Tuesday, 3rd January 2012 is a day that I am going to remember for a long time.
I was still on leave from work after the Christmas break and that afternoon Pauline and I went out to do a few errands. It was the usual stuff that one does after Christmas– returning and changing unwanted or ill-fitting gifts, looking for the odd bargain and stocking up on any food that doesn’t look like ham or turkey.
On the way out to the car, we bumped into our next door neighbour, Ken. He is a lovely fellow. He and his equally engaging wife, June are living in the apartment next door to us while his son who owns the apartment, and who has recently returned to this town after a couple of years in Queensland, is living at Ken’s country home where there is more room for the children. Pauline and I chatted to Ken for about 20 minutes or so – talking about each other’s Christmas and saying we should all get together for a drink in a few days, when things were a little quieter.
Later that afternoon after returning from the shops, I went upstairs to do some work and to listen to the cricket.
About five minutes after I had sat down at my desk, the peace was shattered by the sound of someone screaming. This was immediately followed by an agitated knocking at our front door and a voice crying out for help. I ran down the stairs two at a time to find June standing at our door in a distressed state saying, “Come quickly, come quickly, he’s collapsed!”
I hurried outside and into Ken’s apartment. He was lying on his back in the hallway, completely motionless – his head resting on the bottom step. His eyes were wide open and he wasn’t breathing.
June had a phone in her hand; she had called the emergency operator, but was distressed and didn’t know what to do next. I took the phone from her and passed it to Pauline. For a millionth of a second the thought flashed through my head, “what do I do, what do I do?” but it was instantaneous and even as it was going through my head I was kneeling down alongside him, pinching his nose between my finger and thumb, breathing into his mouth and pumping his chest at the top of his sternum as hard as I could. For a moment nothing happened, there was no breath, and I realised that I had to get his head off the step and flat on the floor. I pulled him away from the step and started again. This time I was able to get breath into his lungs. Pauline was talking to the operator, and relaying the advice to give him 600 chest compressions.
Somewhere inside my head I remembered hearing or seeing an advertisement which involved Vinnie Jones doing CPR to the tune of the Bee Gees’ song Staying Alive and that’s what came to my mind as I kept pushing down on Ken's chest:
Ah, ha, ha, ha, staying alive; push, ha, push, ha, staying alive.
I kept pushing and pushing. It seemed like forever, it was exhausting. I was covered in perspiration. It was a hot day and the sweat was dripping off my forehead on to Ken. Every now and then I breathed into his mouth and each time I did it he gurgled back and once seemed to shake his head.
The clock seemed to stand still, and I felt like I had been doing it for a lifetime:
Push, ha, Push, ha, staying alive; come on Ken, come on Ken, Stay Alive!
Pauline was still talking to the operator; they told her that help was only minutes away. I could hear June’s voice in the background, saying through tears, “I thought he was joking, he does that sort of thing you know.”
I was sure I must have crushed his sternum at the very least by now. Finally, the emergency paramedics arrived. Although it seemed like forever, I doubt if they took more than 20 to 30 minutes from the time the first call was made.
They took over. After a few minutes one of them asked me if I was OK to carrying on with the heart massage so he could inject some adrenaline into Ken and set up a defibrillator. The other paramedic cleared Ken’s airway and inserted a tube connected to a manual respirator. We kept this up for several minutes only stopping while an electric jolt was administered followed by more adrenaline. After another ten minutes or so a second ambulance arrived and the four paramedics worked together to get him on to a stretcher and get a pulse going. The adrenaline worked and he had a pulse as they wheeled him out on the gurney.
The ambulance took him to hospital and we followed with June. While we were waiting one of the ambos told us that Ken had a pulse and was on a respirator, but they could not be sure that there wouldn’t be some brain damage.
I wish I could say there was a happy ending to this story, but sadly, Ken didn’t make it.
He was in an induced coma for six days and passed away in the early hours of the morning on 9thJanuary surrounded by his family from all around the country.
It was one of the most disturbing experiences of my life and the whole episode haunted me for several days.
I cannot think of anything which is at the same time more intimate and confronting than giving the so-called kiss of life, irrespective of the outcome.
The experience left me committed to do all I can to encourage everyone to learn something about administering first-aid (particularly CPR).
In a perfect world everyone would have some first-aid training. I did many years ago when I was a scout leader, and at the very least I was able to remember from this that it was critical to keep Ken's heart going until help arrived.
Please think about this – it’s not just you who needs to know what to do; it’s others around you – your family, your friends.
It’s no good if you are the only member of your family who has done a first-aid course if you are not the one present when something happens. Worse still, if the casualty is you.