Save a Life Stories, Guest Blogger Jaeme Ahern
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the true lifesaving value of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Unfortunately, it often isn’t until we’ve had a CPR experience ourselves that we fully grasp the significant difference it can make between saving a life and losing one. To enlighten our assessment of the true impact of CPR, individuals who appreciate it daily, two Emergency Communications workers who have been CPR certified through National Health Care Provider Solutions (NHCPS) have kindly shared their stories to inspire you to learn how to save a life. These are the people who receive the calls, fight the good fight, and carry their stories with them as something to learn from and reflect on every single day.
This first story is told by Jaeme Ahern, Emergency Communications/EMD and a member of the Disque Foundation Advisory Board. From Jaeme’s story, we get to see both the redemptive triumph and the despair of tragedy when faced with a CPR emergency.
Story 1, “Christmas”
“Every once in awhile someone will ask you, “What is the worst call you’ve ever taken?” I never tell them the real one. Usually I tell them the one I got the stupid award for. The one that I was just the poor slob that picked up the phone – the lottery winner. Yes, I asked the right questions, yes I was persistent, but that call had nothing to do with me. I was just, literally the one who happened to pick up the phone.
No, my worst calls are ones I don’t talk about; at least not with people outside of the business.
They’re not always the ones you’d expect. They’re not the goriest or most dramatic usually. Sometimes they are the quietest ones. Sometimes they are the ones where I wish I had said something differently, said something more. Usually they are the regrets.
When most people make a mistake at work, it costs money, or an account or a sale. Sometimes a customer. Usually it is something that can be fixed, somehow. When I make a mistake at work, it can cost a life. In the worst case, it can cost the life of a member of my crew. That haunts me each and every day.
Most calls don’t bother me. I am very, very lucky that I don’t have children. I’m actually quite lucky that I don’t like most small humans all that much. Many of my peers are deeply affected by ‘bad’ child calls. I am saddened, but they don’t scar me the same as someone with children of the same age… It is a good thing in that respect.
Occasionally, I worry that for the most part I do not take my job home with me. For the majority of the time, the calls I take do not bother me. But I was born to be a warrior. Even as a child I daydreamed and played at saving the world and fighting battles. Some of us are just the sheepdogs. We are put here to know things and see things, hear things and do things that most of society cannot and should not know about or deal with. We protect you in the night; we keep you safe from the dark. That pleases us. That fulfills us. That is our calling. We keep the wolves at bay.
A decade or more ago, in the dark hours of morning of Christmas Eve, I took a 9-1-1 call from an address I recognized. Back then, I was naive enough to believe I was charmed to be dispatching far away from the community I grew up in. I knew few people in my adopted home. Early on, I’d witnessed a dispatcher take a call from her grandparent’s home; her grandmother was having a heart attack. I was righteously pleased this was not the case for me.
But now, four or five years into my tour, I knew my officers by voice. I knew their quirks and idiosyncrasies. I knew their wives and girlfriends’ names for when I had to call them out at dark. And I saw the name and address on the 9-1-1… and my heart sank. For now – somehow – these damn arrogant officers, deputies, firefighters and paramedics had become my family.
And the number on my screen came from that family. A kind and somewhat Barney Fife-ish Sergeant who had been doing this since before I was born. A CPR Instructor who had just done my re-cert a few weeks ago. He had found his wife on the floor in the bathroom. And this CPR Instructor… I had to coach him through the basics… I had to count with him.
It was, of course, fruitless. Calls were made. The OD was called. The ‘family’ that is thicker than any family of blood and genetics drew together in minutes, in a quarter of an hour in that cold winter Christmas Eve morning. Solemn words were murmured to each officer on the graveyard shift… word went out…
It was a call I’ll never forget. There were children – the youngest a beautiful towhead blonde just entering her fragile teenage years… I just remember what a kind and goofy Deputy he was. And our lives were always connected now in this moment. To this day, I don’t even know if he knew it was me on the other end of the phone. It was the first time I had used his first name.
It is not long before the cycle balances itself out. I was working an extra shift on Christmas day, a mere six or eight hours later, so a coworker with family nearby could be home for the holiday. I picked up 9-1-1 to another CPR call. This one was a seven-year-old not breathing. This one was much more complicated; he had a stoma. At the time, our EMD cards did not have protocol for CPR with a stoma.
We improvised. We got him back. He did NOT die on Christmas.
I have no illusions that he lived much longer; he was a very ill young man. But he did NOT die on Christmas. It was among my first CPR saves.
Most people do not have a single CPR save in their lifetime. I’ve had more than half a dozen. I’ve coached a smart, competent grade school student through telling her frantic mother how to do CPR on her infant brother – that was a save.
