Late on a Friday afternoon in the silent chilly staff development lab of the hospital basement, Wesley lounged with his feet propped up on a chair. Wesley passed the time by munching on taco chips, dropping crumbs over the snaps of his shirt, reading a Clive Cussler paperback. A rumpled blanket covered the linoleum floor where a naked body lay. Wiping orange powdered fingers on his pant leg, he sipped fresh coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Next to him on the long table was a stack of booklets labeled, CARDIOPULMONARY RESUSCITATION.
Wesley absentmindedly scratched his wiry beard then glanced up at the clock. A full day wasted without even one signature on his attendance sheet. Sixty minutes to go. The Knicks were playing that night and he had arrangements to meet up with some friends at the Juicy Nickel sports bar. His left arm cramped and he stretched both arms over his head letting out a groan.
Footsteps came from the hallway and through the door lumbered a graying sallow-faced man. Breathing heavily, he said, “Hey. CPR Recert?”
Wesley untangled his legs, turned down the page of his paperback and dropped the book in his gym bag. “This is the place. Come right on in. I’ve been waiting for you.” He stood, wiping remnants of Doritos from his front.
The man inhaled the coffee aroma mixed with a spicy smell he couldn’t place. He said, “I work in the outpatient department? I’m in a hurry, they want me back upstairs pronto.” He spoke with a slight speech impediment that embarrassed him.
“Sure, you’ll be out of here in a few minutes. What’s your name big guy?” Wesley said and grabbed the clipboard.
“Max,” the man said, glancing at the half empty bag of chips.
“Put your John Henry on the sheet, Max. Take a booklet. This year’s update from the American Heart Association. No more mouth to mouth.”
Max scribbled his information, threw down the pen and began rolling up his sleeves and with it went the label, bigdudeclothing.com. The bi-annual testing requirement came around way too soon for Max. Since his last recertification, a lot had happened in his life. Dear Cherrie, his wife of twenty-five years had died from Covid. Stunned and grief stricken he sought comfort in ice cream and junk food and when not eating, he slept. Work was the one thing that kept him going, forced him to dress and leave the house, to show up, and help ferry patients to labs and xray.
Wesley watched the man thumbing through the booklet. This guy’ll collapse someday; looks like a heart attack waiting to happen.
Wesley said, “Last minute on a Friday, eh? Why’d you wait so long?”
Before Max could answer, a muffled roar came from the ceiling vent sending warm air over the area. He waved a hand at Wesley. “Let’s get it over with. This isn’t one of my favorite things to do on a Friday afternoon.”
“You and everyone else, pal. That’s why my attendance sheet's blank. But it has to be done. Gotta keep the main office happy. ‘Sides, you never know, it might come in handy someday.”
“Fat chance I’ll ever need to use it. Tell you what. You sign me off and I’ll buy you a beer. Deal?” Wesley didn’t answer. Max tried again. “There’s always nurses around here. I’m never going to have to save anyone," arms thrown out at his sides like a little boy begging for mercy. "The most I’ll have to do is call the code.” He sniffed, “Plus, I got the arthritis in my hands.”
Wesley was already setting up the mannequin for the demo. “Sorry, my friend. Just doing my job. So. Look through the booklet. Tell me when you’re ready for the test. First the written part. Then you do the demo. Or whichever way you want. It doesn’t matter.”
Max held onto the table’s edge lowering himself to his knees, with the hot air blowing directly onto his back, he moved next to the dummy called Annie.
The elevator door groaned, then quick footsteps followed. A small woman wearing green scrubs rushed in and grabbed the sign in sheet, scribbled her name and said, “Hey guys, I’m really squeezed for time. My cranie’s due back to my unit. Any chance I can do my test real quick? I won’t take more than two minutes. Promise.”
Max smiled, "Sure! Be my guest."
Wesley said, “No, this guy is ahead of you. Max, go on, start your demo.”
Max stood on his knees looking at the nurse whose ID said Olivia, RN. “Did you say cranie? What’s that mean?”
“Craniotomy. Brain surgery,” Olivia said growing more annoyed. She darted from table to hallway and back with quick jerky movements like a hummingbird.
Wesley said, “Olivia, why don’t you look through the updates and take the written test. By then Max’ll be done.” She threw up her hands. Flit, flit.
Wesley said, “Go ahead, Max. You found this woman down on the floor. What’s your first step?”
Max had struggled to bend over the mannequin without holding himself up.
“I don’t have time for this,” Olivia snapped. “I did the written part online. All I need to do is the demo.”
Wesley informed Olivia the online test doesn’t count for recertification. It’s meant as a practice. Olivia felt a migraine beginning and pressed two fingers to her forehead.
Wesley stood across from Max waiting for him to begin and turned to Olivia, “We’ll be here on Monday too. Why don’t you come back then? If you’re out of time, just ask the super to give you an extension.”
Two more nurses drifted in and signed the sheet, sat next to the table and knowing their turn would take time, began chatting, laughing at something no one else could hear.
Olivia said, “I’ve already had two extensions and that’s the limit. Either I do this today or I’m suspended.”
Wesley considered letting Olivia jump the “line” but doubted Max would be able to stand up and kneel down again. “Come on Max, get started. The first thing you do is what?”
“Uh, do the pushes?”
“Think Max, think. Why would you start compressions on the victim’s chest before you’re even sure this lady is in cardiac arrest?”
Olivia said, “Shout at her! Ask her if she can hear you. Then check for a pulse.”
