For some reason, this incident from my past keeps welling up from my memory. It happened at a time when my life was made up nearly all of hopes and dreams, having very little substance to maintain and care for.
Working for a delivery company, I was walking down an urban street looking for an address. My eyes were diverted by a vision of spilled blood at my feet. However, looking down, I saw that there were just several fresh red rose petals fallen on the sidewalk.
As I walked on further, I spied two men in coveralls attempting to raise a tall ladder. One was holding the feet to the ground, while the other was walking it up from the other end. Though it was an extension ladder, maybe 24 feet, it lacked a rope through the pulley to raise it properly so they had to do it the hard way.
The man from the top came in closer and closer. The to went up, 10 feet, 15 feet, 20 feet, as he approached his comrade rung by rung. At about 70 degrees, the top of the ladder began to sway from side to side. He struggled to control it. Then suddenly he realized that he could not, for the weight above him had far more leverage than he did. He ducked quickly to get out from under. The top of the ladder swung out and rested for just a second against the wires suspended along the street by telephone poles. Then it came crashing down, down, down to the sidewalk below.
Only then, the man at the feet, let go of the ladder and fell back on his back and started gasping spasmodically. Belatedly we realized what might have happened to him. The workman who had been at the head end, ran to the first townhouse door to knock frantically. His partner lay there, jerking erratically.
Remembering my goodly training from my boy scout days, I began to do what I saw I must do. The man soon stopped breathing or moving. So I put aside my customary persona and proceeded methodically to deliver mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. When I delivered two or three good lungfuls, he started hopefully to breath again heavily. His breaths came fast and deep. But each breath was shallower than the last. After five or six, he came to a rest again.
I began again. This time I went a little more slowly, deliberately. Although small on the outside, all my internal cavities have unusual capacity and strength. I could give him good, rich air. This time I delivered three or four breaths to him. Then he gasped and began panting heavily again. Again, his quick breaths faded gradually back to stillness.
Very distantly I could hear his partner panickly pleading for help on a phone.
A third time I began to deliver breath to this person seeming to fight for his life. This time I gave him three, four, five good draughts and then he began, again, on his own. His efforts were a good bit weaker this time and I was prepared when they faded away yet again. This pattern went on, and on, it seemed for a lifetime, at least for 15 minutes. Each time, it took more breaths from me to get him started. Each time, his breathing was weaker when it came. Each time, the period where he was still grew longer.
Finally I heard an ambulance pull up on the street and paramedics jump out. From behind me a man said, in a slightly bored and disgusted tone, “That’s enough.”
I pulled back and rose to my knees. From there I could see that the man had completely wet his pants. I gathered from the paramedic’s tone that he thought the situation hopeless, the man gone. For just a minute I waited to see if anyone wanted anything from me, if there was anything to do. In silence, then, I got up and padded quietly away.
For awhile I reflected on the thought that “In the boy scouts, they don’t tell you that you can do everything right, you can do everything you know how to do, and still the patient will die.” I struggled all afternoon with what I was to feel about this happening, what I was to learn, what was gained, what was lost. Basically there wasn’t any change in my routine. I found the address where my package was supposed to be delivered and dropped it off. Nothing else happened that day.
We had a pretty good rally in the markets for the last two weeks. Some people are already talking about the bottom being in. But I’m older now, and more aware of the unmistakable odor …