Four Little Words
… I couldn’t believe it – the boy was dead! For a split second my mind flashed back to our arrival at the pool. Was this really happening ? I asked myself..
The sun was out in full force when our family decided to go swimming in the local hot springs. Packing three kids into the car is never easy and the 45 minute drive through country roads seemed more like hours, but we finally arrived, and just in the nick of time.
As I was paying our entry fee, a complete stranger came rushing inside the office, panting and completely out of breath. “There’s a kid!…” he gasped frantically. “He drowned! He’s dead! Call the ambulance! Get some bloody help!”
I took flight with natural instinct and ran towards the pool, glancing toward my wife as I sprinted out of the office. She rolled her eyes with a “here we go again…” look. She knew I was always one to run off and volunteer to assist someone in need of help. It was my purest instinct to do so, no matter what the circumstances were.
I sprinted down the driveway and then leapt over the steel fence into the pool area. A small crowd had now gathered as panic-stricken children were being ushered away by their parents. A girl was screaming hysterically, another boy crying into his mother’s arms. In the middle of the confusion lay a small, limp, lifeless child with his father kneeling at his head, frantically calling his name. There was a distraught lifeguard at his side and I spotted the boy’s mother pacing up and down as a friend tried to comfort her. It felt surreal to be calmly entering this scene as stunned and shocked onlookers were rushing away to escape the horror.
I stood over the kid to assess the situation. The boy’s brown skin had now started to turn various shades of blue and purple around his lips and extremities. He was completely lifeless and his father was clutching his limp hand as bystanders stood looking helpless and lost in grief.
The adrenalin in my system slowed time down to a halt. The boy was dead! I thought to myself before snapping out of my mini-flashback.
“Has anyone checked the airway?” I called out.
“Huh?,” the stunned lifeguard replied.
“Airway, we gotta check that it’s clear!” I looked to his mum, “What was he doing?”
Someone from the crowd spoke up. “He was eating a sausage and jumped in…”
By some force I found myself upon my knees opening the four-year-old’s mouth to check the airway. I saw the end of a sausage lodged in his throat & hooked it partially out with my finger. Lumps of chewed meat mixed with blood fell out on to the pavement. I didn’t flinch at the gore before me.
“What else have you guys tried?”
“We did CPR and breathing…” said the agitated lifeguard, who was now showing signs of shock himself.
Realising that their efforts had probably blown more food down into the boy’s airway, I knew time was running out.
“We have to clear this kid’s air passage. I need you to do the Heimlich manoeuvre…”
Without a question, the lifeguard hauled the boy to his chest and crunched into his ribs a couple of times as I placed my hand on the father’s shoulder for comfort.
The lifeguard then laid the kid back on the ground and I checked his mouth again. As I hooked and pulled out another piece of sausage, the child’s body convulsed, and he vomited. I was pleased to see a return of some bodily functions, but nonetheless the boy was turning increasingly blue and lifeless. There was no pulse upon my fingertips as I monitored his vital signs.
Instinctively the lifeguard blew deep into the boy’s mouth, but there was still no inflation of the chest.
I called for the Heimlich manoeuvre to be performed again. The lifeguard heaved the little boy inwards like a sack of spuds. By now his body had turned very blue and I saw his mother walking away, howling, before sitting down in complete shock under the shelter.
“You have to save my son,” the boy’s father begged.
“Yep,” I replied confidently, but I had no idea if we would be able to save him. This was the worst situation I had ever seen ever. With years of lifeguard training behind me, had witnessed many sea rescues, but I’d never needed to bring anyone back from the dead before.
I handed the father his son’s limp wrist and asked him to keep check of his pulse. In reality I just wanted to distract him from the reality of loosing his son and horror of what he was now witnessing.
“Keep an eye on his pulse; it might be a little weak…” I told him. I still had no pulse at the neck, so the father was probably registering nothing as well. He never said otherwise.
“CPR?…” I asked.
“Yeah, we’ve done heaps,” the lifeguard answered, “but I can’t do any more…”
I turned and looked at the exhausted lifeguard. “You’ll do more. You simply have to. You’re all he has right now!”
“Alright,” the lifeguard replied, as he wearily commenced with CPR again. This time, however, the boy’s lungs expanded as the air filled him. At last! The blockage was free!
By now I had a fairly large group surrounding me who were barking various commands. It was so confusing as each individual offered a suggestion about what should be done, but I continued as per the manual etched into my memory through years of training. It was completely instinctive, and I knew CPR and blood movement was vital to keeping this kid alive.
“Keep going…” I told the lifeguard to continue. Over and over we went through the cycle while I monitored the boy’s pulse and carefully watched for any sign of life. I needed to observe to ensure we didn’t end up damaging the boys’ beating heart should he suddenly kick into life.
I was now trembling slightly as we repeatedly continued. My stomach began to tighten as I wondered the worst possible outcome.
Finally I noticed the little boy take a small, shallow breath, and I felt a faint pulse return in his neck.
“Stop!” I exclaimed.
Startled, the boy’s mother and father looked at me. I’m sure they thought I was calling an end to our efforts and pronouncing their son dead.
“We need to stop, he’s breathing a bit now…” I reassured them. The boy’s chest movement was very shallow, and when I moved the father’s hand to his son’s neck, he finally smiled a bit with relief.
What seemed like minutes was only a few seconds when the boy’s eye opened, his throat moved, his jaw clenched to clear the remaining meat from his throat. I gently patted his back and the rest of the sausage finally came out with a bit of fluid and some more blood. Finally, a deep breath came from him along with a sigh of relief from me.
“I wanna get out,” he said in his little voice before bursting into tears, looking around him in shock and terror.
Those four words are the best anyone has said to me in my entire life.