Something happened the day before we left for vacation. Jeff and I were in town running last-minute errands. We were stopped at a traffic light in the far right lane behind one of those small buses, like the ones used by churches or retirement homes. The light changed to green and all three lanes of traffic crawled forward. Just a blink or two passed before the bus in front of us started to veer to the right, as if it were going to make a turn, only there was nowhere to go. It was like slow motion. I watched as the bus went up over the curve and hit a small palm and then a street light. The street light came down and Jeff had to speed to get out from under it. As we passed, I looked and saw that the driver of the bus was slumped over the steering wheel. “The driver passed out!” I said to Jeff, and quickly he put on the hazards and pulled off the road. I watched as he ran back to the bus and pulled the driver from behind the wheel to the ground. Students, meanwhile–college age, maybe–streamed out of the bus to safety.
Jeff finger-swept the man’s mouth to see if he was choking. He wasn’t. But his mouth oozed a vomit-like substance and his eyes were open. His eyes alternated between tracking and staring blankly off. He was breathing and he had a pulse. Jeff pulled the man’s wallet from his back pocket while another adult from the bus looked cautiously on. “I’m just checking for a medical card,” Jeff told her, but there was nothing there. Another man came to help. Together they rolled the sizable victim to his side because it seemed that position left him breathing easier. I stood a fair distance off, repeating an urgent but silent prayer while I looked on. The busy street was brought nearly to a standstill, dozens of people milled about on cell phone calls to 911.
With the CPR pocket mask in hand, I approached. My intention was not give CPR myself, but to pass the mask to my husband who has once already saved a life administering roadside CPR.
I keep trying to forget the sight of the man lying on the sidewalk but it won’t go away. I was sure he was dead, or very close. His lips were blue. Wide eyes stared blank, unblinking. A crazed old passerby woman crouched next to the man. She kept trying to do CPR, despite Jeff and the other good Samaritan telling her not to because the victim was breathing. I’m with the police! she kept shouting. And then she’d speak directly–loud–to the victim: Sir, my name is _____ _______. Everything is going to be alright.” The vomit still oozed. The lady visibly trembled so much that it might be more accurate to say she shook almost violently. Her husband–an elderly man–stumbled about taking pictures. It was weird and unsettling.
Finally there came the ambulance. We waited from a distance a few minutes to see if they had any questions but they had their hands full. They checked the victim’s vitals and brought a stretcher but they weren’t in a hurry to load him onto it. We watched as they pried the woman from the victim and physically restrained her. We quickly double-checked to make sure that the light-post hadn’t damaged our car and then in stunned silence, we got in the car, turned off the hazards and pulled away. I couldn’t help but look back and when I did I saw that the paramedics had started CPR. Still I can picture the paramedic’s urgent compressions–the motionless body beneath him on the sidewalk.
I’ve driven by that spot several times since. The light-post has been removed. The sidewalk is buckled from where the palm was uprooted. There is a caution sign warning pedestrians against tripping.
Several times I’ve considered what might have happened had that bus not been in the far right lane, but the left. What might have happened not only to him but to all the people on that bus and to the potential drivers and passengers in the car(s) in oncoming traffic.
I have no idea what became of that man. I wish I did. Maybe then I could get it off my mind.