Thursday, 22 April 2010


I had a phone call today that I knew was going to come eventually, but had been trying to put out of my mind.

One of the down sides of living out in the country is that the nearest hospital with an Accident and Emergency department is a 45-minute drive away. Because of this, a First Responders group was set up in the village a few years ago. R and I signed up along with many others. We did the necessary first aid courses, got our certificates and our names were duly added to the list of Responders.

Although I took the training and the exercises seriously, I never really expected to have to use it, beyond the odd cut finger or sprained ankle.

I certainly didn't expect to find myself using it on my own for nearly 40 minutes in the early hours of one August morning.
But that is what happened and, in all my naïveté, I thought that once the paramedics had arrived and restored his pulse, it would all be plain sailing from there. The fact that, when I arrived at the hospital, the A&E nurses were full of praise for the way I had kept him going, made me even more certain that everything was going to be alright.

Pride certainly does go before a fall.

But back to the First Responders group.
Once a year we had to attend a training course to revalidate our certification. Naturally last year, it was politely glossed over and nothing more was said.
But the year has come full circle and Neil, the training coordinator, rang me this evening to ask - very gently - if I wanted to do the CPR course this time around.

I know that I ought to go and do it, if only to exorcise the demons in my head.

But I can't. I just can't.

The thought of touching that truncated plastic dummy is making me feel physically sick. The flashbacks that have been under control for months now started up again almost the minute I put the phone down.
All I can think is that that stupid dummy feels nothing like a lifeless body that is depending on me to keep it going. It isn't gasping as though it is still desperately trying to stay alive. Its skin is a healthy flesh colour - not blue. It doesn't have the dead-weight of what had been a healthy vigorous man just a few minutes before.

And nothing - absolutely nothing - prepares you for the possibility that you will do all the drill, perform CPR for as long as it takes, and the person will still go and die on you. The childlike belief remains that following all the steps on the DR ABC list will miraculously restore them to life, while in reality the truth is that all you are doing is merely improving the odds a little in their favour.

I know I should do this, and will probably feel better afterwards if I do.

But I just can't.

Not yet.


  1. oh dear. i get that. I had to take a CPR class about two months after my husband passed away. I had to take it for work. I completely freaked out in it and had to leave. All I could think about was my husband had to get this done. His friend had to do this to him. This year's class I made sure a very funny and supportive friend sat by me. It made it much easier.

  2. i completely understand this. i performed CPR to my own husband. and i failed. working on him, talking to him, asking him to please stay with me, it all failed. he died under my hands.

    you are not a coward. everything in it's own time. i cannot imagine having to do CPR again. would if the situation ever presented it again, but dear God, i think i would actually take a second to see if someone else was going to step up.

    i wish you peace.

    i failed my husband. what if i failed someone else?

  3. I don't think it's cowardice. I think it is healthy trauma management. More brave to care for yourself and know your limits, in my opinion. I went back to our river to swim less than a month after matt drowned. I had to - it was our spot, it was, and still is, beautiful. I knew if I didn't go back there, stand in that spot, swim, float (and scream a lot), I never would. And I need to have our spot. However, playing "rescue" while babysitting a 3 year old boy, complete with helicopters, search planes, fire engines and ambulances sent me into a tailspin of flashbacks and bad, bad things. Trauma sucks. Sometimes the triggers come unannounced, but if you can see them coming, it is not at all cowardice to choose to turn away.

  4. Heavens, dear, I agree with everyone. It is NOT cowardice. It's taking care of yourself and ensuring that you can do a good job of what you offer to do.

    I can't even watch medical TV shows anymore. You're quite responsible if you feel even the slightest tug toward serving.

    You're my favorite superhero anyway, and you DID trim those sheeps' nails... what more could you expect to do?

    Hugs from across the Atlantic!


  5. Agree with all the previous comments. Sometimes admitting what we are unable to do is the exact opposite of cowardice. And I sure hope you give yourself some major credit for your strength and insight. You rightly deserve it. No one should be talked/forced into doing something until they feel comfortable with it. The question should be "What will the end result be?" And if there isn't a really good one, it makes sense to skip it in good conscience.

  6. Anonymous06:01

    Wow. It would appear that you are being very hard on yourself. Perhaps try thinking of how you would advise a friend in the same situation. Would you be cracking the whip for them to get on with it, or suggesting they take their time and be gentle on themselves, knowing that it is someone else's turn to do that difficult work for a while?