“Hey Dad!” came Darryl’s excited shout, “Guess what I found!”
I quickly reeled in my line and set my rod down on the riverbank. “What is it, Darryl?” I called casually.
“There’s some guy here!” came a frantic reply, “You better come quick!”
Coming was easy, it was the ‘quick’ part that was hard: the Harji river is just a turbulent stream this close to its source near Hapdorn. Darryl was only a short distance away, but the pathway took me over some rocks and through the underbrush. I paused for a moment to wipe my sweaty brow on the back of my dirty hand, and swallowed thickly. I would never have let Darryl fish over here, I thought, if I had known how hard it was to get to him. What if there had been an emergency?
I arrived at the spot where Darryl had been fishing. His fishing rod was lying on the bank, extending into the water. He stood there tensely staring in the direction away from me, as if he had found something he could neither approach nor abandon.
“Darryl!” I called, a bit annoyed at the way he had mistreated his fishing gear, but he ignored me. “Darryl!” I repeated more insistently; this time he turned his head. His eyes were red, and his face was streaked with tears. “What’s the matter, son?”
“Can’t you see him, Dad?” Darryl pointed somberly at the bushes. With growing horror, I could make out the figure of an unconscious man! “Daddy, I think he’s dead!” Darryl began to cry, but stifled it in an attempt to look more adult.
I quickly unbuckled my fisherman’s belt and dropped it on the ground. (My fishing tackle would only be in the way.) I examined the man quickly, and determined that he was just unconscious. A quick glance at the surroundings revealed the remains of his fishing boat, which had crashed into the nearby rocks. Fool, I thought, he had no business trying to shoot the rapids this high up the Harji!
“He’s going to be okay,” I reassured Darryl. “Do you remember the shack where they rent the boats and things?”
Darryl somberly nodded yes.
“Go back and tell them to call emergency. Can you do that?”
“The emergency number is 00F,” he recited proudly. “I’ll run as quick as I can!” he promised, and dashed off through the tangled growth. I envied the way his small frame could weasel through places that would stop me in my tracks.
I looked at the unconscious man again. He looked like a Lakeshore Province man, who’s accustomed to calmer and kinder waters. No wonder he tried to shoot the Harji this high up! He was handsome young fellow, Thorgelfaynese, very athletic. That just made him harder to move. I grabbed him under his arms and dragged him onto the sandy beach. I put my ear to his chest; there was a faint heart beat, and that meant hope. I splashed some river water on his face, and slapped his checks a few times, but he didn’t stir. Before long, I noticed with some alarm that he had stopped breathing! At first, I was worried that I had the right technique, but the sheer work of it relieved me of that anxiety. By the time Darryl returned, I was a regular breathing machine, practically obsessed with my task.
It was probably only a few moments, but it seemed that I had been doing artificial resuscitation for two or three eternities before Darryl came running back. “Dad,” he said between puffs and pants, “they said they’d be right there.” Suddenly there was nothing more for Darryl to do, so he just stood there awkwardly. “Can I help?”
“No,” I gasped between breaths. Darryl looked disappointed. I scooped in air. “Your lungs aren’t big enough.” Another breath went into the unconscious man. “I need you to go back so you can lead the medic team here.”
Filled with a clear sense of duty and mission, Darryl rushed off through the woods again.
Several more eternities went by. My whole world consisted of breathing. Take a deep breath, give it to the man, take a deep breath, give it to the man. All this breathing made me lightheaded. Will it ever end? Periodically, I stopped, in the hopes that the man would start breathing on his own; but he didn’t. I continued resolutely.
Finally, the rescue floater hovered down onto the bank. Two physicians hopped out with their equipment; Darryl waited inside with a hopeful look on his face. I had been hyperventilating so long that everything seemed to happen at once. They tied a respirator to the man’s face, examined him, stuck needles in him, and carried him onto the rescue floater.
I stood there, stunned and dizzy.