Max put both hands on the floor in a tabletop position. “Okay Wes. I did that. What’s next?”
Wesley took a deep breath. “Max, the idea is, you do this, I mean actually do it, not just say ‘I did it’. This is a demo. You have to go through the steps as if this were a victim without a pulse or breath.”
“Can you turn the heat down? I’m about ta' die in here,” Max said wiping perspiration from his face with his sleeve.
“Sorry, we don’t have a thermostat in here. The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll be out of here.” He glanced at the clock, seething inside, picturing the Juicy Nickel scene.
“To be honest, I forget the steps,” Max said.
The truth was, Max had managed to escape recertification for over ten years. Other staff ed people were more apt to give him a pass. But Max kept that to himself. He hoped if he stalled long enough, Wesley would finally sign off his card and be done with it.
Wesley suggested, “Olivia, how’s about you do your demo and Max you watch, then after she’s done, you can do yours?”
Olivia’s pager went off. “Whelp, that’s it for me. Thanks a heap guys. Because of you, I won’t be at work tomorrow.”
Hooboy, Wesley thought. “Listen, I’ll stay over so you can get it done. Come back when you’re free.” Olivia was already through the door as she called out, “See you in an hour. Thanks.”
Wesley said, “I wasn't planning to work over tonight. But, you guys work hard, and who am I to make it worse?” He took a deep breath, becoming aggravated by Max’s stalling. Actually, he felt guilty each time staffers came rushing in, out of breath having to fit this in to their pressure-filled duties. His was a cake job, waiting for someone to show up, playing on his phone until it died.
“I’ll go through the steps for you, Max. Pay attention. Then you do it. You have to do it start to finish without me coaching you before you can pass.”
A gray-haired woman with bags under her eyes strolled through the door, her shoes broken along the back seam, careful not to stare at the large man kneeling beside Annie. She’d gone through decades of recerts and knew the drill. She signed in, took a booklet and waited her turn.
A half hour passed and Max hadn’t successfully performed the sequence, nor pushed the mannequin’s chest hard enough to trigger the red indicator light. Wesley decided to give Max a break and process the half dozen employees that waited.
Max said, "Thanks. I'm going over to the café for a Coke." He expected Wesley would pass him by the time he got back. With both hands on the floor, he lifted his bottom and held onto a nearby chair seat straining to push himself upright.
Olivia rushed in and declared, “I’m next! Sorry everyone, but I was here before and had to wait. I’ll be only a minute, promise.” She went through the sequence expertly, first shouting to the victim, checking for a pulse, shouting, Call 911, using landmarks of the rib to breastbone, one hand over the other, fingers up, she pushed hard, the light came on, she shouted, get the AED, pretended to apply pads and press the red button labeled Shock required. She jumped up easily and said, “All good? Anything else?”
Wesley gave a tight smile and said, “You’re all set. See you in two years.” He processed the few people who waited, pleased at how easily they met the standard and wished them a good weekend.
He glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes till tip off. The Juicy Nickel isn't too far. If he beat feet, he could make it. The coffee’s acid worked in his stomach - he wished he hadn’t eaten so many chips. He lifted the mannequin to the table puzzled by how much heavier it seemed than usual. He gathered the paperwork and booklets, tossed his cold coffee and the now empty bag of chips. Nausea burned and he felt lightheaded. His hands went to his chest as crushing pain took his breath and made his legs buckle.
Max hoped the staff ed lights would be out and he could leave for the day. The elevator door opened into the dim hallway. But the room was still lit. He hesitated wondering if he should back up but then a crash, a thud and chair banged. Max tromped through the hallway toward the sound.
Wesley lay with arms and legs akimbo, the chair tipped over him like a tent. A hitch grabbed Max in the chest. He spun around looking--hoping someone would appear. But the hallway was dark and silent. Max pulled the chair away and put his hands under Wesley’s arms, dragging him to the open area. Two fingers to the bearded man’s thick neck, he could hardly believe what he faced.
Max shouted, “Buddy, buddy, what’s wrong? Get up, wake up, buddy! Wake up.” Max wailed, shaking, he struggled to stand, regretting the time spent sitting in front of the TV, for the hours wasted wallowing in self-pity. The grief he’d tried to eat away now poured out in moans and tears, angry at who he’d become, unable to save a person who deserved to live. He vowed to do better, if only Wesley would live. “No,” he shouted, “No. You live dammit. Don’t you die on me!”
He managed to crawl to the phone that sat on the shelf, its cord hanging so that he could free it, catch it rather than bust it, and when he had it in his hands, he pressed the code button and wheezed into the phone, “Code. Basement, room B12, hurry, hurry.”
He crawled on all fours back to Wesley, horrified at the grayish face. Max put fingers to Wesley’s neck and couldn’t believe there was no thumping so he reached for the wrist silently begging for a pulse. His nose ran and he used his shirt tail to wipe it and his face. Max tore open the shirt snaps, and using his fingertips, he found the breastbone, put one hand over the other and pushed to the rhythm of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, boom, boom, hard and fast, just like Wesley told him.
Thundering came from the hallway and the team raced in, like choreographed dancers, each person performed their tasks. They were focused on the rescue, nothing else existed at that moment. Max had never witnessed resuscitation and hadn't seen a dead body. He was outright crying now, angry at himself for failing. An ICU doctor opened the defibrillator box and looking up he saw Max’s face. “Hey, you did great. You saved this man’s life. If not for you, he’d have laid here a good hour before anyone found him. He would be dead. Mister, you are a hero.”