Almonds anyone?

D80F61FD-6AB8-4460-8D44-2A141E00D8A6

The other night, I was snacking on almonds when I was sent to a medical aid call involving a 96 year-old woman, who was not breathing. I finished chewing and acknowledged the call as I headed toward the address, which was right around the corner.

This 96 years old, not breathing and I was going to be the first one on scene. She had no idea about my record of CPR attempts with no wins. If she did, I’m sure she would’ve said, “No thank you,” and asked for another cop to respond.

Last year when the life saving awards were presented at our banquet, my son said with sarcasm, “Maybe you’ll get that one day.”

Someone else once told me I could win the UN-life saving award if they had that category. I’ve also heard, “Don’t go. Give them a chance.”

I turned the corner and was in front of the woman’s house in about 30 seconds. I went up to the door, which was closed and opened it as I said, “Police!”

Someone from the back of the house said, “In here!”

I went inside and saw an elderly woman face up on the couch with her eyes open. I got closer and saw her eyes move. I looked over at a man, who was her son, and asked, “What’s her name?”

He was out of breath and understandably upset as he replied, “Gabby.”

I leaned over and touched her left shoulder and said her name (a pseudonym) loudly. The woman was motionless, but she was breathing and she looked at me, which was great. At least she had a chance.

I was still bent over when I touched her shoulder again and said, “You’re going to be okay Gabby.” That’s when a small piece of almond flew out of my mouth.

I watched in horror as it went through the air in slow motion and land on her chin.  Holy shit. Did that really just happen?

Well, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and move on. Without hesitation, I reached up and plucked the almond from her face as I continued to tell Gabby she was going to be okay. At least it didn’t land in her mouth.

You just never know what’s going to happen next in police work.

The thank you that meant a lot

_DSC8063

You never know who you’re going to run into on this job.

On Saturday night, I got to work and headed straight to Starbucks to type reports and to get my daily drink. I walked in and headed to my usual table. I glanced over to the right and saw a man and a woman sitting at separate tables. Both were facing the door and looked up at the same time. I made eye contact with both and said hi as I dropped my computer off at the table.

After I got my drink, I walked back to my table and I noticed the woman looking at me. I nodded at her and sat down. About a minute later, the woman got up and stopped at my table. I looked up at her and said hello. She said, “You were the first responder that came to my mom’s house.”

“Which call?” I asked because I didn’t recognize her.

“You did CPR on my mom.”

I instantly knew who she was talking about. Her mother was my third attempt at CPR in less than a year.

She smiled and said, “I just wanted to say thank you.”

The words “You did CPR on my mom” instantly triggered the memory from that night. In fast forward motion, I remembered the call coming out over the radio about a woman who wasn’t breathing. I was there within a minute and arrived before the paramedics.

The family was upstairs when I entered the house. The sound of my boots jogging up the wood stairs told them that I was coming to help. I then saw a man bent over a hospital bed doing chest compressions on his wife. I went around to the other side and took over, hoping the paramedics would get there soon.

Then there was her mother’s lifeless face two feet away from mine as I started chest compressions. Of course, the two other CPR attempts went through my mind for the next two minutes before the paramedics arrived. She was pronounced dead a minute later.

I was in the hallway when the man made a phone call. The first words into the phone were, “Mom’s dead.”

All of this flashed through my head as I shook her hand and said thank you for stopping to talk with me.

“How long ago was that?”

“It was 6 months ago.”

She stood there and told me some stories about her parents and her mother’s illness. After a few minutes I pointed to the chair across from me and said, “Do you want to sit down?”

She smiled and took a seat. She told me about a trip she recently took and how she was her mother’s caregiver for years. She thanked me a few more times and finally went back to her seat.

A few minutes later I was dispatched to a call. I gathered my things and walked over to her table to say goodbye. Even though her mother died, she appreciated that I had tried to help. Her thank you went a long way that night and meant a lot.

Police work isn’t always about catching the bad guy and car chases. It’s about the people we meet and emotionally touch throughout our careers. That’s where the real satisfaction of the job comes.

