On Sunday morning on Mother’s Day, my wife and I and our younger son â€” he’s a week shy of 9 years old â€” ran up to our local buy-in-bulk supermarket to get a couple of things we needed for the day. The place was much busier than I had expected it to be, but we quickly grabbed what we needed and found the shortest check-out line. The only people in front of us in line were a woman about my age and her mother.
While my wife waited to check out, I headed over to the snack counter to get us some soft drinks. I was on my way back to the check-out line, drinks in hand, when I heard someone scream, and then heard someone else shout “Call 9-1-1!”
I turned to look and saw, about halfway between where I stood and the exit door, the two women who had checked out just before us. The mother had collapsed, and the daughter was kneeling beside her, cradling her mother’s body against her chest.
I stood there for long seconds of time, stunned and frozen. And then I realized: No one is going to help.
So I set my wife’s drink down in the basket and ran to the women. I got the daughter to let me lay her mother down, and started trying to check for a pulse, trying to see if she was breathing, all the while trying desperately to remember what I learned when I took CPR training 30 years before in high school.
My wife got to the women right after I did. She has been trained in CPR, but it was also years ago. Unable to find a pulse or any sign the woman was breathing, we started CPR.
My brain seemed to be going in two directions at once: One side screaming, “Do this, now this!” The other side screaming, “What do I do? Am I doing this right?”
A minute or two later â€” or maybe it was hours â€” a young man ran up to help. He seemed to know what he was doing, so I moved aside. My wife stayed there to help.
About the same time, I realized, our son was standing there, his eyes brimming with tears and his face frozen in horror. I got up and went to him, and ushered him outside. I tried to tell him everything was going to be alright. But I knew I was lying to him and he knew it, too.
My wife waited until the paramedics arrived. When she finally came to the car to meet us, she looked at me and said, quietly so our son wouldn’t hear, “I don’t think she’s going to make it.”
I didn’t know this woman. I don’t know her name. I don’t know what happened to her.
I would like to think she survived, and that what my wife and did made a difference. Perhaps the situation was so severe there was nothing we could do that would have made a difference. But what haunts me is that third possibility: that she died because I didn’t do enough, or because I didn’t do it well enough.
So that’s why, as soon as we can, my wife and I are going to take classes to be certified in CPR. Hopefully, I will never be in that situation again. But if it happens, I want to know what I am doing. I want to be confident that no matter the outcome, I can say I did all I could, and I did it right.
For anyone else who is interested, the American Red Cross offers classes in CPR, as does Texas CPR Training, LLC, which is associated with the American Heart Association. Check it out. You never know when it could be the difference between life and death.