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Do Something

creepy cpr faces

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

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Roger - A Content Life May 25, 2009 at 6:43 am


I haven’t had a recurring dream in a very long time. I would find it disturbing as you do.

I’m glad your taking first aid since that seems like a healthy response. Have you ever thought about contacting her?

Roger – A Content Life’s last blog post..12 Happiness Activities – Part 1

Positively Present May 25, 2009 at 7:22 am

I might be alone in this I don’t think you should feel guilty at all. I’m pretty sure most high school kids would have done the same thing and, actually, if you don’t know how to properly deal with a seizure, you can make things worse. I think you were right to step aside and let the teacher handle things. I had a similar experience in college. We were watching a movie in class when one of my classmates had a seizure. It was terrifying and everyone stood back as the teacher (who didn’t look as if she had any medical experience) handled it. I am still traumatized by the event and when I think of that day, in that classroom, I feel a little shiver go down my back. For me, I think it’s because the seizure scared me and it was as if the boy was possessed. I didn’t like it ONE bit. He never came back to class that day though I saw him in other classes. I guess he was embarassed and I felt bad about that. Seriously though, I don’t think you did anything wrong, but I do think it’s great that you’re going to take first aid because I think everyone should know that just in case!

Positively Present’s last blog post..things to make (other than money)

Rosa May 25, 2009 at 8:30 am

David, i agree with Dani here, i don`t think you should be feeling guilty, what happened to her was not your fault and there wasn`t really anything you could`ve done to help her, anyone could`ve panicked like that, it was just a sign for you to learn first aid. You said it yourself, accept the past, and enjoy your present :D

Rosa’s last blog post..Celebra la Vida! – Celebrate Life!

David May 25, 2009 at 8:37 am

@ Roger — No, I don’t see a point in contacting her. She has no memory of the incident, and I never really knew her anyway. In fact, I’m sure this incident was much more significant to me than to anybody else.

@ Dani and Rosa — Guilt is an unusual feeling for me nowadays; I generally don’t trust it because there’s no point in feeling bad for something you can’t control. I already know this.

But the reason I still feel guilty is because that day I decided I had a responsibility to myself to learn first aid, but I’ve ignored it all these years. Guilt, as often as it is completely useless, does have a purpose, when there is still an action you can take. If guilt keeps coming back, I know that it’s because there’s still something I have to do in the present, not because I still feel bad about what happened in the past.

Writer Dad May 25, 2009 at 9:09 am

You shouldn’t be feeling the slightest bit of guilt, but it IS awesome that your doing something about it. You’re absolutely right, if LIFE has a way of trying to tell you something and you simply won’t listen.. well then, Hell’s Bells, you kinda have it coming.

Writer Dad’s last blog post..How to Easily Keep Your Family Connected in 20 Minutes a Day

Josh Hanagarne May 25, 2009 at 9:39 am

I understand, David, and I agree with you and other commenters that dwelling on this stuff isn’t helpful–you just can’t change it

When I was 12 and my brother was 7, I was babysitting him and we got in a fight. It was the only time I’ve ever physically hit him and it broke my heart. We both started crying as soon as it happened.

It’s been 18 years and I still think about it. I’ve apologized to him until it’s driven him crazy. I’ve been forgiven and I STILL think about it when I can’t sleep sometimes.

If you can let it go, let it go. If you can’t, let it go anyway.

Josh Hanagarne’s last blog post..Why You Should Read With A Dictionary

Laurie | Express Yourself to Success May 25, 2009 at 9:42 am

Maybe the guilt in your example is future guilt – you’re consciously aware that if you don’t take steps to make sure you’re as prepared as you possibly can and a similar situation occurs then you’ll experience the guilt of “I knew I should have…”

Your post is a good reminder that most of us have things in the background that we know we need to take care of but keep our fingers crossed that we’ll do it in enough time before it becomes a crisis. Even so, we do tend to put them off. I think I’ll be adding mine to my to-do list this week so I don’t spend time worry about the ‘what-ifs’ that inevitably pop up.

Thanks for the post. It’s a good read.

Laurie | Express Yourself to Success’s last blog post..Don’t Take It Personally

Leonidas May 25, 2009 at 11:25 am

Hey man,

I’ve lived with a serious case of grand-mal epilepsy in my family all my life, and I think you should let it go. Other than catching the person and helping them not to injure themselves when they fall, there’s not much more that you can do. I’ve heard all the horror stories of people choking on their own tongues etc, but we’ve lived with this disease for decades, and never had anything like this happen (the person in my family in question gets grand-mal seizures at least twice a month, and sometimes several times a day). I suppose she could have burned herself on the heater if it had been on, so you could have gently moved her off and laid her on her side, but in my experience with epilepsy, inexperienced people attempting to “do something” usually cause far more injuries than the fall (we once had an arsehole paramedic attempt to give the person heart massage because he mistook the seizure for a heart attack).