There’s still good in people

Heroin-Rehab

What do you see when you turn on the TV? You see conflict, chaos and people who just can’t get along. You see people who would cross a busy street just to kick a person while they’re down and then celebrate about it.

We, as officers, see firsthand what mean, crazy and violent things people do to each other.

Today I witnessed something rare. I actually saw the opposite of all the craziness and nonsense in the world.

I responded to a “person down” call at one of our parks. The call said a male was inside a woman’s bathroom and not breathing. When I arrived, the paramedics were already there and treating a male, who overdosed on heroin.

A homeless woman told us she was in the bathroom at time taking a “birdbath” as she tried to wash herself. While she was in the restroom she could hear a man and woman cutting an aluminum can open to make a “cooker” so they could inject heroin.

She knew what this sounded like because she was also a heroin user.

At one point the man went down and stopped breathing. The woman who was with him, took off and left the male on the floor in the bathroom.

The homeless woman saw this and knew he wasn’t breathing. She took action and started doing CPR on him, even though he was a complete stranger to her.

She said, “I just couldn’t leave him there.”

“Did you give him mouth to mouth?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’ve done CPR before.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes. To my mom. I was 12 years old at the time.” She made it sound like her mom passed away that day so I didn’t ask her any more questions.

The paramedics were able to revive the male and transported him to the hospital. We told the woman it looked like she had saved his life and told her she did a good job.

When we were done, she walked off into the park holding a bag with all of her belongings. She went back into her little world that most people will never be able to understand.

This is because the world has forgotten her and most people wouldn’t give her the time of day because of the way she looks.

Despite this, she saw that a complete stranger needed help and she jumped in with both feet and did what she could for him.

I’m not saying it’s safe to give a heroin addict mouth to mouth, but we can all learn a little something from the spirit of this woman, who helped another human being who was in need.

The spirit she displayed wasn’t much different from cops and firefighters, who are out there every day doing things for people they don’t know. They also don’t ask for anything in return.

Just something to think about.

The Highs and Lows of The Job

_DSC6435

Tonight was the perfect example of how one call can be a complete polar opposite of the very next.

I went to a call involving two tourist who just happened to crash into each other. This woman drove two hours to watch her granddaughter compete in a cheerleading competition today. She was on her way home when her vehicle was disabled in the collision.

She was now stranded far from home with no transportation. Taking a taxi was not an option. If she wanted a rental car she would have to go to the Orange County Airport because everything else was closed. That wasn’t going to work either.

She now needed a hotel room for the night. I told the woman I wasn’t going to leave her alone and I would drive her to whatever hotel she wanted to go to.

We were in front of the Double Tree Hotel, so she checked there first. They were having trouble finding her a room and it looked like I was going to drive her somewhere else.

While we waited, she showed me a competition photo of her granddaughter and she asked about my family.

The hotel finally found her a room and it was time for me to leave. The woman thanked me again for staying and not leaving her alone. She then asked, “Can I give you a hug?” I told her she could and we both smiled. She then gave me a giant hug and I left.

I was feeling pretty good after that because it’s not every day in this job that you have an interaction like that.

The very next call didn’t have the same happy ending.

I heard the call go out over the radio about a woman who was not breathing and a family member was performing CPR at that moment. I was close by and off I went with lights and siren.

I was hired in 1994 and graduated from the academy in February of 1995. Up until last summer I had never performed CPR on anyone except for the dummy at training.

Now I was en route to CPR attempt number three since August. The first two times didn’t work out for me or the victims. Now I was feeling apprehension and dread as I raced toward the house because I knew I was going to be the first one there.

When I pulled up to the house I was mentally prepared for what I was about to do. This was different than when I performed CPR the first two times.

I went into the upstairs bedroom and there was a woman in her mid-sixties lying in a hospital bed. A man was bent over doing chest compressions on his wife of forty-five years.

I then took over for him as he watched with hope. This didn’t look good, but I still had to try. She had a lifeless look on her face and some type of fluid was coming out of her mouth.

I was in an awkward position, but I kept pumping away as I waited for the paramedics. Two minutes seemed to take forever until they arrived. When they did, they hooked up a monitor and checked for a heartbeat.

