The first thing I heard was the crash. I spun around on my stool, and she was already crumpled on the floor, head bent against the radiator.
Her eyes were open and blank, and she appeared to speak, but it was just part of the seizure. She wasn’t there at all. Her movements were so stiff and unnatural that I thought I was watching somebody die.
When she fell, there was nobody in the classroom closer to her than me. Four or five feet away. But I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what to do. I just stared, heart racing, and hoped somebody would just do something.
Then I woke up.
That was this morning. But I didn’t feel the usual swell of relief that I get when I wake up from a bad dream. I felt guilty and rotten. That’s because I’ve had this same dream before, and I know why.
This incident actually happened, when I was in high school. Every few years, I relive it in my sleep.
I was sitting in chemistry class when the girl next to me had a seizure and fell from her chair, striking her head on the heater. Her body shook and contorted, eyes wide open. I froze and panicked, and waited. The next few seconds lasted forever. Surely somebody would know what to do, because I definitely didn’t.
She was even staring right at me, like she was asking for help. I stared back, as if to apologize.
I’m sorry, I won’t be the one helping you.
On that particular day, we happened to have a substitute teacher, and he happened to be an emergency medical technician, and he happened to return to the classroom just as she fell. Talk about deus ex machina.
He rushed over, and did everything right. By the time he had roused her, I noticed that I had stood and stepped behind my stool, as if to make way for someone else to take control, and position myself completely out of the realm of responsibility and action. It had only been a few seconds before the teacher rushed over; I wondered if anybody had seen me sitting there, panicking, waiting for a hero to show up. I wondered if she had seen me.
She ended up recovering fairly quickly, with no head injury, and zero memory of the incident.
I’m aware that I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do; I could not have been expected to be of much help. But I didn’t even say “Are you okay?” I just waited until someone else made the situation right.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve really phased guilt out of my life in general. I’ve seen it eat people alive, even when they couldn’t do anything about it after the fact. So when I notice the feeling of guilt for something I’ve done, or failed to do, I remind myself that I can’t undo the past. Whatever happened happened, and I won’t let it spoil my mood now, years later. I know that guilt is a trap, because you can’t erase the source of it. When I bring acceptance to what happened, the guilt usually dissolves.
But the guilt has stayed alive with this one. Ive had attacks of it a few times since then, in dreams. I felt it this morning. It’s a physical sensation; the stomach shrinks and hardens, and it feels like the air is being pressed out of your lungs.
There was a brilliant commercial that ran years ago, that I hated. It opened with a middle aged man, lying on a living room floor, clutching his chest. It zoomed in on his panicked eyes.
“This man is having a heart attack. Do something.”
Time ticks by, and the man continues to writhe. Whenever I saw this ad I’d get that sick knot it my stomach.
Screen goes black.
“If you don’t know what to do, we can teach you,” and the St. John Ambulance logo appears.
I’m not stupid. I know why I keep thinking about this. I still haven’t fulfilled my responsibility to her, or to myself. Eleven years later, I still don’t know first aid or CPR.
I’m still sitting on that stool, counting on everyone else.
Today I decided that as full a plate as I have these days, I will finally take a first aid course, and put this one to bed for good.
And I will never again ignore something that keeps coming back like that. I have avoided doing the right thing all this time because I was counting on two unlikely deus ex machinae; either I would never find myself in that situation again, or else there would happen to be an EMT hanging around for some reason, like last time.
Is there something you know you’re supposed to do, that you’ve been hiding from? I’m sure you know by now that if you busy yourself and avoid thinking about it, it stays away. Mostly. But it’s always out there somewhere, and it will be back, no question.
It shows up in your thoughts about yourself. In your more vulnerable moments, when you’re asleep or upset about something else, it tugs at your sleeve and reminds you that you aren’t quite the person you’d like to be. Yet.
If the universe keeps asking you to do something, think about doing it. It doesn’t ask for no reason.
Photo by extranoise