I’ve also had the person give me that terrible stare during the seizure, and it always freaks me out, but rest assured that the person is not looking at you, their brain is busy experiencing a “short circuit,” and they are simply “not there.”

It’s great that you’re doing the first aid course, but let go of this other thing. How is your kettlebell program coming on, by the way?

David May 25, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I guess I should make it clear that I do not feel guilty about what happened that day; I feel guilty because I have long ignored what I feel is an important thing to do, learn first aid and CPR.

Like I said, I know there is nothing I could have done; that’s not the point. The memory of that incident is a symbol for responsibilities to myself that I have not lived up to. Believe me, the incident itself I let go of a long time ago, but its recurring memory represents to me a failure on my part to do something I have always considered very important.

In other words, my dream had nothing to do with what I should have done then, and everything to do with what I should do now. That right there is the purpose of guilt, IMHO.

Nadia - Happy Lotus May 25, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Hi David,

I think it is great that such an event impacted you because it shows you have some depth. Some people may go through something like that and not be effected it. So the fact that you were says a lot about you.

I know the guilt of what happened bothers you and that is understandable. However, there was nothing you could have done at the time. You were a teenager and most teenagers do not know CPR. I think the fact that you now are trying to do something in order to not be in the same situation again shows growth. That is awesome.

Something is a mistake only if you do not learn from it. So you learned something from it…so yay!!! :)

Nadia – Happy Lotus’s last blog post..God & Me

Brenda May 25, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Hi David

Memory seems to have a bad habit of attaching itself to things that brought out a strong emotional response in us. Given a choice, we would rather remember only the good things and not be plagued by unpleasant memories, but our brains seem to have a mind of their own. Seizures and nightmares can be a reminder to us of how unreliable our brains actually are. I think you wrote about that somewhere. We’re all handicapped in a sense with these less than perfectly controllable brains. I see more humor in that now than I used to. The unreliable narrator comes to mind — Huck Finn and nine-year-old you hiding under the covers. Who doesn’t love that stuff!

Thanks for another enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to the one you write about how your first aid skills helped someone in need. :)

Brenda’s last blog post..Trees

Sherri (Serene Journey) May 25, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Hi David,
Good for you!!! How empowering. Getting rid of the guilt of not doing something by doing something about it–that’s fantastic. Learning first aid and CPR is one of the best things you can do and one of those skills you hope you never have to use! I truly believe everyone should take a course on this. By knowing what to do and how to react in a very scary situation you can save someone’s life. Well done!

Sherri (Serene Journey)’s last blog post..8 Steps to Hosting a Party Everyone Enjoys – Including Yourself

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching May 25, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Hi David — yes, this need to correct an issue that has lingered on for years has come up for me recently too. Vulnerable share time: the problem I have avoided for so long is my failure to play METAL!! I’ve secretly missed playing heavy metal since high school. But I have begun writing and recording songs again. May the Metal Gods forgive me.

David May 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Thanks everyone, I felt a tremendous relief when I decided to take action. It was long overdue.

Chris — Do it! Playing metal is good for the soul. Good for you. Are you a guitarist?

Dot May 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I’m not sure whether you “should” feel guilty or not about that, but I would say you feel a lot of regret that you couldn’t act differently. It’s great that you’re planning to do something about it.

Dot’s last blog post..The Joys of Alcohol and Other Fallacies

Daniel Edlen May 26, 2009 at 3:04 pm

What a great post to have as an introduction to you! Thanks for finding me on Twitter.

The Universe provides such great lessons, our guts providing the guidance towards what’s right. Great story about this!


Daniel Edlen’s last blog post..Baby News(letter)

Hilda May 26, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Hi David,

I totally get where you’re coming from with this. I agree that guilt about things we can’t change is a waste of time, but not learning the lessons is even more of a waste. Had you not finally signed up for the class you wouldn’t really have learned the lesson. There’s a difference between knowing a thing and living it, and you’ve stepped up now to learn the lesson that’s been nagging away at you. That’s really commendable. Most people just say “I really should….” and don’t.

“If the universe keeps asking you to do something, think about doing it. It doesn’t ask for no reason.” Fabulous! Love that!!

And I bet a day will come when you will be REALLY glad you took that course.

Hilda’s last blog post..The A-Z of Happiness: B is for…

David May 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm

@ Dot — I don’t know whether I should feel guilty either, but I did. And now that I’ve made a decision, I feel good when I think about it.