She was flat lined and they pronounced her right there. They then pulled the sheet over her face and told the family they were sorry for their loss.

She was about the same age as the woman who just hugged me on the last call.

There was nothing else I could have done. I stood in the hallway as her husband called someone and said, “Mom’s dead.”

I felt kind of weird being there to hear him make that call since this was such a private moment. It took me back to when I told my kids that my father had passed away.

Now it was time for them to grieve for their wife, mother and grandma. It was also time for me to go to another call.

Tonight was the perfect example of the roller coaster ride we call police work.

This job is also just like Forest Gump and his box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get……

The Child Who Died On Me

_DSC2760

“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.
“No.”

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.
“No.”

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.

The Death of a Child

A child’s death is never easy for the first responder, who has to experience it up close and personal. A friend at work related this personal and touching story about her experience at this type of call.

When she was sixteen, her 2-year old brother suddenly passed away. About eight years ago, this officer was working patrol and in her mid-thirties when she and a sergeant were dispatched to a call involving a dead child.

When she arrived on scene, she saw the child’s body in the bedroom and was instantly filled with the painful memory of her brother’s death all those years ago. The agonizing memory was made worse by the child’s family being there, which reminded her of how her mother had felt.

In that instant, the memory flashed into her head of performing CPR on her brother’s lifeless body as she tried to breathe life back into him. The memory of him lying in his coffin also flashed into her head like a bolt of lightning striking into her heart.

The officer had to get out of the house because she needed to separate herself from the situation. Distance was her friend and the only thing that was going to help her at this moment. Distance from the death, pain and grief that this house symbolized to her. She told the sergeant about her brother’s death and that she needed to be alone for a few minutes.

She quickly got out of the house and sat alone in her patrol car as she cried. She had no one to talk to at this painful and personal moment, which had just flooded back into her mind after seeing the dead child.

After a few minutes she composed herself and was ready to go back in. I asked her, “What did you do?” She replied, “I went back in. I had to handle the call.”

She went back into that house, which had been an emotional trigger and did what we’re supposed do. That was to be strong when others needed us to be.

All first responders have gone through similar emotions at one time or another while at work. Our job is not to stand by. Ours is to be strong, despite the tragedies we have experienced at work or in our personal lives.

This is what makes the first responders special. We are still doing the job that has to be done even though our emotions might be fighting an inner battle.

Stay safe

The Drowning

 

IMG_1229

The other night I was parked in the rear alley of the police department when I heard dispatch broadcast a medical aid call over the radio reference a possible drowning. At first, I wasn’t sure where the address was, but a quick check of the computer showed it wasn’t far from where I was. I was on the phone at the time and told my wife I’d call her right back. I then drove off with lights and sirens.

As I drove off, I had prepared myself for a positive ending. I didn’t expect anything else because the last drowning call I had involved a child, who had lived. I raced to the address and arrived as I saw a woman waving her arms at me in the street. I exited my car as she pointed to the house and said, “He’s in the back.” I ran into the house and went straight to the backyard where I saw him on the concrete pool deck with people around him. He was a 16 year old. The entire backyard was dark, even the pool didn’t have a light on.

I hurried to his side, expecting him to be breathing because people shouldn’t die on you like this. Not on me like this. We’re the good guys and we’re supposed to win.

The look on his face told me a different story than I expected. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. I touched his chest and was shocked by the sliminess that I felt. The chest did not rise, nor did I feel a heartbeat.

I then started giving chest compressions as I waited for the fire department to arrive. As I pushed down on his chest, I kept expecting to the kid to wake up, cough or do something. I hadn’t prepared for death tonight. It seemed to take forever for help to arrive, but it was probably a minute before another cop went on scene. I touched the kid’s neck to check for a pulse and felt the same sliminess that had been on his chest. I wanted to feel a pulse so bad that probably I imagined one was there as I asked the other officer, “Do you feel a pulse?” He replied, “No.” Crap!

I kept pushing down as I did the compressions, still waiting for a positive outcome. The compressions finally stopped when the paramedics arrived and took over. It had been dark the entire time and I didn’t know what the sliminess feeling had been on his chest. It wasn’t until after the firefighters had used their flashlight that I knew it was vomit.

