It has been two and half years since I helped save a stranger's life.
It was wintertime and holiday season in New Jersey. In a beautiful holiday specialty market, in the midst of a bustling crowd, I was having a children’s book signing event for my book, The Magic Gown. Children could color their own world behind the magic doorway in the tree while they waited to see Santa Claus.
I had my remarkable assistant, ten year old Emma, with me for the event. She was dressed in a one of kind, handmade, couture costume as Nizella the Fairy Queen from The Magic Gown. Emma had ventured through the loud, crowded room, to retrieve some hot chocolate for us.
A few minutes later I heard her voice calling for me but I could not see her through the red, white, and pink poinsettias, lights, and displays that filled the room.
“Janine, Janine! A woman is on the floor! She fell!”
I tried in vain to see her across the room.
Someone from the crowd yelled out, “Is there a doctor?” I ran to find a woman collapsed on the floor.
Medical Instincts to the Rescue
The woman looked to be mid thirty. My medical instincts took over and, in a matter of seconds, I had taken note of her various symptoms. Her color was bad -- pale, mottled, almost bluing. No apparent sign of breathing. I checked for a pulse at her wrist, then neck, and found none.
The fragility and amazement of life flashed through my mind -- the woman looked too young and healthy for this. And now here we were. The paths of two strangers had converged into one as I tried to save a life suddenly and inexplicably in danger.
After confirming that an ambulance had been called, I began to do CPR.I blew the staircase breaths into her and compressed her chest. More breaths…more compression. A man next to me asked if he could help so I tasked him with administering the compressions while I breathed for her.
Feeling Instant Love for a Stranger
I can only describe the feeling, when I first knelt down beside her, as an instant love for her. I can’t explain it. I had been a labor and delivery nurse and newborn intensive care nurse over twenty-five years ago and had lovingly taken care of each of my patients. But I was still surprised that I was feeling love for this stranger whom I had come upon in a most unexpected way and was now trying to save.
For what seemed like ages, we kept trying to resuscitate her. I wondered why emergency personnel were taking so long. I checked for a pulse -- there was none.
We continued CPR until a single policeman finally arrived with an automatic defibrillator. We applied it but there was no heartbeat detected. We cleared her again and the machine shocked her. Still, no heart beat. We started CPR again.
I lovingly spoke to her both softly out loud and silently in my mind as I continued: to come back, to be ok. Four times the automatic defibrillator checked for a heartbeat and found none. Four times we cleared her, and it shocked her, and we continued CPR.
Finally the EMT team arrived and instructed me to keep breathing her while they tried compressing her chest and using the defibrillator to shock her. We continued while they put her on a board and a stretcher. Then, as they began to move her we heard it; the automatic defibrillator voice detected a heartbeat. The next moment she was whisked away by the ambulance.
Return to Normal?
I returned to my tables with coloring children led by Emma, my Nizella Fairy Queen.
A few hours later, one of the employees of the market informed me that the woman was in serious but stable condition and her doctor wanted me to know that the CPR saved her life. I began to cry. The doctor said that the next forty-eight hours were critical.
Throughout the day, I couldn't get the woman off my mind. Would she be okay? Had I helped contribute to someone being seriously brain damaged?
What I had done, I'd had to do; I felt compelled to, drawn to. There had been no other choice for me, but I was distraught about her future and condition. I shared my deep concern with someone close to me and it felt better to talk about it. Everyone told me that I had done the right thing, and deep down I knew that I had.
And the Beat Goes On!
I checked with the police on Monday. The woman, who was forty years old, I found out, was in a coma and on life support but stable. I was worried she would not really be ok. Ten days after the incident, I decided to go buy a Christmas tree at the same market and ask about the woman.
I went to the customer service desk and waited for the woman behind the desk to finish a phone call. I told her who I was and asked if they knew how the woman who had collapsed was fairing. Then, what I heard was unbelievable! She had just recently gone home with only short-term memory loss and she was expected to have a full recovery. She was sore, and couldn't remember the previous week, the event, or the time in the hospital, but she was fine otherwise.
I was awe struck. What I knew medically said this was not possible. What I was hearing was incredible. I could not reply. I welled up. I went to my car and sobbed. I had experienced something extraordinary. She was ok. I felt so deeply humble and thankful.
I still think of the instant complete love I felt that day for this stranger. I am grateful and know that this experience and my feelings of love had and have meaning beyond what is explainable. Who we are and what we do for each other, the subtle synchronicities of life, the intertwining of our lives with each other -- these things do matter.
This article is an adaptation of a longer article
written by J. L. Kimmel. Subtitles by InnerSelf.
Book written by this author:
The Yawning Rabbit River Chronicle
by J. L. Kimmel.
This three-part tale opens in a once-idyllic forest where the creatures fear for their survival amid a drought so long-standing that none recall ever seeing a river and the dangers of hungry hunters. In this heartwarming tale, good triumphs over evil, danger threatens every good soul, and history is contained within the pages of an important book that appears throughout. This story will make life-long readers of youth not previously committed to reading.
About the Author
J. L. Kimmel, RN, MTS, is a writer, artist, therapist, and teacher. She is the author and artist of the award-winning children's book The Magic Gown and co-author of the award-winning young adult novel, The Yawning Rabbit River Chronicle. Creating enchanted worlds combined with realism and her love for nature is what she does best. Visit her website at www.jlkimmel.com