I count that among one of the best/worst calls. The student received an award for her composure and heroism. The mother should’ve gotten a slap. I actually stopped counting. That’s pretty arrogant.
Christmas Eve morning never comes now that I don’t remember my Deputy, his family, their loss. But every time I might get lost in the despair of it, I remember the next day – not even 24 hours later – that a little boy did NOT die on Christmas.
Some of us are born to this. I am so very, incredibly blessed that I am back to my calling. I never actually thought I’d be back in Public Safety. I was burnt out beyond belief. I needed the break, but I’m back and more grateful than ever. My group had a quick ‘under control’ at a house fire Sunday night. It was an Advent wreath’s candles left burning. A lot of damage to the house, but no lives lost. And they saved the dog. No one was hurt. My crews went in and knocked it down within minutes. NO ONE is prouder than I am. And they saved the dog.
A couple of weeks ago, friends were leaving after church to go to the most wonderful gourmet candy shoppe. And I was heading in for a 12 hour shift of Narcan, CPR and people rolling their cars on Route 24, and whatever other mayhem awaited. It really struck me that night.
There are people with “normal” lives; the “rest” of the world. And then there’s us.
Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change a thing. I LOVE my job. I don’t love the hours, or the insomnia. But I do love the people I work with. I love the insanity, the uncertainty, the fact that it’s never, ever the same. I love the fact that every person I work with is willing to lay down their life for a stranger. Period. Some for different reasons than others… but each and every one of them will go into a burning building, run toward the danger, for you.
Not one Christmas Eve morning will ever go by again when I don’t remember the loss. The knowing that everything changes in a heartbeat. That one of the kindest, goofiest CPR Instructors I knew needed coaching, because it was his wife.
And not one Christmas will ever go by without my remembering that a child did NOT die on Christmas.
We may not win the war. But we SHOW UP for the battle. Every day we show up. We show up for the battle. Because it’s about showing up.
Christmas Eve night, a CPR instructor found wife unresponsive on floor in bathroom. She passed. I came back in that night and the first call was 7-year-old not breathing with a stoma. We saved him and it was a save on Christmas. He did not die not Christmas. Five saves.”
Jaeme learned from these experiences and, instead of giving up under the heavy, emotional pressure, used them to grow stronger in the continued fight to save lives.
Story 2, “Riding Instructor”
This next story is a fitting example of how CPR can save lives even amidst tragedy. CPR is an invaluable tool, although there are times when its efforts fall short and a life is lost. However, the act of performing CPR is never made in vain. Jaeme Ahern shares an incident involving multiple CPR attempts on a patient who fell off a horse.
“A riding instructor friend of mine, who went and studied new training techniques two times a year with his teacher, went to a riding clinic in June of 2016. While getting on a horse, the animal was spooked, and the teacher went airborne. Tragically he hit the ground wrong you could just tell. Upon inspection, it was clear that it was a case of internal decapitation, so you must wait because you don’t want to move someone in this type of situation. He was losing color quickly.
Another person came over to help and began checking his vitals, she was a respiratory therapist. He wasn’t getting air, so we looked at each other and determined we needed to begin performing CPR. We called 911, and continued to perform CPR until deputies and the police came, and finally an ambulance arrived. They were able to get a heart beat back. Sadly, on the ambulance, the patient passed away from being internally decapitated. But he was airlifted to the hospital in Boston as an organ donor. Because they had performed CPR immediately, his organs were donated to a minimum of 6 people. Although he did pass, it was still a successful act of CPR. If we had not performed CPR, six people would have died.”
The two stories are examples of the good, the bad and the redemption that can come from the live-saving efforts of CPR. In the first story, we see how a failed CPR event is shortly followed by a redemptive triumph, because those involved continued to fight the fight and learned from their past experiences. In the second story, CPR was unable to save one life, but its efforts preserved organs that were then able to save six lives. In both incidences, there was a bright light at the end of a tragic tunnel.
Stories such as these are the backbone of the Disque Foundation’s mission to empower others through its Save a Life Initiative. Through certified CPR training, you too can join the hundreds of thousands who have already joined the initiative and help us reach our goal of empowering a million individuals through CPR training by 2020.
Interested in becoming involved? The Disque Foundation offers medical courses in CPR, First Aid, BLS certification, and ACLS certification, among others. If you are interesting in volunteering, feel free to reach out here.
We recognize these heroes who dedicate their livelihoods to helping others; to saving lives, and carrying the burden of the stories that do not have happy endings. We acknowledge them because although we may sometimes forget, they never will. Because their lives are all about the rest of our lives. They are our leaders of “Save a Life”.