52: CPR 101

52: CPR 101

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

CPR 101

We are not put on earth for ourselves, but are placed here for each other. If you are there always for others, then in time of need, someone will be there for you.

~Jeff Warner

“Please help me!” someone shouted while pounding on the front door of our apartment. The voice didn’t sound familiar, but the “knocking” got stronger, and the words turned into frantic screaming.

“I’ll be right there,” I said, as I grabbed the first thing out of the closet — one of my husband’s old sweatshirts. I had just arrived home from work — an hour later than my usual time — as I had attended a refresher course on CPR that day. Although I worked as a medical secretary — for a surgeon’s office across from Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington — the course was still required of all employees.

My husband Mark and I both worked part-time and went to Spokane Bible College (now Moody Bible Institute) full-time. It was Friday evening, and I was exhausted.

The pounding on the door started to scare me, and I almost called 911 because it sounded as if someone was dying. I could feel my heart in my throat as I opened the door.

Nothing could prepare me for what I saw.

The young mother from the adjacent apartment, Heather, was dripping wet, and tears streamed down her cheeks. She had lost her voice from screaming so loudly and could only point weakly to her apartment door before she collapsed in my arms. I knew she had two children — Tommy and Crystal — but they weren’t with her.

As I ran toward the apartment, I saw she had left the door wide open. The wet footprints on the beige carpet led to the bathroom. I couldn’t believe what I found there. Four-year-old Tommy was sitting in the bathtub with his eighteen-month-old sister, Crystal, who was floating on top of the water — face down.

I pulled Crystal out of the water. Her eyes were closed, her face and lips were bluish in color, and she had no breath sounds. I laid her down on the white tile floor and immediately started chest compressions, pinched her nose and covered her mouth with mine — breathing soft puffs of air into her lungs. I continued with CPR until a gush of water released from her mouth.

I did what I was trained to do by turning her head to the side and letting the rest of the water flow out, checking her mouth for any choking hazard before continuing with resuscitation breathing and compressions. Having just finished CPR 101, everything was fresh in my mind — except I was working on a precious baby girl and not the dummy figure that we used in class.

At one point, I wondered if I was doing more harm than good. I didn’t know how long she had been in the water, and maybe she was already gone. If she lived, would she remain in a vegetative state?

Crystal’s eyes remained closed while I checked for breath sounds. There were none. Panic set in, so I prayed, “God, please let her live!” As soon as I uttered those words out loud, Crystal vomited water and started to cry.

It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. Crystal choked and sputtered, but finally caught her breath. She was breathing on her own! Her face and lips were still a bluish-purple, but she was alive.

I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around Crystal tightly and held her close to me. I shouted to her mother to call 911. Heather was shaking so badly she couldn’t press the numbers on the phone.

While still holding the baby, I hit the numbers, and the operator answered, “You’ve reached 911. What’s your emergency?”

I explained that I needed an ambulance right away as I had an eighteen-month-old baby girl who had a near-drowning experience but was now breathing on her own. The dispatcher assured me that emergency vehicles were on their way and should be at the apartment in five to seven minutes.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I could hear the sirens. I wrapped Crystal in more towels and rocked her gently while sitting on the bathroom floor.

When the firemen arrived, they pulled Tommy out of the bathtub and asked me what happened. I handed Crystal over to one of the firemen and explained that she was floating on top of the water when I found her. I performed CPR until she started breathing on her own.

The police arrived and then the ambulance personnel, all of whom wanted statements. Heather explained that she had put her children in the tub and then answered the phone. “It was only a few seconds,” she said in a quivering voice. “And then I heard Tommy screaming and saw my daughter floating on top of the water. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran to Connie’s apartment.”

I confirmed her statement while the ambulance team arrived and checked Crystal’s vitals. Her color was starting to come back, but they needed to take her to the hospital for observation and to run some tests.

The yard was filled with emergency vehicles and flashing red lights, a crowd of neighbors gawking. Heather, Tommy, and Crystal were all in the ambulance headed for Deaconess Hospital when my husband arrived home.

Mark jumped out of the car and ran to my side. “What happened? Are you okay?”

I nodded my head “yes” and blurted out, “It’s a long story….”

Crystal returned home from the hospital a week later after a bout of pneumonia, which I feared might happen. I didn’t get all the water out of her lungs. But, otherwise, she was normal and healthy and full of her usual spunk, her blond curls bouncing as she played with her brother in the front yard. Her mom never stopped thanking me. With tears in her eyes, she’d grab my hands — pressing them together — and say over and over again, “Thank you… God bless you!”

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Friday, October 8, 1976. At the time — as a busy college student working part-time as a medical secretary — the CPR class that I had to take on that Friday afternoon seemed like such an inconvenience and waste of time, but little did I know it would also be the day I helped save a little girl’s life.

In over forty years, I’ve never had to use CPR again, and I hope I never have to. But I’ve also kept up with my training because we never know when we’ll get that “knock” on the door!

~Connie K. Pombo

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