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This a an old story starting 4 decades ago and actually ends over a decade ago, but this is the first time I’ve wanted to tell it completely.
The story uses real names and places, because everybody tried but not everybody succeeded. I don’t know the name of the dead guy, the CPR lady or the yardbird , but if you recognize your friend or family and are offended, I’m sorry; the story needs them as they were.
As a young enlisted sailor in 1969 I was as is typical for my age, which is to say completely invincible so was everybody I knew. Attending required CPR classes was something that if handled right you could sneak out of or at least have a few laughs with other guys who were also not clever enough to escape.
Annie of course is Resusci-Annie, an androgynous, not quite anything looking, half a doll of sort of human proportions and a rather stupid smile. You know the one. So between skipping out and getting caught I’ve known Annie for a very long time.
Now flip the story to Holylock, Scotland, sometime in the mid ‘70s aboard the floating dry dock USS Los Alamos.
I’m in a crane working on something, 60 feet above the port wing wall which is 50 feet above the basin where we haul out submarines for repair. There is a little commotion forward and I see someone on starboard wing wall, a civilian yard worker (we called them Yardbirds, but that wasn’t nice) has fallen and my buddy and fellow Electrician’s Mate, Joe Wampler (aka Wimpy for obvious reasons) was kneeling next to him. Other people were standing around like they were waiting for a bus or something.
Joe, probably remembering his own Annie, starts CPR, but after a little while I can see things are going wrong. The Yardbird’s stomach was inflating but Wimpy was busy and nobody told him. By the time the corpsman arrived and took over CPR, Wimpy knew he’d done it wrong and everybody knew the guy was dead. Days later we’d learn that the guy’s aorta had burst and all the thumping and pumping in the world was not gonna bring him back, but that was a very long time later.
Wimpy was crushed. The Annie lesson said everything should work fine, thump, thump, puff, puff and then everybody goes for a beer. The guys and I covered Joe’s duties, and I sent him home to his wife and newborn. It was partially to be nice but mostly because we had no idea what to say or do.
I was an “old salt’, second hitch, pushing 24! So I told everybody say ‘nice try’ or say nothing when Joe comes back. He’d be ‘Joe’ forever after that. ‘Wimpy’ never fit, and now it really didn’t fit.
Being emotional over anybody or anything was a bad trait for young sailors. Being understanding or sensitive would earn you a nickname usually reserved for cats. We were boys pretending to be men and the clothes didn’t fit yet.
At the next morning’s muster the Lead Petty Officer (LPO) John Brown decided to comment ‘Wimpy, they had to send you home last night because you couldn’t hack a guy dying?” I’ve never been violent but I popped. My crew stood back to give me room to swing but we never came to blows. Brown started back peddling, and I couldn’t stuff him thought the hatch into a fan room where issues were settled without witnesses. He would later put me on report for failing to knock on a door before entering.
As a side note in the Navy of early 70’s, thanks to the draft, it was normal to be a whole lot smarter than your boss. I beat the rap. It turns out knocking before entering is a military courtesy not a regulation. It did cost me my Good Conduct Medal, but I’ve never missed it.
Ok, now spin forward a decade or two. It’s Londonderry, NH mid 90’s. I’m now a Reserve Officer still skipping out on Annie training if I can, and still getting caught time to time. Some things don’t really change.
Driving by the local Wendy’s, my wife Patricia points out that there is a crowd standing around a guy on the ground of the parking lot. While I’m no action hero, I do seem to get into things. But I said they have help and don’t need me. Pat was driving so she pulled in anyway and just said ‘see if you can help’.
I see a 30ish woman performing CPR on this incredibly purple, dead guy in the center of a small circle of people. So I follow my Annie training and position myself across from the woman and tell her I’m CPR trained and I’ll help. She waved me off saying ‘I’ve got this’ but the guy is a really an odd color of purple and not looking better.
Somebody says ‘He’s got a pulse’, woman puffing and puffing. I ask the crowd if anybody knows him, nobody does... He was a hitchhiker or something. So I throw his backpack to somebody and tell them to dump it out, I empty his pockets looking for drugs, medication, ID, or a medical alert, but there is nothing of use.
So just when I figure the guy is dead, it gets even worse. You didn’t think that was possible did you? What could be worse? The woman performing CPR barfs into the dead guy’s mouth then says I’m sorry and gets up and leaves.
