It was right around this time last year that I left my home in Jackson to visit my parents in Omaha, Nebraska to celebrate the Fourth of July.
It was extra special because my dad and I kept it a secret from my mom, who was battling multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that turns your bones into swiss cheese. When my dog entered the house, my mom said, “Gosh, I wonder if Charlie Rose walked all the way from Wyoming to get here?” I jumped around the corner and gave her the surprise of the year with a big hug.
It was the evening that the Democratic Convention kicked off. We were all gathered around the TV, listening to reporters do man on the street interviews, while of course, adding our own commentary.
I remember the reporter said something and I knew my mom was going to have a quirky remark. So, I looked in her direction in anticipation. Just as she opened her mouth, her eyes rolled into the back of her head and her chest and shoulders began to shake. My immediate reaction was that she had a seizure, from all the medications that come with cancer. I screamed, “Mom!” thinking I would get a response from her, but she didn’t respond.
I quickly call 911. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my mom, and best friend, wasn’t breathing. My dad and I picked her up out of her favorite recliner, put her on the floor of our living room and I started doing chest compressions. Almost immediately, I felt the bones underneath my hands crack, and she moaned. It took me a moment to realize that the sound was just the air being pushed out of her lungs.
I looked into her eyes, as I pushed down on her chest, to see if there was any kind of response. But she wasn’t there. Her eyes were glossy and dark, empty and staring at the ceiling.
After a short while, she started dramatically gasping for air every 30-seconds, but without any other cognitive reaction. At first, I thought, “She is breathing!” but it didn’t seem natural and something inside me said to keep pushing on her chest.
I flashed back to a few weeks prior, when I was working with Jackson Hole Fire and EMS to train bystanders at local grocery stores on how to perform Hands-only CPR. I remember telling people to sing the Beegees song, “Stayin Alive” to keep the beat. To keep the beat of the heart pumping blood to the brain. So, I started to sing. “Stayin’ Alive! Stayin’ Alive. Ah Ha ha ha Stayin’ Alive.” I hoped that she could hear me. I hoped that she would stay alive.
It seemed like forever, but in reality, it was only 7-minutes before I began to hear sirens. Slowly and slowly, it grew louder and louder, until it was all I could hear. The EMTS hastily entered the room, immediately set up an AED, counted down and shocked my mom’s heart.
In the background, I was cheering her on, as if I were at a basketball game and she was the last hope of winning the game on free throw shot, “Come on mom. You can do it!” I said, as my body shook from shock and adrenaline.
They worked on her for a good ten minutes before lifting her up on a stretcher and calmly telling us what hospital they were taking her to.
On the way to the hospital, I was sure that my mom was no longer with us. In fact, the sun was setting and spreading its colors across the flatlands in a magnificent way and I thought, “there she goes, into the universe”.
But when we arrived at the ER, I was stunned to hear that my mom was stabilized. And that, in fact, her heart was beating on its own. I couldn’t believe it. I talked to the ER doctor, who told me, that she had a sudden cardiac arrest. He also said, that if I had not called 911, started CPR, and if an AED had not been used, she would not be alive.
Sadly, my mom’s cancer was a lot worse than any of us knew and this catastrophic event, only made it worse. My mom lived for six more days in the ICU until her heart eventually beat for the last time.
And while those last six days were devastating, and a lot of big decisions had to be made, we at least had those six days. In those six days, I held my mom’s hand and told her that I loved her and that she was the best. She was able to mouth those words back to me. In those six days, my brother was able to fly-in from Florida, to say he loved her. Her best friend since third grade, was able to fly-in from Delaware to say, “I love you.” My dad, who had spent the past 42-years loving this woman, was able to say, “I love you.” We were all able to say what we needed to say. And she heard it. And responded. All because 911 was called, CPR was performed and an AED was used.
My mom’s story didn’t have a happy ending, but if it weren’t for the cancer, maybe it could have. And, even though it didn’t end up the way we wanted or hoped for, we were all able to have a sense of closure and peace in our hearts.
I’d like to encourage everyone to learn CPR, even if it’s just Hands-only. Those two simple steps are the difference between life and death. Call 911, and press hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the Beegee’s song, ‘Stayin’ Alive.’ It could save, or prolong a life. Maybe even the life of someone you love.