@ Daniel — Thanks Daniel, and welcome to Raptitude. I remember reading a famous verse along these lines: “Life is full of lessons. Lessons repeat themselves until you learn them.” There was a whole list, I’m sure someone knows what I’m referring to.

Your artwork is truly excellent, by the way! Everyone, check out Daniel’s site if you’re a music person.

@ Hilda — Hi Hilda!

And I bet a day will come when you will be REALLY glad you took that course.

My fear was that the day would come would I deeply regretnot taking it. I need to get moving on this one.

Liara Covert May 26, 2009 at 5:17 pm

The universe has forever beckoned me to write. What to do with the words is not always straightforward. Many situations and messages seemed to say the time was not right for me to publish. This mindset simly invites inappropriate conditions and mindsets taht are not aligned with soul. Nonetheless, I continued writing, saving manuscripts for eventual opportunities. As I came to realize everything is happening now and the future is illusion, I began shifting focus. I realized I decide when the time is right, each person does that for himself. Creative expression then gains deper meaning and value in every area of existence. FOund you through your comments on Nadia’s Happy Lotus blog.

Liara Covert’s last blog post..5 Ways to strengthen self-worth

Chris Edgar | Purpose Power Coaching May 26, 2009 at 6:09 pm

I actually play drums, but much of the music stuff I do today involves writing what I call Midi Metal on Finale — because, well, it’s done purely in MIDI except with my headphone mic-recorded vocals. So the songs are done but I just need to redo them with actual instruments.

David Cain May 26, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Hi Liara, welcome to Raptitude. I know what you mean, sometimes you just get this sense that it’s not the right time for a particular thing. I trust that feeling now, I often used to overthink it and let my rambling mind drown out my intuition.

Chris — Very cool! I play guitar, though I haven’t been picking it up much recently. I’m giving it a break. Making music is definitely something I need to do on this earth, but I’ve put it on hiatus on purpose for the next year or so to focus on my blogging. I’m trying to have one main focus per year. This year it’s connecting with people (writing, conversing, language), and next year it may be musical chops.

David Cain’s last blog post..Do Something

Jared June 12, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I actually read this post several weeks ago and have been thinking about it since.

In 1993 while in college, a roommate and I were coming home from a night out at the bar. I was drunk as usual. As we pulled into our apartment complex I noticed some smoke coming from between two apartment buildings. We went over to investigate. There was a very small fire just under the wooden stairwell between the two buildings. I told my roommate to go call the Fire Department as I started knocking on residents doors. Before I knew it, most of the stair well was on fire and I ran back up through the flames to continue knocking on peoples doors. No one seemed to realize what was going on. Before I knew it, I was trapped on the second floor of the stairwell. The entire first floor of stairs was in flames. So jumped over the edge to the lawn below (it was only one story). I then realized no one in this back apartment was going to be able to go down that stairwell. It was totally in flames. So I stacked up some various things I found in the area till I could knock on their window. Before I could climb down a chair came flying out the window. Make a long story short (too late), I ended up helping quite a few people out. Got some pretty bad burns on the back of my arms and a few cuts, the fire ended up gutting something like 18 apartments, and the mayor gave me a medal for being an honorable citizen.

When the owner of the apartment complex finally got a chance to speak with me, he asked me, “why didn’t you just use the Fire extinguisher that was hanging right there on the wall?”


I’m not really sure what the moral of this story is… people really don’t know what they’re going to do in any given situation. Maybe if you had done something it wouldn’t have worked out the way it did. Maybe you went through that experience so you are more away of it today and tomorrow you’ll save someones life. It’s led you to this point and time and possibly gave you more empathy for others.

I do know, that when I’m driving and say I see a motorcyclist or something that just doesn’t look right, I quickly formulate a game plan in my head. Like, OK, if “this” happens, “I’m pulling over on that side of the road because there’s a car coming from that direction and one in my blind spot.” I’m always thinking of the next play, the “what am I going to do if this happens.” I sort of visualize myself and what I’m going to do if there’s a wreck or someone needs help, where am I going to go and what I’m going to do. It’s sort of weird now that I’m typing it out.

Maybe it comes from playing shortstop growing up, always knowing what my next play was going to be if “so and so” happens. Also riding a motorcycle for years and using the 3 second rule. “What’s my out or what’s my move going to be three seconds from now.”

But no one know’s what they’re going to do. Ask anyone who’s been labeled a hero, why they did it… most of the time they don’t know why or can’t remember what they were thinking. Doesn’t mean you’re less human or bad.
.-= Jared´s last blog ..Update 06-10-09 =-.

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