As the firefighters started working on the kid, I walked over to someone and asked where the bathroom was so I could wash my hands. I washed them twice. Once for the slimy vomit on my hands and probably the second time, to wash the death off of them.

I walked back outside and watched as the firefighters continued CPR. I wondered if I had done enough. I wonder if my chest compressions had been deep enough. If I had done all I could. I watched each chest compression that was done by the paramedic and I compared it to how I had done it.

I spoke to a witness and took his statement before leaving. I stood out front with two other officers as we talked about the call. Before I left, I learned that the kid had been pronounced dead at the hospital.

I got into my car and drove to Starbucks for a drink. As I drove away, I could still see the kid’s face in the dark as I gave him the chest compressions. The first thing I thought was, “I don’t want to see that when I go to bed.” Every cop knows what I mean because they have all seen the faces of dead people when they have closed their eyes at night.

As I stood inside Starbucks, I was in a funk. I looked around at the people inside as they went about their lives without a care in the world. None of them knew I had just kneeled beside a dead kid, with vomit on my hands, as I tried to save his life. None knew I had a moment of self doubt, wondering if I had done everything I could.

I took the drink and walked back to my car, stared at my computer screen and pushed the 10-8 button, putting myself back into service. Part of me felt weird when I pushed the 10-8 button because now it was time to move on to the next call, which was dispatched to me within minutes. Death is part of the job, but this felt different tonight. I felt bad for the family, who would soon learn the news of a child who would never come home. As a father, I could never imagine that, but the phone call would soon come to those poor people.

I handled two more calls after that and was still in the funk. At each call, I dealt with people who had no idea what I had just seen and done. I completed the calls and then went back to the traffic office to do paperwork. Within a few hours, I felt better because I had been busy with stuff that needed to be finished.

As I walked out to go home, the watch commander stopped me and asked about the drowning call. We talked about it for at least a half an hour. I told her how the call had come out and what I had done at the scene and how I had felt afterward. She was very comforting and told me a story about how she and another officer had saved a woman’s life with CPR, but who died three months later. She also told me how she had been invited to the funeral by the family, who had been so grateful to them for what they had done.

She told me some details about the call that I did not know about, which had been learned after I had left the scene. I walked out of the building feeling rejuvenated and feeling better. My thirty minute drive home had no feelings of self doubt any more as I listened to George Lopez on a comedy station. I walked in the house grateful to see my family safe. I climbed into bed and played a game on my phone for a few minutes to relax. Thankfully, the kid’s face did not appear when I exhaustedly closed my eyes at 5:30AM.

I really think talking with the WC before I left helped me feel better. Her comforting words probably chased away the image of the kid’s face, that surely would’ve been there when I closed my eyes for bed, had she not caught me in the hallway before I left.

The next night I spoke to friends at work about the call and I felt better inside. I even got an email from a lieutenant to call him. We had only spoken on calls or during training and we had never had a phone conversation before.

I called him up and he told me about a call he had twenty years ago. He said, “I once pulled a kid out of a pool.” He told me a very personal story about how the child had died despite his efforts to save him with CPR. He told me about the self doubts he had immediately after the call and the feelings I had afterward were normal. He told me about how he had felt at the scene when the sergeant basically told him to suck it up and how he went 10-8 right after that call. He told me how he felt all these years since that drowning and to talk about it with other officers to help get it out of my system.

Another friend told me about a fatal they had driven up on while still in training. Their description of what they had seen was very vivid, despite it happening 19 years ago. It was nice to see other people at work with similar stories and how they felt afterward.

And finally, my role on this drowning call was best described to me by another friend at work. In the past, my role at fatal collisions had been as an observer. On the night of the drowning, I had been a participant and that’s what made it different. Bingo!

With the help of my peers, I am happy to say I have not seen the kid’s face at night, nor have I had a dream about it. This incident has made me wonder how many of my co-workers have had similar incidents and feelings, which were just bottled up inside?

It was a good lesson after all these years to talk about it with your peers because they have all been through it,