Finally and at last I passed the basic first aid course, earning one of those little cards for my wallet that proclaimed me able to potentially, some day, save someone from shuffling off their mortal coil. It was a heavy responsibility and not one I took lightly.
On that proud day, I took myself for a celebratory lunch at the Edgewater where I had steak and onion rings as a reward for two years of diligent study. All the time I was eating I was keeping a surreptitious eye on the other diners, hoping one of them, carelessly chewing, would choke on something and give me an opportunity to demonstrate my calm and my life-saving abilities.
Looking around the dining room, I began to have some misgivings; there wasn’t a body in the place I wanted to put my arms around, even to show off my new skills. Several were simply too large and squishy-looking for me to handle. Some didn’t look very clean, and one woman had enormous breasts in a top cut so low that spillage would be unavoidable and embarrassing for the rescuer and the rescuee.
I was close to despair when I remembered another way to use the Heimlich manoeuvre. It had been taught as a way of stopping oneself from choking at a solitary meal, but there was no reason I could see that I wouldn’t work on someone else.
Heartened, I watched with increased vigilance for a sign of gluttonous choking. Sad to say, no one so much as coughed during my entire meal, depriving me of an opportunity to throw someone over the back of one of the chairs.
It had been many years since I took a test of any kind and sad to say, the test anxiety I suffered from in my youth is still with me. That’s why it took so many tries to win the card, so many humiliating tries while in every class all the other students casually passed, tucking those prized cards into their wallets and purses without so much as looking at them. Of course they weren’t taking it as seriously as I was; they laughed a lot during the six hours of intensive learning, and made lame jokes over the dummy used to practice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Their behaviour struck me as a naked display of carelessness for the sanctity of life.
My card quickly developed slightly frayed edges from being taken in and out of the special little case I bought for it.
The case is silver, and I was planning on having it engraved, at the same time I got my laminated little poster framed. The little poster is instructions and diagrams illustrating everything learned in the first aid course, leading me to wonder each time I signed up why they simply didn’t test us on our reading abilities and then give us the poster.
Once I got home, qualified and carded, I found myself waking up in the night full of fears and questions which I knew must be resolved before embarking on my crusade to save those grievously injured, before I find myself holding someone’s life in my newly-capable hands.
Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was my biggest fear, despite having purchased several of those rubber dam things on a keychain meant to protect the rescuer – in this case, me – against becoming infected with AIDS, made queasy by foul breath, or having to see poor dentistry.
I could force myself to imagine performing this life-saving manoeuvre to (with? on? for?) Pete, for instance, or you, but what about a total stranger?
What if it was a dying man with a moustache? Upper lip hair is not something I have ever enjoyed seeing on a male face; it too closely resembles a part of the female anatomy that for the most part remains, and should remain, hidden from the public eye.
Eventually, having thoroughly mulled over the question of the facial hair, I decided that confronted with a dying man with a moustache, I would have to pass. Rather, he would have to pass – to the Other Side, the Better Place, where hopefully his admission would be either contingent on being clean-shaven or on a physical transformation into something see-through and ethereal.
That resolved, though not without some profound soul searching, I moved on to the other likely scenarios, the ones involving blood, vomit, mucus, feces, or bones sticking out through skin.
At first I thought I might have to pass on the bone one, too: if the bone had broken and was poking through the skin, one could assume the limb would be lying at an unnatural angle, an image that made my stomach clench to the point of pain. Clearly, if I was doubled over with pain I would not be of much help to someone with an unnatural angle.
Further reflection, though, combined with an earnest desire to be a rescuer, led to a solution. A blanket or a coat carefully put over the site of the injury would stop me from passing out while at the same time offering warmth and comfort to the victim as we waited for the ambulance. If there was no available cloth, I thought, moss would work as well, or even a pile of leafy willow branches. As I learned in my first aid class, one must be ingenious when dealing with the injured, especially in places like the Yukon where help is not likely to be close at hand
Blood is pretty much out of the question; I simply faint at the sight of it, even if it is mine. Actually, I am hyper sensitive to anything red and liquid; I not only don’t use ketchup, I have to turn away when it comes out of the bottle. Anyone bleeding profusely, especially from the nose, which would increase the possibility of mucus, would have to wait for another graduate of the first aid course.
Feces I might manage, though the smell could be a problem, and vomit would be OK if it were more bile than chunks.
In the classroom, the first instruction was to get the crowd to stand back, while at the same time directing a member of the crowd to call the ambulance. I was so anxious to pass the course that it was not until later that I realized I live in an area that doesn’t provide crowds, unless there is a beer garden, and cell phones are mostly used to record embarrassing events for Youtube.
After careful consideration, and bravely facing my own shortcomings, I have cut up and burned my card. I will keep the little poster, tucked deep in my filing cabinet, as a reminder that I did pass a test.
I guess Haiti will have to do without me.
Heather Bennett is a writer
who lives in Watson Lake.