Friday, May 15, 2015

Saving A Life On A Friday

As soon as I pulled up to the building last Friday I knew there was a problem. Emergency vehicles surrounded the Rec Center where I work. It was a trick to find a parking space that didn’t block one of the trucks.

We have sheriff’s cars out front every now and then. Teenagers acting up. Someone trying to sneak in a back door. A random stolen bicycle. But we never have multiple ambulances, fire trucks and sheriff cars.

There was an energy in the building as I walked through the front door. Where usually I am greeted only by the front desk person I am there to replace, that day many of my managers were lingering about, mixed in with deputies and paramedics.

Not wanting to be problem, but knowing I’d need to know the situation if I were taking over the front desk, I finally got some information out of one of my bosses.

On Fridays we have many older people fill up our basketball gym, playing pickleball. It’s a popular sport here in Colorado and they rarely have low attendance. One of the players left his game and went to the sidelines, holding his chest.

Several friends came over and asked if he were okay. He assured them that he was. Said this happens every now and then. He even declined a chair to sit down in.

Then a friend who is a retired nurse walked over, took his hand, looked in his face, and yelled out, “Someone call 911!”

She saw what many of us would not see – the distinct signs of a heart that is failing.

The deputy who works at the high school next door to our building happened to be driving by when the call came in. Before our front desk guy had finished his call to 911, she was running through the front door.

When she got up to the basketball gym, the man had just collapsed.

Every person who works for our large Parks and Rec Department is required to take First Aid/CPR classes, every six months. From the director down to the part time janitors. Every single person. And this is why.

The first person to reach the fallen man was our head maintenance guy. Right behind him was a lifeguard, who heard the call from the pool. Together they started CPR. For what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, they pumped away, keeping the blood flowing, until paramedics finally arrived. There was some delay as they figured out a way to get the ambulance to the back of the building, to avoid a large stair case inside. Maintenance Guy and Lifeguard kept pumping away.

Then the professionals took over. The other pickleball players surrounded them, making a stunned circle of witnesses.  

I sometimes grumble under my breath about yet another CPR class. It always feels like we just had them, and suddenly it’s time again. Kneeling on the floor is always uncomfortable and pretending to wrap someone’s head in gauze is only fun when you’re a four year old playing doctor. Then I hear the stats - that a large percentage of people who receive CPR don’t make it anyway. It’s easy to feel like ‘why bother?’

I was cured of that attitude last Friday. Later in the evening we got an update. The man had a fully blocked artery. He was receiving treatment and would go home in the morning. Go home. Back to his life with his family. Able to celebrate Mother’s Day with his wife on Sunday. Because a couple of people knew how to pump that oxygenated blood to his heart, when his heart was not able.

As you’d expect, the staff was pretty shaken up the rest of the afternoon. The young lifeguard was found wandering the hallway, after she handed her job over to the paramedics. One of my supervisors asked her where she was going. “Back to the pool. My shift isn’t over.”

She was a bit dazed, not sure what to do next. After you’ve basically saved another human’s life, it’s hard to transition back to regular life. The supervisor gave her immediate permission to go home, for a paid afternoon off. She definitely earned it.

There was a meeting with all of the people who had been present, who had helped, who might need some emotional support. Our maintenance guy was as dazed as the lifeguard had been. When I was able to call him that evening, to tell him the incredible outcome, he just kept saying, “Thank you. Thank you for calling. That’s amazing. Thank you for calling.”

It was a humbling afternoon. I’ve spoken to many of the pickleball players who witnessed the incident. Most of them said, “It was scary. We all knew it could  have been us.” One of those things that makes you consider mortality, and good health, and surrounding yourself with the people you love.

That notice will come around again soon. Times and dates for the next staff CPR classes will be emailed out to each department. I’ll have to double check my family calendar and find a time that fits on one of my days off. But this time around I won’t grumble

This time around I know that if I’m told that 90% of the people who receive CPR die anyway, I won’t think, ‘why bother?’ I’ll think of that man - that husband, dad, grandpa, and brother, who is alive today because someone knew CPR. He was spared brain damage, paralysis and death.
The ten percent is why we take the class. I’ll never forget that.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Creating A New Fan

I found David Sedaris almost a dozen years ago, when I worked in a library in New York. After reading the first book I knew I had to go find every other thing he'd ever written. I've been a fan for a very long time.

So when the opportunity came my way to see him perform in person of course I jumped on it. It was the autumn of 2013 and I took my 22 year old daughter because she would often read his books too, when I'd check them out from the library. Being a core writer for, I wrote a post about my love of Mr. Sedaris's work, and in return was comped some pretty sweet tickets, just a few rows back from the stage. It was like having him in my own living room.

The best part of the night, however, was about an hour before the show. The promoter kindly let daughter and me meet up with Mr. Sedaris, for a mini meet and greet. I asked him to sign my artificial leg, the one I have been collecting signatures on for several years now. He also signed the book I brought from home. We had a quick, fun chat, then the interaction was over. We left with some pretty great memories to store in our memory banks.

This year I noticed he was headed back to Denver. I emailed my kindly rep and she confirmed that he'd be stopping in the Mile High City on his massive book tour. I wroteanother post for GeekMom, this time about how much I appreciate the way he so casually references prosthetics in his essays, making my life feel a bit more normal. Once again I found tickets with my name on them, waiting at Will Call.

This time around daughter no longer lives locally. Hubby and middle son are spending the week in Utah. Oldest son is also residing in another state. It was down to youngest son. Fourteen year old Sam. Who had never read a single thing written by Mr. Sedaris, except for the essay I read to him every December, about holiday traditions in other countries, called "Six to Eight Large Black Men". It is our version of The Night Before Christmas, just a bit rougher around the edges. And much more likely to induce a few good belly laughs.

