When I first learned CPR, it wasn’t for anything special. It was for a job. I wanted to spend my summer outside, wear sunglasses, get the occasional glimpse of a girl my age in a swimsuit. I wanted my summer to be more like an 80s movie than work. I applied to be a lifeguard.
The CPR hardly seemed important. It was just a hoop I had to jump through to make my summer vacation ideal. Of course, I got lucky—I never had to perform CPR on a real person. That’s what I dreaded every morning when I woke up. That, and the more likely issue of having to get in the frigid water before the pool even opened for business.
I like to think I was ready if an accident did happen, but I never thought about the possibility that someone close to me would need emergency treatment.
Nancy, however, learned CPR for that very reason. I met her at a Red Cross First Aid and CPR class a few weeks ago. Even in her sixties, she’s beaming with more life than anyone in the class. I can imagine her reading a children’s book aloud to a captivated audience of little kids, or crossing the street with them, hand-in-hand—so it’s no surprise when she tells me she runs a day care. It’s no stretch of the imagination to think that she shows the same compassion for her husband, Ernest, or anyone else for that matter. Through large gold-rimmed glasses, she tells me about herself, and when she laughs, her whole body laughs with her.
After Ernest’s third heart attack, Nancy thought it was time she learned to respond in case tragedy struck again. She’s grateful that Ernest has made it this far, and she’s not leaving it up to chance anymore. She’s already lost too many people close to her.
When Nancy was 16, she fell in love with a young man named Robert, who she soon married. When he was 40, Robert was diagnosed with diabetes, and few years later, he suffered a heart attack. He made it to the hospital in time for the medical professionals to save him, but a few days later, complications from the diabetes took his life.
Nancy later remarried, to Willie. He had an enlarged heart, and at 44 he suffered a cardiac arrest that happened so quickly the ambulance didn’t even make it to the house in time to save him.
Several years later, Nancy met Ernest, and married him soon after. He’s 72 now, and he’s had three heart attacks and three heart surgeries. The most recent attack started with some chest pain. Ernest knew after the first two that this was a bad sign, and he headed straight for Metro South Medical Center. While sitting in the patient room, speaking to a nurse, Ernest collapsed—flat-lined. The staff responded immediately, and brought his heartbeat back. But that was too close for Nancy. She vowed to learn CPR in case an emergency like this happens again.
I spoke to Nancy again a few days after the class. When I called, I could hear the bustle of children at “Nancy’s Day Care” in the background. I imagined her there on the phone, still beaming—kids frolicking around her Chicago home, maybe one on her lap. She said that every morning now she wakes up and practices the CPR and First Aid she learned. She wants to be prepared in case one of these kids needs emergency care, too.
To find a CPR and First Aid class in your area, visit http://www.redcross.org/en/takeaclass.
Written by: Jonathan Bressler