the truck off, you know, so she wouldn’t run him over.

“I don’t know how long the kid had been stuck like that, but he didn’t look good. I mean, I thought he was dead. He wasn’t breathing, and his face was all purple and shit. I figured he needed CPR, you know, but I wasn’t gonna kiss him! So I just pushed on his chest, real hard, and then he started breathing again. And then he started looking better, and not all purple and shit anymore, and that was a big relief.

“I could hear sirens coming, so I figured an ambulance was on the way. So, I got on my bike and went to work. I didn’t want to be late.”

And that’s how my own bro became the Unknown Hero of Sauk Rapids. And he probably saved that kid’s life. I know his mother thought Tom had saved her son’s life. And his scared shitless sister did too.

I’m not sure if that kid ever tried teaching his sister how to drive again, but I doubt he ever tried teaching her by walking next to the truck with the door open again.

Tom wouldn’t stay the Unknown Hero. The next time he had to ride his bike to work, the entire family came running out of the house to thank him when they saw him pedaling down the road. They more or less adopted him as their official Wonderful Guy. A few years later when Tom almost got dead from a motor vehicle accident, they all came to visit him at the hospital.

* * * *

The accident my brother was in was because of something stupid Gary did while driving his car, and Tom was his passenger. Dan, Shorty and I would hear Tom’s version of the story, and Gary’s. Tom’s version won. And Gary was officially stupid, stupid, stupid.

Gary’s car was totaled in the accident, and his leg was smashed all to bits. He had to be put back together with metal rods and a lots of screws. He would spend close to a month in the hospital.

Tom had been hospitalized overnight for observation, and there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with him, so he was released the next day. I think it was a Sunday. I drove down to whatever little podunk town Tom and Gary had been in at the time of the accident to pick my brother up.

Tom and I were roommates at that time of our lives, and that would’ve been around January of 1980, I think. I had just started surgical technician school. We had an apartment across the street from the Vo-Tech.

A night or two later, my brother started complaining of severe abdominal pain, and his belly looked like a damn watermelon. I possibly helped save Tom’s life by recognizing his spleen had ruptured and got his ass to the St Cloud Hospital where he had emergency surgery.

Tom has never forgiven Gary for almost killing him to death.

But we all did stupid stuff back then, me and all of my friends from back in the day. Tom, Gary, Shorty and Dan. It’s probably more than a few miracles that any of us are still alive today.

Shorty almost killed me more than once, and he almost killed Dan to death and wrecked his motorcycle beyond all repair once. Dan almost got me dead at least once. I have no idea how many times I almost killed my best friends. You’d have to ask them. But we saved each other’s asses more times than any of us can count.

And that’s pretty much what life, and friendship, are all about.

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