“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.