In trying to sell the idea to Sam I said I had great tickets to a cool author's night in Denver. In a really cool old theater. Down on 16th Street Mall, where there were lots of fun stores we could poke around in beforehand. In fact, we might even splurge and get dinner somewhere downtown. I figured food speaks to the most reluctant teen boy.

"So what's it going to be like?" he asked.

"Well, David Sedaris writes funny essays, about his life," I replied. "He will read some from his books and then answer questions from the audience at the end. And it's funny. I promise."

"So, he's like a stand-up comedian?"

"Well....kinda.  Something like that..."

We left the house at 5 pm, allowing plenty of time to run some errands, then find parking in downtown Denver before the show. We picked up our Will Call tickets about 6:40 then stood on the sidewalk out front, trying to decide if we should walk around the outdoor mall area for a bit, until it was closer to the 7:30 show time, or just go ahead and find our seats.

Surprisingly, Sam wanted to go ahead and go in.  What a lucky decision that turned out to be.

As we walked into the lobby I noticed a woman who seemed to be my rep, my favorite rep, who continues to get me these sweet tickets to amazing shows. I waited for her to turn around to make sure it was her, and started to walk her way, intending to thank her for this latest set.

She turned around. The man with her turned around too. It was David Sedaris himself. It took me a second to realize it was him. I just wasn't expecting to casually run into him in the lobby. After our eyes met, his gaze quickly looked down and saw my leg. He looked back up and said, "Hey! I know you!"

It was one of those hard to comprehend moments.

"Yes," I said (I was all kind of a blur).

"You signed my leg last year." I then whipped out the small manila envelope I had in my hand and pulled out the picture I'd had printed earlier that day. It's a picture of my signed leg, next to the signature page on my book where he'd also signed. My plan was that 'just in case' I had the opportunity to get a signature, I'd get the picture signed, then frame that picture to hang in my home office. It's much easier than displaying the actual leg.

I couldn't have imagined we'd accidentally run into him in the lobby.

He graciously signed my picture and as he looked over at Sam, he stuck his hand out. "Hi! What's your name?" he said.

Sam hesitated, in the way you do when you're so flustered you can't even remember basic facts about yourself. "Sam", he finally said. When asked how old he was, Sam managed to do the math correctly.

David then said, as he laughed, "Oh Sam! You need to do that again! You need a stronger hand shake than that!"

They shook hands again, playfully, but much more seriously this time on Sam's side. David chatted with Sam for a minute, telling him to be sure to check in with him after the show, come to the front of the line, because he had a special gift for him.

I had just been telling Sam, on the drive to Denver, how Mr. Sedaris is known for bringing small gifts to give the teens who are dragged along to his shows. I truly believe he's seriously under-estimating how much those teens love his shows, especially the dirty jokes part. But the kindness is appreciated.

Sam promised Mr. Sedaris he would come see him after the show, at the signing table. And then my kid who had informed me in a very strict voice on the drive down, that  there was NO way we were waiting for any signatures or any schmoozing after the show, was dedicated to meeting up with his friend David as soon as the show was over. 

No matter how long he had to wade through the crowds who were exiting the theater.

Since we were a bit early, and still floating a bit from our accidental encounter, Sam and I had nearly an hour of great chat time. We talked about a wide variety of topics, while we lounged in our seats, watching people slowly file in. It was one of those magical hours that you treasure when you're a mom to teens, especially teen boys.

The tickets were not as close to the front as the last set, but they were perfect. My seat was on the aisle, where I could stick my left leg out into the walkway. It's the seat I pick when I get my first choice at every event, so I can stretch out my artificial leg, when it's feeling a bit cramped during the course of the show. And since Sam had met with Mr. Sedaris before the show, seeing him clearly during the reading wasn't nearly as important.

After a lot of laughing and a lot of great essays, the show was over and the crowd worked their way to the exit. Sam helped me up the sloped aisle, which is a tricky thing for me to navigate, especially when I'm forced to 'shuffle' with the crowd. I'm not great at shuffling, or slopes, so together they are my nemesis. It was nice to be able to hold onto my baby boy's arm for stability, and as he helped me physically up the aisle, he helped me mentally once again try to grasp that this five foot ten inch kid is my baby, all grown up. Another treasured mother/son moment.

Just as promised, when Sam approached the table, Mr. Sedaris noticed him and stopped his book signing rhythm. He paused the next person in line and turned his full attention to my boy, who was beaming. "Oh good! You're here!" he said, as he reached under the table for his personal bag.

"Sam, do you ever dress up?" I thought it was a reference to the fact Sam had worn his favorite t shirt and hoodie to the show. But instead it was the deciding question for which gift he gave Sam.

In the end Sam ended up with a small business like card that has tiny lettering on it. All it says is "Stop Talking". He and Sam laughed about all the situations Sam could use it in, and Mr. Sedaris acted like he had all the time in the world to give my boy.

As we exited the theater I didn't want it to end. The perfect night out with my boy.

Another amazing meet up with one of my favorite authors. A beautiful cool night in downtown Denver, after days and days of rain and snow. I walked as slowly as I could down the sidewalk towards our parked car.

Sam fell asleep on the drive home. We chatted a little, but being a teenage boy, he wasn't prepared to analyze every single thing he did and didn't like about the show. The one thought he kept coming back to was, "I wonder what prize he would have given me if I said I DO dress up sometimes..." 

It's a question that will plague him for a very long time. Or at least until he has a chance to run into his friend David again.