Monday, September 3, 2001

the shoes - a lesson in love and life

“There’s the turtle.”
“That’s not a turtle.”
Our friends Ryan, Seth and Tina had been in the water earlier and saw a sea turtle.  They yelled at those of us still at the campsite to let us know.  We put our suits back on and decided to join them in the marine life-infested water once again.  As we waded towards them, we saw our friend Ryan pointing at something in the water.  As soon as I said that what we were looking at wasn’t a turtle, I saw Ryan swimming towards some water shoes…shoes.  Something is wrong.  I notice Ryan’s face…he realizes, too.  He lunged to the left and dove into the water towards our “turtle.”  Jason, my husband, immediately started running through the water and paused by the shoes long enough to toss them to me and tell me to go call an ambulance.  There’s no way I can make it all the way back to shore in time.  I latched onto the shoes and turned to Seth, who had gone back to the shore when we came out, and his wife Crissy.  They were about twenty yards from me and about seven from each other.  Seth’s aunt Cindy was working her way into the water and both had turned to talk to her.  I tried to scream at them to run and call 911, but the fear had already set in.  I finally realized that I had been screaming in my head and consciously told myself to pull it together and yell.  I lost count on how many times I actually said it before I got a response, but it felt like a million.  I saw the look of shock as fear set into both of their faces and knew that they were finally on the same page as me. 
That thought is gone.  Back to the task at hand.  Get to them.  Do they need me?  What can I do?  I am CPR certified.  I can possibly save this person…can’t I?!  Oh, God, please don’t leave it to me.  Don’t leave me responsible for another human being.  I can do this.  Pull it together.  Take control of yourself.  Be strong.  My thoughts raced on.
I saw Ryan relentlessly struggling to pull this body out of the water and closer to where he could stand.  He was trying so hard, but the waves… the crashing waves.  The ones we were saying weren’t strong enough an hour earlier, were pulling him back with every progressive stroke he made.  I am seriously scared.  What if he goes under too?  Oh, God, please be with him right now.  Then, finally, Tina, Jason, Uncle Mike and some other guy were all there.  Mike had a wake board.  Oh, God, please let them be okay.  I started towards them to see if I could help and then decided I should go to the shore and wait until he’s closer…too many hands in the pot.  Besides, I will need all of my strength if I am going to try and resuscitate this person.  His head came out of the water and was completely lifeless.  Just hanging backwards, bobbing.  He stared blankly at me.  He looked green to me…pallid.  I immediately thought that he had been dead for a long time and just washed up on shore, but then…the shoes.  His shoes were in the water.  I am holding them.  This has to be a movie, some horrible TV show that won’t leave my view.  I can’t even turn my head and lose sight of the horrible image in front of me.  No.  It’s real.  There is a man either dead or dying ten feet in front of me.  I will have to touch him in a matter of seconds.  Run.  No.  I heard Crissy behind me; crying, screaming.  I turned
to her and she looked like she was losing it…she thinks he’s dead too.  She started towards them and then fell backwards into the water as if she was pushed… scared.  She called out to me and I turned again.  This time she was crying harder. 
“CHANDRE, wait for me!  Don’t leave!  Wait for me!”  I have known her for several years and have never, until or since, heard the desperate, horrified wail I heard at that moment.
I waited.  Fractions of seconds seemed like hours.  As I waited, I looked at Ryan.  He saw me and shook his head before averting his eyes downward looking defeated. 
She finally caught up to me and we walked hand-in-hand to the shore, calming each other.  I told her she had to pull it together…she had to be strong.  There was a woman at the edge of the shore screaming, crying and calling out to God that needed us right then to try and save this man’s life. 
We finally reached dry sand and I threw the shoes… his shoes… to the side, no longer needing them…no longer wanting to touch them.  I turned and waited.  The woman moved forward, still screaming, and I heard Tina, “He’s still conscious!”
Oh, my God!  He’s not dead?!!?!?  We can do this.
He’s still conscious!  He’s still conscious.  That’s all it took.  I moved towards the body not knowing what to do.  Put him down!  Let me get to him.  Wait.  Can I save him?  I am certified, but what if there’s someone better?  What if I give up or get tired or am not strong enough?  What then?  Can I live with myself if he doesn’t make it?  No.  No.
“Is anyone certified in CPR?”
The screaming woman jumped in.  “I am!  I am a nurse!” 
Oh, God.  Thank you.  I know that she will give every part of her being into saving this man’s life.  She will try until they pull her off of him… 
So, I stood and watched… and waited.  Waited for the vomit to stop.  Waited for the color to come back.  Waited for the gasp for breath.  Waited for the sirens.  Waited for the woman’s cries of relief.  Instead, I heard utter desperation, “Come on David!  Come on!  Breathe!  Breathe!”
Breathe.  Oh, God, please breathe.
People gathered around quickly.  They must have asked a thousand questions…a hundred a second it seemed.  “Who is he?  Who is he here with?  Where are his friends?  Was he swimming alone?”
SHUT-UP!  SHUT-UP! SHUT-UP!  Show some respect!  I wanted to scream at all of them.  I was so angry.  They were all just standing there.  Not doing anything to save him.  Just asking their stupid questions.  Just like me... Stop!!!  Embarrassed by my hateful thoughts towards these innocents, I muttered the only words I could muster, “She’s working on him.”
I heard Tina behind me counting… “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, breathe.”  Over and over and over. 
The sirens.  Oh, God, please be with him.  It is time for us to go.  Let them do their job.  I walked away and waited yet again; trembling to hear the news I had anticipated since I saw him in the water.  I was discouraged with my lack of confidence; disappointed with the time I wasted “training” to save someone’s life in a crisis.  I was utterly disgusted that
I took no real action.  This was a fellow human being!  He deserved my all and I gave him nothing!  I did nothing.
No one really talked much the rest of the day.  The sun went down and we all lay silently, pretending to sleep.  The images were overwhelming every time I closed my eyes.  I see him; his head in the water.  I see his blank eyes staring at me.  I see his moss green swimming trunks and his full belly.  I see him vomit foamy seawater as his body hits the sand.  He opens his mouth and sputters his own name.  “David.”  I am scared.  I see water rushing up and over me now, filling my lungs.  My eyes can not close.  There is no rest. 
Tina told me later that he wasn’t really conscious.  She had only said that to calm the screaming woman.  I didn’t tell her that it had calmed me as well.  I also didn’t tell her that she had done everything that I couldn’t.  I was exposed to death at the age of twelve when my best friend died in a car accident along with her grandmother and always thought I could handle any situation.  Though I had been exposed to “death” as it was defined to me several times since then, I had never seen life leave existence before this day.  It made me question everything about the life I had chosen and what I wanted for my future.  Religions, beliefs, practices, behaviors, emotions, fortunes and losses all came flooding over me.  It took me over six months to truly stop accepting personal blame for the events of the day. 
I think of David Keller every day of my life.  Not the way I did that first night, but in a softer light.  He reminded me of who I wanted to be when I had forgotten and showed me the beauty in the people that I surrounded myself with every day.  He would not allow me to take anything for granted and would eventually allow me emotional freedom.  Though I wish things had ended differently, they did not.  There is nothing I could have done or can do to change that.  I never imagined what kind of impact this would have on me and I thank him with every thought.  I owe him that at the very least.