The Hero

April 12, 2010

Short story for English 5F.  Hope you enjoy it.

The Hero

I grab my large coffee, half and half cream with sugar, and sit outside of the Peet’s in downtown Concord with the intention of finishing a novel I have been working on for months.  It’s a beautiful day for the East Bay in Spring; the sky is a radiant azure, almost pastel, without even a hint of grey, and there’s just enough of a breeze out to keep the temperature reasonable.  It’s why I decided to sit outside.  I don’t normally sit outside to drink coffee, but the day is just too perfect to pass up.  I notice an old man in a faded red short sleeve button-up and khakis shuffling past my table.  I follow him with my eyes while trying to look like I’m paying more attention to my book than I am to him.  He doesn’t even notice me.

The old man collapses in front of me without the slightest warning.  No stereotypical clutching at his sagging chest with a wrinkled and liver-spotted hand, no flush of red to make his bald head look like a tomato, no exclamation that this was the big one.  He simply stopped his agonizingly long journey down the sidewalk.  At first I think that he’s going to turn around and ask me directions, but before he has a chance his knees buckle from underneath him and, like a ragdoll dropped from the hands of an easily distracted 5 year old, he falls limply to the ground.

Ever since first taking the CPR class at my wife’s insistence,  I’ve fantasized that around every corner there’s going to be some poor, heavyset older man with a less than two minute old cardiac arrest that I, running in slow motion like David Hasselhoff, will heroically save.  I’ve had this damned CPR card for almost 18 months and I have yet to even see anything remotely resembling a heart attack.  All the card seems to do is take up space in my wallet and mock me, reminding me that I wasted 40 bucks and 8 hours of my time in a stuffy room while a man and a series of VHS tapes droned on.  It’s done me no good whatsoever.

But now here I am, the only person in probably two city blocks downtown that has that damned card, and it’s up to me to at least look like I know what the hell I’m doing.  I sit in a state of shock, my mouth open, before I realize that I have to do something.  I yell at the people standing on the sidewalk to help me and call 911, but it probably sounds nervous and unintelligible.  My heart pounds and my palms sweat profusely as I listen for breathing, check for a pulse, and pull his shirt off and try to open his airway to see if he can breath on his own.  He isn’t breathing and no one is attempting to do more than stare.  I interlace my fingers and put my hands in between his nipples over what looks and feels like white shag carpet.  I hadn’t realized until now that his body is  covered in cool sweat, and my sweaty hands that won’t stop shaking slip off of his chest before I even start.  It’s not like you see in the movies.

I compose myself and get the nerve to do something. Push. Crack Crack Crack. One. Push.  Crack. Two. His ribs, breaking under the force of my hands, sound disturbingly like a muffled snap of a tree branch. I have to keep this type of stuff out of my head, focus on something else.  I think I can hear the wail of sirens coming towards me, or at least I hope they’re coming towards me.  I’m not finished giving thirty compressions and I’m drenched in sweat and out of breath.  How am I supposed to breathe for this guy if I can’t even catch my breath?  Some hero I’m trying to be.  30 compressions.  Time to breathe for the old man.  I plug his nostrils, tilt his head back, and force a breath into him, blocking out memories of awkward moments of failure from my early teenage years.  His chest rises, which is a good sign.  One more.  Back to CPR.

The number 30 barely gets out of my mouth for the second time as the ambulance pulls up next to where I’m hunched over on the sidewalk.  They waste no time in getting him on a gurney and taking over CPR, and I don’t resist; I’m already exhausted.  Do I know his name? His age? Is he on any medications? What happened before he collapsed?  “I have no idea” is my response to every question.  Do you need my name, I ask, disappointed they didn’t ask for it sooner.  The EMT, younger than I am, mumbles something about getting it later. Doors slam and sirens cry as the old man is carried away to the nearest hospital.

Two days later the local paper runs a story about the old man, burying it on page 7 beneath the police report and  the high school basketball team’s loss to a nothing school from 45 minutes away.  He was dead on arrival, despite valiant efforts by local EMS, as the paper describes it.  No pictures or mention of any outside help from bystanders at all in the one paragraph article.  The old man died, and I can’t even get my 40 bucks back. The paper was always a piece of shit anyways.

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