“He’s not breathing!”
That’s the first thing we heard as my partner and I exited our patrol car at a traffic collision last summer.
A group of people waved at us as they pointed to a child lying on his back. We went to the corner and there he was. His eyes were open and empty looking.
Ten minutes before, Matt and I were laughing and telling stories. Now I was standing over a dying child. I got on my knees hoping to feel a heartbeat and see him breathing. That hope was crushed as soon as I touched him.
“Do you feel a pulse?” I asked my partner as he touched the child’s neck.
I keyed my radio and said, “I need units code 3 and fire needs to step it up. I have a 9 year old who is not breathing and we’re starting CPR!”
A memory was triggered as I started chest compressions.
For a brief moment I was sent back in time to a backyard pool two months earlier. The face of a sixteen year old flashed into my mind as I remembered performing CPR on him in the dark of night. I tried to save him, but he died.
Now I was performing CPR on a child, which I hoped never to do. With each chest compression I tried to push life back into him.
“Not again,” was all I could say to myself.
As I did the chest compressions, I made the mistake of looking into his eyes. I forced myself to look away and concentrated on the compressions. I couldn’t believe this was happening again.
I could hear people crying behind me and I wondered if his parents were watching.
At one point the child let out a breath. His eyes didn’t move, but his body did as the breath came out. The crowd behind me became hopeful. I expected he would wake up at any moment.
I stopped momentarily and said, “Come on buddy,” as I tried to feel a heartbeat from his chest. My partner had his finger on the child’s neck as he tried to feel a pulse too.
“You feel it?” I asked.
I started the chest compressions again as I silently said, “Not again! Not again!”
I could hear the people behind me start to cry louder as the energy of the crowd seemed to fade. “Come on,” I said to myself.
I still believed I would win. I believed he would live. Then he made a breath sound again as his body moved.
I put my hand on his chest again as I said, “Come on buddy. Come on buddy.” I rubbed his chest like I was trying to wake him up from a deep sleep.
That was the last he would ever move again. It felt like I was at that pool all over again.
I was losing the battle with each passing second. I then glanced at his face one final time. His eyes were blank and lifeless still. Those eyes were already looking up to heaven.
I tried, but I lost……Again.
Other officers arrived to help, along with the paramedics. An officer asked if I wanted him to take over. I nodded and got up. The soul of that tiny body had angel wings now.
I walked away and never looked back. I never saw him get loaded into the ambulance. I think that was my way of moving on.
The self-doubt then started as I asked Matt if we did everything we could. I knew we had, but I needed to hear it. He replied we had.
After everything had calmed down it was just me and a few officers at the scene. I looked at the car where the child was sitting. The damage was violent and incredible. I knew he never had a chance. I also knew I never had a chance to save him either.
I made my peace in the middle of that intersection knowing there was nothing I could do.
I didn’t leave work until after sunrise. As I drove home, I thought about his parents and the pain they were going through. I also thought about my daughter, who was the same age. I couldn’t imagine losing a child.
A tear ran down my cheek at the thought of them being told he had died.
When I got home I sat in my car as I took off my sunglasses. The child’s face was in my mind for a brief moment. It seemed like I rubbed my eyes forever as I tried to erase the image.
I walked into the house and was grateful my family was safe. Everyone was sleeping and had no idea what dad saw tonight.
Hours before I was in the middle of chaos. Now I was home and all order was restored.
When I woke up, I made sure to give my kids an extra long hug.
My heart goes out to you. Thank you for putting this out there and for allowing us to “listen”. Appreciate you and your sacrifices. Be safe.
Thanks, I appreciate it.
I was in EMS. I still see the face of a small boy I couldn’t save, thirty years later.
Those are the images that stay with us forever. Thanks for sharing.
I’m so sorry. Amazing that you can still find a way to smile on other, better, days.
What happened to him? Was he a traffic fatality?
He was a passenger in the backseat of a car that was rear ended by a DUI driver.
Poor little guy. Damn.
He never had a chance.
Truly he didn’t. You tried. It just wasn’t your call.
The horrible things you come in contact with on a daily basis. Bless you for being out there for us. My son is a firefighter and dealing with children is the worst, especially when you have little ones at home. He had to retrieve the body of a 4 year old out of a drainage basin. Broke his heart. Thank you again for your service.
Thank you very much. I appreciate it.