if unsaid words were coffee cups
i'd never sleep again. my tongue is an
architect's dream. build me a library
and wait for the exhale-- the shelves
would curve into smiles with the weight.
a yawn at seven-thirty is
the ease with which you loosed me.

why did you bother to learn my name at all?

Before I start, I just want to promise you that this all happened. No dramatisation. The first couple of paragraphs are context, stay with me, this won't take long. It's a story I have to tell.

 

There's a man I've known for most of my life, nearly 20 years. His name is Bill. He cuts hair in a little barber's shop.

Bill's shop is in Manchester (UK) very near to where I grew up. That's how I know him. His son, Tim, went to the same high school as I did, but I never knew him because as he was starting, I was "graduating" (we don't call it that in the UK, but whatever). I've been going to his shop for years, even after leaving and returning to Manchester and living in different areas. Bill and I have very gradually got to know one another quite well. He's a very nice man, old school - which is reflected in his shop (sports cutouts on the wood-panelled walls), but with a sense of humour and a kind manner. He's about 5'6", same as me, in fairly good shape for his age, bald on top. We talk about our families and whatever's going on, joke about the fact that after years of asking him, I'm finally starting to lose my hair too. He's a good guy, it's nice.

A funny thing happened about three years ago. We were talking about football I think, and I mentioned that I was looking for a 5 a side football game to join, but it was difficult because everyone I knew who played football for fun did so on the weekend. This doesn't suit me. Bill mentioned that him and his son played with some other people every Thursday, but that as far as he knew, the game was full.

By complete coincidence, about a month later a colleague who I had also had this conversation with invited me to join a game, also on a Thursday - and who do I see as I step on to the pitch and start to warm up? Bill. I finally met his son, who I'd been hearing about for years. None of us could believe the chances of this happening, but obviously Manchester is a smaller place than we realise. Bill and his son drove me to and from football every week for a while, so naturally we all get to know each other a bit better and I start buying them a little Christmas present as a thank-you, usually a bottle of wine. I had a niggling ankle injury for a few months and they very kindly bought me some ankle protectors. The price of my haircut drops even further. It's all very neighbourly.

 

That's the context over. On the 10th of December at around 20:00, half an hour into the game, I see Bill approximately 3 metres off to my half right, slowly lower himself to the ground and stretch out. I watched this with some amusement, Bill is not exactly a young man and my first thought was that he was having a little rest, that's how it looked. I called out something along the lines of "Hey Bill, are you playing, or taking the fucking piss or what?"

Play stopped, as might happen a couple of times a game as people get minor knocks. I walked over, thinking that maybe he'd hurt himself but still with a smile on my face. I started to hear something that no one else on the pitch could, Bill wasn't breathing properly....it was quiet but he sounded halfway between somebody choking and somebody who's been hammered right in the diaphragm. That was when I stopped smiling and quite deliberately turned around and roared for an ambulance. I remember seeing hesitation and uncertainty among the other people on the pitch, so I shouted again and then I saw people quickly start to move.

I got down on my knees next to Bill's head, he looked as if he was choking on his tongue, but he wasn't - AIRWAY was clear, he still sounded as if he was being strangled, but he was clearly BREATHING albeit poorly and in gasps. I could feel his CIRCULATION in a pulse next to the tendons on his wrist. I turned him away from me into the recovery position onto his side, supported his head and monitored the ABC. Knowing when to start CPR is not always an exact science, and this all happened very quickly.

I don't know which happened first, but when his breathing stopped I rolled him onto his back and realised I couldn't feel a pulse any more. An ambulance and a first aider from the clubhouse were on their way but nowhere to be seen. I didn't bother checking for a pulse in his neck, if breathing and pulse is that weak, you get started as soon as you're ready my friends. Don't wait to be asked.

I called out to the other lads who were standing around that I had no pulse or breathing so I was starting CPR and began chest compressions. Sometime during the first set I cracked one of his ribs. I'm no expert but if you don't know the basics of CPR, look it up. Do a course. Why this isn't routinely taught and refreshed in all schools is a question for better minds than mine.

The first-aider arrived from the clubhouse with a defibrillator just as I was finishing the first set of breaths (subject's nose pinched, airway clear, chest rising). She took over compressions and when she'd finished I gave Bill another set of breaths. At this point, his face was purple and he hadn't been breathing or had a perceptible pulse for....it seemed like a long time. I was operating partly on training/autopilot, partly on adrenaline, and I have a fairly matter of fact attitude towards death. I was sure at this point that Bill was gone with very little hope of return, but as I was breathing into his mouth for the second time, on the second breath I felt something hard to describe. Like a battery motor or lawnmower trying to start but nearly out of juice. But it did start.

He started breathing again and I hope I never forget that feeling as long as I live. His pulse was back too when I checked and I punched the ground next to me in happiness as I told the people around me. I am certain that he was gone and we got him back.

The first-aider, Jen, and I got the pads from the defibrillator onto Bill's chest and the machine began to automatically monitor him. We stayed by him and talked to him. His son was obviously pretty cut up. We lost Bill again a few minutes later, but the defibrillator instructed us to keep clear, shocked him, and brought him more or less right back, if I remember rightly.

I was saying all kinds of things to Bill, to try to keep him awake and get him to respond, Tim was talking to him too. When the paramedic arrived, the first on the scene was extremely hot. We had a bit of gallows humour with that, as in, Bill wouldn't be happy when he found out who could have been giving him a kiss instead of me, how we'd all had a "shocking time", how I'd been a bit over-enthusiastic in the application of my face to Bill's face.

Shortly after the ambulance arrived, he seemed to stabilise and became more responsive. He's still in hospital. He's likely to need a mini-defibrillator unit fitted as apparently he has an irregular heartbeat. The doctors think he suffered a ventricular fibrillation rather than an infarction, which can still be enough to stop you, but is less dangerous long-term. After Bill got loaded into the ambulance and we were cracking jokes and going over it, when his son wasn't around, I told them that I'd really thought that Bill was dead for good, and that's when I realised that I was in shock.

 

To conclude, I have a friend I've known for quite a long time. On Thursday the 10th December he went into cardiac and respiratory arrest and I helped to keep him alive, and we're all very happy that he is, at time of writing, still with us. The next morning, one of the first thoughts that I had was that if I hadn't done what I did, then someone else would have. I think that's important. I had to tell this story but this story is not about me. For the sake of balance and my own happiness though, I didn't shut the next thought down that said, "Yeah, tiger cub, if you hadn't done it, somebody else would have - but you did do it"

As always, thanks for reading. Names have been changed. Merry Christmas everyone.

 

 

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