20 July, 2011

Better late than never

So here's the thing.

This is actually a post I wrote over a year ago, back in May 2010, but for some reason never actually finished. I came across it recently, and was surprised to find it was almost completed - it literally just required the final paragraph to be added - so I'm not sure why I never got around to adding that final touch. So I've added a final paragraph, and have made a couple of minor editorial changes, but otherwise this is the post as I wrote it at the time, while the incident was still fresh in my mind. Enjoy.


So here's the thing.

I think a lot of us go through life with these self-illusions, or perhaps delusions is the proper word, about how we would respond to particular situations. We imagine ourselves responding to urgent situations with a blinding deftness and a quickness to resolve whatever problems arise. We really are the heroes of our imaginations. So, for instance, every now and then (being the paranoid person that I am) I find myself wandering through the house at 1am, checking all the doors and the windows in the house because for some reason I have a horrible feeling that tonight someone will break in. And on those occasions, I start to wonder what I would do if some intruder did break into my house, and in my mind, the answer is always the same. I have a cricket bat that a former flatmate gave me as a Christmas present, and it happens to sit by my bedroom door. (It's not there because of this whole imagined situation; that's just the most convenient place to keep it.) So, if someone were to break in, I would have a weapon easily to hand. I would sneak out, surprise the intruder, a couple of quick blows to the head, knock the guy to the ground, then if he happens to have a gun I would take that gun and shoot him in the kneecap (just to incapacitate him), and there we are. Problem solved. The problem is, that's a scenario that comes from watching too many action films, one where I'm basically imagining myself as a marginally more humane John McClane, and I'm not sure I look that good in a singlet.

So it's Sunday morning, and I'm going to church, because that's what I do on Sunday morning. Now, as I've said before, I'm not usually that good at being on time to anything really, but this week I was doing pretty well, in that I was only twenty minutes late for the service. (As a general rule, I feel I'm doing well if I'm less than half-an-hour late for most things.) So I walk into the church, which was pretty much full, very few empty seats, and those few that were empty were generally in the middle of a row. But there was this one empty seat at the end of a row, sitting next to this girl. I walk up, quick "Hello is this seat saved no may I thanks," and now I have a seat.

So the sermon starts, and this week it's all about Deborah and Jael, which is a pretty interesting story. (If you're not familiar with it, you can read it here.) Basically, the story reaches its culmination with one of the characters, a woman called Jael, offering to hide the bad guy, Sisera, in her tent while she stands guard outside. Then, while Sisera sleeps, Jael takes a big heavy wooden tent peg and a hammer, holds the tent peg above his head, and then hammers the peg through his brains. (Incidentally, there are some really interesting stories in the Bible. Also, when I read the Bible these days I'm really shocked at how young I was when I got my first proper non-kids Bible.)

So the sermon is going on, and the person preaching was reading the passage about this death, when I saw some commotion about five rows in front of me. Basically, this guy collapsed in his seat, and the people around rushed to help him. Now, I'm not proud of the fact that my first response to this event was mild amusement at the thought of this person having fainted at the graphic description of the death of Sisera. But my amusement was very quickly tempered by the realisation that this was serious. There was a circle of people surrounding the guy, shielding him from view, which is appropriate - there's something unpleasant about the idea of people sitting and watching like spectators while someone is in serious medical trouble. But despite the circle of people, I could see the guy's hand, which was as close to white as I have ever seen a person's skin. Seeing that really made me anxious for this person, and I pretty much spent the next ten minutes just sitting in my chair, more or less ignoring the rest of the sermon and just quietly praying for him, because what else am I going to do. I figured the guy is probably more or less okay, since the person preaching noted the commotion, and was given a "carry on preaching" signal. (I don't know what they would do if he had died, but it certainly wouldn't be to continue with the sermon.) After about ten minutes, the guy sat up, was helped to his feet, and then walked supported out of the auditorium. So that was a relief. I don't know what happened to him after he left, but when he left he seemed weakened but okay. In any case, the excitement of the service seemed over.

So a little time passes - it's maybe five or ten minutes later, everything seemed normal, when the girl in the seat next to me collapses onto my shoulder. Surprised, I turn to look at her. Her head was rolled back, her eyes vacantly staring, her mouth open. She was shaking, but I don't know whether I remember noticing that or whether it's something that I only think I remember because her friend mentioned it later. All I knew was that she was having a seizure ........... help. What the hell do you do with a seizure? I remember learning what to do back when I did a first aid thing at intermediate school, but that was twenty years ago. I can't remember what time my church starts, how am I supposed to remember something I learned one time when I was 12 years old? And for some reason, it never occurs to me to try and put the girl on the ground, even though that's what I watched everyone do not twenty minutes ago. Instead, for no readily apparent reason I tried to push her back into a sitting position. Meanwhile I turned and waved frantically at a nearby usher, "Get someone!" It's at this moment that events start to blur, and I have no memory of anything that happened. All I can remember is how completely pathetic and ineffectual my response was under pressure. I think I just sat there, holding her upright, thinking "What the hell do I do now?" I remember her friend calling the girl's name at her, trying to get a reaction, but even though I heard her name a good ten or twelve times, two minutes later I had no idea what her name was, and I still don't remember. At some point, I got out of my seat, but I don't know why, and I certainly cannot work out why I thought it was a good idea for me to kneel on the ground beside my seat. (Seriously, the girl is sitting in her seat; what good is kneeling on the floor going to be?) Fortunately within a minute, the paramedic arrived - he was still outside responding to the previous guy who collapsed. And by this time, the girl was starting to recover, which was a relief.

So they went outside, I stayed inside the church, because I'm not going to follow them, because she doesn't want some stranger hanging around. Anyway, she seemed fine now, which I was relieved about, and she had someone there who actually knew what they were doing, as opposed to my ineffectual waffling about. But then the paramedic wanted to talk to me, wanted some more information about what had happened, which really made me feel awkward because I couldn't answer his questions because I had no idea what happened. I remembered the initial shock I had on seeing her, and that was literally all I could recall. And then, having been completely useless at answering any questions, I was unsure what to do. I couldn't go back into the service, since it was just finishing, but it seemed callous and uncaring to just leave. So she was sitting there, talking to her friend, slowly recovering. Meanwhile I stood a distance away, just mulling around in the post-service crowd, anxiously watching her but trying not to be creepy about it (I mean I'm legitimately involved, but still), I'm worried about her, is she going to be okay, I think so, she looks fine now, all at the same time feeling incredibly guilty over my completely ineffectual response. After a couple of minutes she gets up and leaves in the ambulance, along (I assume) with the first guy that collapsed. In any case, I was glad when she left, since I no longer needed to worry about how one behaves around someone who collapsed onto you and who you were utterly useless in helping.

In any case, I now know what to do when someone has a seizure. You roll them onto their side, cushion their head, and keep their airway open. So now the action man that I am is prepared for two eventualities: house burglars or people having seizures. Now I just need to try to keep the two procedures clear in my mind. (Key thing to remember: if someone is having a seizure, do not hit them on the head with a cricket bat.)

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