Saturday, 4 May 2013

First Aid

I was about sixteen when I learned how to resurrect people - or at least ensure a sufficient flow of oxygen to the brain to hope for some kind of survival, in a recognisable form, until the paramedics arrive.

I expect the Youth Club and the Community Centre where I was trained with a revolting dummy, are both long gone, as neither are fashionable in these days of rugged austerity. But THIS is not about THAT. One day, when I'm mad enough... .

Here's a bleak bleak scene. Manchester. The Peak Forest Canal - 1974: An empty lock alongside a smut-caked factory building - vast, as factories were serious affairs when Victorians built them. The lock is not completely drained. In a few feet of water a child is dying. Desperate men are trying to lift him out. It's fifteen feet of slimy wall to the canal side above. A nine-year old brother shouts, 'My mum'll kill me.' I walk slowly forward, I want to help. I always want to help.

I'm the only person with CPR training. But I am twenty-two, and it was so long ago.

I try. I take this lifeless boy in my arms, I lay him down, and I try. He gurgles, but he is limp, his eyes are dead. I keep trying, I turn him over, I try to empty him of water. He is dead. I walk away.

I grew older and I grew up and I became a head teacher. One day, I went to a head teacher's conference in Harrogate. I am forty-eight now, and the tiny body, in my arms, is a distant memory. A man is about to drown beside me. I am in the hotel swimming pool doing some lengths in my black bra and pants, hoping no-one notices.

'He's going down!' I heard a shout from the side of the pool, I turn, the man beside me cries out and disappears beneath the water. He's a big man, and I'm in my underwear. He's drowning.

'Not this time you don't.' The thought comes so quickly, though time seems to stand still. He's a big man. He'll pull me down too - and he does. I instinctively bend my knees, so that when my feet hit the pool floor, I can spring up. I bunny-hop both of us in this absurd fashion, to the side of the pool. People haul us out.

'Thank you! ' the rescued one splutters.

'That's all right.' I reply, turning crimson, because I'm dressed in my underwear.

I bolt for the dressing room. I never see the man, who's life I may have saved, again. It doesn't matter. I am jubilant. Somehow, I can forgive myself for the little boy who's life I couldn't save, so long ago.

Aunty Ethel wasn't even dead.

It was my parents' fiftieth wedding anniversary, so I am fifty-one, and I ruined it. My father never, so far as I can recall, was ever seriously angry with me until this day. I thought he had the right to be a bit upset, though I maintain it wasn't entirely my fault.

Aunty Ethel, in her eighties, collapsed in our dining room. I felt in vain for a pulse and couldn't find one. Dad was right behind me.

'I'm so sorry Dad, Aunty Ethel's collapsed - she's dead.'

Two things happened instantaneously. Dad groaned, and Aunty Ethel sat up. She was dead DRUNK and had toppled over in an alcohol-induced stupor.

'Mary Ellen!' My father roared, ' I wish you'd THINK sometimes!'

Everybody laughed about it afterwards. Except me. I am glad Ethel survived my diagnosis of death, of course I am, but imagine how I felt! My credibility as a first-aider was shot to pieces for ever.

Or was it?

The last time I renewed my First Aid Certificate the trainer, said, ' We don't look for a pulse in very elderly patients, because very often, one can't be found.. '

My colleagues were more than a little bemused when I punched the air and shouted,


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