“Climb aboard!” one physician yelled, gesturing with his arm. I was tired, but my arms and legs obeyed roboticly and propelled me somehow into the floater, right next to Darryl. We were sitting on the padded bench alongside the stretcher. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, lying there in apparent restful repose. I so desperately wanted him to recover!
One of the physicians grabbed me by the left arm, and shook me to get my attention. “Friend,” he said, “Are you all right?”
I nodded mutely. What a dumb question! I would not dream of distracting even one physician who could help this man.
We arrived at Snodgrass University Medical Center. Technicians were waiting at the floater pad with a gurney, and they whisked the unconscious man away in a flash. There was a lot of confusion, and I just stood there in the middle of it, not knowing what to do. Being encumbered with a child just made me all the more indecisive. In retrospect, I should have thought about getting Darryl home, but at the time I must confessed I was obsessed with that poor man. The whole thing was out of my hands; my meager expertise in first aid was certainly superseded by the physician’s medical knowledge.
I felt lost.
The floater left the pad, and Darryl and I were left standing on top of the building, with one last technician.
“Would you like to see how your patient is doing?” he asked me with a smile. Before I could answer, he grabbed me by the arm and led me down the elevator and through an infinite maze of hallways. Darryl and I were the only ones not carrying clipboards or pushing things!
Finally, we reached a special area of some sort. There he is! My heart leapt as I caught sight of the unconscious man. “See there, Darryl?” I asked, lifting Darryl so he could see. “That’s the man right there! He’s going to be all right!” Then I turned to the physician and asked him with a tinge of emotion in my voice, “He is going to be all right, isn’t he?”
The physician sighed thoughtfully, turned to Darryl, and said, “Let’s just say that your Daddy is a genuine hero today!”
Then he walked off to wherever physicians walk off at times like this, probably to avoid having to answer any further questions. Darryl and I shared a moment of momentary glory: I admired him for calling the rescue team so quickly, and he congratulated me for saving the man’s life.
We watched as a group of technicians swarmed over the man. I was alarmed when they all suddenly walked away. One woman came out of the room and walked over to me.
“Are you Harshan Lahtissimon?” she asked, glancing at her clipboard.
“Yes, ma’am,” I answered nervously, “I am.”
“We all want to thank you and your son for your extraordinary heroism,” she began with an admiring smile. “You did all the right things, and you did them well. I’m sure that Lalo would be very grateful to you.” She nodded towards the patient, so I assumed that was his name. Then she pursed her lips as she searched for words. “However,” she continued somberly, lapsing into religious jargon, “sometimes even the best efforts cannot retain a soul that has been summoned to return.”
I was in shock! The images of the past few hours fled through my head, as I relived every moment: what if… could I have…? A counselor talked with me for a while, and I seemed to get a grip on reality again.
Darryl and I rode home on the bus; both of us stuck in reflection, hardly speaking a word. We arrived home late for supper, but Melissa didn’t need any explanation; the medical center called ahead so she wouldn’t worry.
We had my favorite meal, and another blue berry pie for desert. We played games with Darryl and his Hugmup, put them to bed right after ‘Hari’s Hapless Hugmups’ and continued to watch television the rest of the evening.
Then came the evening news, right before bedtime. Darryl and I were on the evening news! I didn’t even remember the camera, I was in such a state, but there I was, explaining to the reporter what I had done.
They showed a picture of Lalo Hargnan on the screen. There was the face of the man into whom I had pushed so much air, the man who died.
To my own surprise, I started to cry! My whole body was violently convulsing in grief!
Melissa moved closer to me and began to hug me. “Oh, honey,” she cooed, kissing me on the cheek, “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know,” I sobbed, “I’ve never done this before.” I was mourning his death as if he were my son, yet I never even met him. The whole family, Hugmup and all, tried to comfort me, but to no avail. The people at the medical center told me this would happen once or twice, but I didn’t believe them until now.
For the most part, I’m over the trauma now. But as I go through my daily life, it seems to have an added dimension. Somehow it is richer and sadder all at once.