OK, so here is where Annie and Wimpy meet. I told you it was a story over decades.
Unlike Annie the guy was purple. He was a guy, and he was, well, dead, maybe worse than dead. But like Joe, I was the only person willing to do anything. Unlike Joe I was going to remember to lift the chin.
There aren’t any CPR classes with purple, scruffy bearded, dead guys, and a mouth full of somebody else’s vomit. We all resuscitate Annie (or Andy), and they are fresh faced little white kids with a silly but hygienic smile.
I never made any decision but I certainly remember the thought... Let him die or try... Fortunately, “why not” or its military equivalent took over. I scooped and cleaned as best I could. I remember thinking he was already dead, so he had nothing to lose. I also remembered that most of the time we are only saving the organs for somebody else, maybe for a few people. But mostly I thought “this guy is purple, scruffy bearded and dead.” Annie didn’t have days old whiskers.
So I’m puffing away, lifting the chin, trying to remember how fast and how hard.. I can see the chest rising but it’s more work than I thought. I even remembered to yell at him.. BREATH, BREATH. I don’t know if it helps or if he can hear me, but it seemed like a great idea.
Annie didn’t tell me that you don’t really get to breathe while the dead guy exhales because you are WIRED. Annie never taught me that you get dizzy from the breathing and that the crowd around you yells at you or to you, but they fade away in the blur of things.
But somebody yelled, or whispered or shot me a telepathic thought,” Go faster, he’s turning pinker”.
So I did. I went as fast as I could, breathing for both or us, turning purple myself. He started to pinken, if that’s a word. It was encouraging; the first time I thought maybe he’d live. I was breathing so fast and so deep that the crowd disappeared again. I didn’t hear or see the ambulance arrive, which is something, because of the sirens and lights being 10 yards away and all those people running around.
Londonderry Fire Department had arrived. I stepped aside or was pushed or something and I watch as they did that TV thing with a blue bag and a tube down his throat. As they loaded him on the ambulance on his stretcher he sat up with his dead eyes and pink face he looked right through me.
The parking lot cleared out in a minute, except for me and Pat standing there. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Walk away? Annie should warn you that this CPR thing has a horrible after effect. One minute you are doing everything you know how to do to save a life and the next you are in an empty parking lot, breathing desperately and somehow feeling incredibly sad.
Fortunately, Pat was there and maneuvered me home over a cup of tea or maybe a beer, while I recovered my wits. I realized that I didn’t know if he lived or died. And it seemed like somebody should thank me or ask my name for the paper, or buy me a beer. But everybody did what they did.
So I called the Londonderry EMTs. I told them who I was and they thanked me for jumping in and even commented that it was good that I had the guy searched for drugs or a medical alert. Seems they are not allowed to do that. Funny because he might have been carrying the medication he needed. I suppose that backpacks and pockets fall open in the ambulance all the time.
When I asked if the guy lived, the EMTs told me that medical information was private and they couldn’t give that out. I don’t know why I needed to know but I really needed to know.
I told the EMT that being dead wasn’t private so he could tell me if the guy was dead. He then covered the phone with his hand and loudly may have said “That guy we picked up at Wendys, the one we took to Parkland? What was his name? Conner or something? Did he make it?” I might have heard from afar. “Who wants to know? It’s the CPR guy. He’s was looking good when we left.” The EMT then calmly said “There was no death to report.”
Well I didn’t call the hospital or even send a “Happy You Aren’t Dead” card. I’ve decided that everything else was just that, everything else.
I did resolve to write this story. I just felt like it today another decade later or more after it happened. I’m the only one who can tell it. And I just thought somebody should.
Joe Wampler taught me to try and accidentally taught me to pay more attention to Annie. But there was a chain of events from that day in Scotland that had a cast of people from my wife Pat and that CPR lady and an EMT team that I like to think lead to a guy surviving. But there is a warning here too, If you’ve ever kissed Annie you need to know it’s not like that in real life.
Pat Tormey PTormey@4square.net 4 I scooped and cleaned as best I could. I remember thinking he was already dead, so he had nothing to lose. I also remembered that most of the time we are only saving the organs for somebody else, maybe for a few people. But mostly I thought “this guy is purple, scruffy bearded and dead.” Annie didn’t have days old whiskers.
So I called the Londonderry EMTs. I told them who I was and they thanked me for jumping in and even commented that it was good that I had the guy searched for drugs or a medical ale