CPR and Soup

By Steven Specht No comments

It had been a month since the contractors began work at the house down the street. Though I’ve never actually met the neighbors, their constantly barking dog has been obnoxious. I had hoped these repairs meant they were preparing to move and sell.

I was on auto-pilot, walking my dog to the same stretch of woods where he does his business every day at the same time.  The soup I was planning on having for lunch was in the microwave for about 3 minutes, just enough to take care of the dog.

As I walked along the curb, I heard a guy say to no one in particular, “count to five?”  Then, I could hear gasping in a rhythmic sequence, tinged by frustration, maybe fear. 

It sounded familiar.

I thought to myself, “mind your own business, dude.”

But I didn’t.

As I turned around, I could see a man rocking forward, his cell phone pinched between his right ear and shoulder as the lifeless body of his coworker moved beneath him like a Jell-O cocktail.

My inner monologue kicked on.

“Shit, he’s doing it wrong. They do it that way on every hospital drama. You don’t bend the elbows.  Keep your arms straight to get direct compression on the sternum.”

I was hesitant at first.  It looked just like the training dummy from Boy Scout Camp, except the training dummy didn’t have a beard or a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt.  The man performing CPR was going to get nowhere with those compressions, and besides, it’s a tiring task and I had no idea how long he’d been going.

I hung my dog’s leash on the rounded section of a cyclone fence post and walked into the yard.

“I can help you if you need to take a break.”

No response. A few days later when I went by the house, I’d find out he was hard of hearing, but I didn’t know that. I just spoke again.

“Sir, if you need a break, I can assist.”

He looked up in shock at the intrusion and then with relief as someone else was going to take control. 

I moved my hands in concert with my thoughts. “Find the xiphoid process. Don’t break that.  Go up from there.  Straight down.  Don’t be afraid of breaking ribs.  It happens.”

The very first ratio I learned for CPR was while earning the Boy Scout rank of Tenderfoot when I was 11 in my local troop. At the time, the compression-breath ratio was 15:2, something that has always stuck with me, even when they changed the ratio to 30:2 later on.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve attended a CPR class. Every scout rank required a demonstration of basic life-saving skills, as did several merit badges that were required for me to earn the rank of Eagle. I was kicked out for a day from the First Aid Merit Badge, because I pretended to make out with the CPR dummy.  It was funny to me and the other scouts; it was not funny to Jenny the Nurse who was the merit badge counselor. 

Later on, in high school, I was certified by the American Red Cross in CPR as part of my Life Management Skills course. Then I took it again for my basic lifeguard certification and later recertification.

We were taught rudimentary life-saving skills in Air Force Basic Military Training and it was refreshed in SERE Training at Fairchild Air Force Base. Before each of my three deployments to the Middle East, I sat through power point presentations and had to demonstrate I hadn’t forgotten what I’d learned so many times before.  Before contracting in Afghanistan, I went through one more course taught by Army Medics that got into more advanced combat life-saving training.  It too taught the most basic set of first-responder skills including CPR.

I’d never needed to perform it on a human.

In real life, the head-tilt chin-lift was easier than I ever recall it being on the cold and rigid dummies.  It was more natural.  His limp body responded easily. 

Something else that was different was the sound of his breath rasping out of his chest. It makes a flapping sound as it rushes past the tongue.


“Flapf! Flapf! Flapf! Flapf!”


“Flapf! Flapf! Flapf! Flapf!”

As I finished the second breath, the guy put a cell phone to my ear and told me to listen.  The 911 operator was counting in the same sequence as he had been earlier, and I went along with it.  The count was fast, maybe five strokes in 3 seconds.    

“1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5.”

I interjected.

“Should I be breathing?”
“Don’t worry about it; help is on the way.”

While I compressed, I looked up to see if my dog was still at the fence.

“Fuck it.  He knows his way home if he gets loose. “

The operator continued chanting,
“1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5.”

A deputy of the Leon County Sherriff’s department showed up and took over compressions.  I told the operator that he had arrived and hung up on her. 

He switched to the 30:2 sequence and I was responsible for breathing.

“26-27-29-30 “Breathe!”

I breathed.

“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”


“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”

I was doing it without a mouthguard, because it’s not something I generally carry while walking my dog. Several thoughts entered my head at the same time.

“Interesting. I can get a seal around his beard.”


“Damn I wish I had a mouth guard… I hope this guy doesn’t have tuberculosis.


“I hope I don’t burst his lungs. My lung capacity is huge.”

The deputy calmly asked, “Is he gurgling; check for obstructions?”
I replied, “Tongue is clear; there are no obstructions.”

He did 30 more chest compressions, counting aloud as he went. I was ready this time.

“26-27-29-30 “Breathe!”

I breathed.

“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”


“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”

At this point time slowed down and I went into observation mode. He had a scar on his throat, probably an endarterectomy to remove plaque from his arteries. I could smell the cigarette smoke on him.

He looked older but not that old, younger than my dad but hardened by years of manual labor.  There was paint on his hands and I fought my urge to see if it was still wet. 

“26-27-29-30 “Breathe!”

I breathed.

“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”


“Flapf Flapf Flapf Flapf.”

The sirens were getting closer.  I glanced up to check on my dog once more.  He’d been moved around the corner by the first contractor. Good.  He’s friendly but too much excitement and he gets wild.

First a fire truck, then a regular ambulance.

Before I could do more breaths, a paramedic said calmly, “sir, I’ll be taking over for you.”

I stood up and impaled myself on the sharp points of a yucca next to the walk way.  I retreated to the corner of the fence.  My knees were dirty.  I knew they’d want to take down my information.

They pulled out an automated external defibrillator. 

I looked on intently and thought to myself, “Sweet! I’ve only seen these on TV.”

I felt a little bit guilty from taking any enjoyment when I saw his body convulse under the instantaneous shock of 3000 volts. 

The other contractor walked up to me and wondered how I got there so fast, thinking I was a professional. I stammered that I was just walking my dog and it looked like he needed assistance. 

The fire truck passed a red backboard over the fence.

The contractor asked where I put his cell phone. 

“It should be next to the yucca.”

He walked over and searched for it for a few moments before finding it beneath the knees of the paramedics.  He retrieved it and dusted it off.  I heard him say that the guy was 59.

I said, “I need to get my dog away from this excitement.”
“What? I can’t hear you.”
Louder, “I need to get my dog away from this excitement!”

He said he didn’t know how to get in contact with the guy’s wife. I dumbly stated that I didn’t either.  I fumbled with the leash on the corner of the fence.

The original deputy came up and helped me with the leash. Serendipitous that he was part of a K-9 unit as he ignored my dog jumping up on him for attention. He took down my contact information and verified my story. I explained that I breathed at first but then didn’t because the 911 operator instructed me not too.

I went home, washing my face, brushing my teeth twice, and gargling with Listerine.

My lunch was cold.

I had Con Law at 3:15 and hadn’t read the assigned material yet.