How to Save a Life: Vacation Part 2

February 25, 2015

“Jesus, honey, that movie really messed you up,” my husband says, tucking into his omelet. He grins wickedly across the table and mimics, “It’s over! It’s over!”

“Shut up!” I say, but I laugh. I know I’m a ridiculous creature. “I’m sorry. I don’t know how you put up with me. I’m a freak and a worrywart and emotionally wrecked about everything and you’re just this…rational…level person.”

He shrugs.

“No, seriously. You don’t freak out about anything. You’re just this calm, chill dude and you sit back and think things through while I’m clawing the ceiling. We’re so completely different. Gaa.”

My husband reaches for the hot sauce. “Well, I think part of it is that duh, you’re a woman.”

“Nice try, but I think I’m overly emotional, even by chick standards,” I say.

He considers for a second. “Maybe, but look at what you do–you’re a writer. Writers have to tap into the emotions of people and situations. Writers are feelers, in general, right? And then look at what I do for a living. I’m a radiologist. I have to be logical and calm and evaluative. Emotions are hazards. They get in the way and cloud my judgment.”

“Okay, point,” I grumble. “But I still hate how freakshow I am sometimes.”

“Hey,” he smiles, reaching across the table to squeeze my hand. “At least you’re never boring. Remember how my sister used to tell me growing up that I was ‘a robot?'”

“She didn’t mean it,” I say, but I feel a sharp pang of guilt, because twice in my life, I’ve thrown those words back in his face.

When I gave birth to my girls, I had two separate, completely different freaky and scary medical complications, both which can be fatal. My husband was at my side both times, calm and rational and absolutely in control of his faculties. He didn’t break a sweat, let alone seem concerned.

At the time, each instance seemed like a blessing, but when I got home, with the mess of new babies and post-partum hormones and sleep deprivation, I accused him of being cold and uncaring. Robotic.

Why was he not more concerned? Why didn’t he freak out–I mean, this is your wife here! Your wife who might die giving birth to your children? Where was the hand-wringing? The tears when things turned out okay? Was he so calm because he really didn’t care that much? Did I just not mean enough to him?

To my husband’s credit, he refrained (both times) from getting defensive or telling his hysterical wife that she was crazy. Which I was, but he didn’t say it. He just sighed and listened to my hormonal ranting and gave me a hug. Because he’s level-headed like that.


“Come on,” I say to him, pushing my plate aside. “Let’s go hang out by that beautiful pool. Because this vacation? Hate to tell you, but it’s gonna be OVER! Over, I tell you!”


“That guy’s out there again,” my husband says, looking across the pool area.

I study the man. He is standing in the deep end of the pool, leaning in a corner, reading a hardback novel. “That seems so weird. Who reads in the pool? He stood there like that for hours yesterday.”

My husband hands me the sunscreen. “No idea. People are strange birds.”

“It’s getting crowded out here this morning,” I say.

Suddenly, there’s a commotion at one end of the pool and a woman lets out this horrible, gut-wrenching howl. It doesn’t even sound human–or animal, even. It’s a sound not of this world; I’ve never heard anything like it in my life, and then the shouting begins.

“Ohmygod! Get her out of the water! OUT of the water!”

“She’s facedown! Crapcrapcrap, she’s floating!”

“Helpsomebodyhelp! She’s not breathing. She is not breathing. Ohmygod!”

My husband is already on his feet and running toward the commotion and the crowd that’s quickly formed and I strain to see around the bodies. All I can see is one little, white arm on the ground. It seems impossibly thin and small.

“Get out of the way,” I bellow. “Doctor coming through! We have a doctor! He’s a doctor! Let him through! Everything’s okay, he’s a doctor!”

But of course, it’s not okay, and it’s a moronic and asshole thing for me to be yelling but I’m not thinking and I really need things to be okay and I’m furious at the gawkers blocking his access, and even more people run to crowd the area, just as others–mainly women grasping young children–flee the scene, faces contorted in horror.

My husband crouches next to the girl, sticks his hand in her mouth to clear her airway, tilts her head to the side and calmly instructs the little girl’s father how to provide her with breath as my husband begins chest compressions.

“Sarah! Sarah Baby. NO! NoNoNoNoSarah! PleaseGod. No. No.” The mother laces her fingers into her scalp and instinctively clutches her belly.

It is horribly, eerily quiet except for the mother’s pleas and the low sound of my husband’s voice saying, “Okay, another round of breaths. Let’s go. Now.”

Another man breaks through the crowd and crouches on the other side of the little girl and confers with my husband. My husband nods and the man assists and they do a violent, hard press and suddenly a massive quantity of water and vomit spews out of her little bird-boned body onto the pavement. Her eyes snap open and she wails in loud, shaky bursts, struggling for breath.

It’s not more than a few minutes, but it seems like it takes forever for the hotel medics to arrive. By then, my husband is back at my side; as soon as the girl opens her eyes and has the breath–and the presence of mind–to scream, my husband removes himself from the scene. He lets the medics take over and rubs my back and says quietly, “It’s okay. She’s lucid. She’s going to be okay.” Because of course, I’m a puddle of wreck. And of course, he is not.

The wait for the ambulance seems interminable. Again, it’s probably a matter of minutes, but it seems like a damn long wait. Sarah cannot stop crying and screaming and her mother is hovering over her, saying “Sarah, you’re doing a really good job, honey. A good job, Sarah. You’re doing good, Sarah,” in a heavy Boston accent. It sounds like “Sahrrrr-ah” and she says it over and over and I’m not sure how much longer I can hear her do that, but the ambulance comes and whisks the three of them away.

They leave and the atmosphere at the pool is nervous and unsettled and creepy. Everyone returns to their lounge chairs but nobody talks and the air is charged with this weird energy, an unnerving restlessness. The men seem particularly unable to calm down; they pace and fidget and can’t quit looking at the patch of concrete where Sarah used to be.

“Are you okay?” I say quietly.

“Yeah.” He exhales deeply and nods. “Yeah, I’m okay.” He shakes his head a little. “I’m really glad that other guy showed up. With kids, it’s hard, you know. To figure out the pressure, the compression. They’re so delicate when they’re little and there’s not much room to maneuver; it’s so easy to crack a rib. I wasn’t sure…”

“You didn’t have time to be sure,” I say. “You just did it.”

“Yeah, but. The way she kept crying like that. After. I’m betting we broke a rib or two.”

“It’s okay. Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I say. “I mean, consider the fucking alternative.”

We busy ourselves with books and podcasts but people keep looking at us, looking over at my husband for his reaction, and he is trying very hard to seem normal. Nobody approaches us, but the scrutiny is palpable.

Finally, after the dust settles, a man a few lounge chairs down comes over. “Hey, man,” he says, shifting from foot to foot. “I just wanted to say something to you because, you know, what you did back there…that was like…I mean, you were so fast. You didn’t even hesitate.”

My husband shakes his head back and forth. “It wasn’t just me. That other guy came in and helped…”

“Yeah, but you were so calm, man. You just kept it together and gave instructions what to do, and damn. Like, how you kept your cool, I dunno.”

My husband and I share a look.

“It sounds weird but in a way it’s kind of funny,” I say to the man. “We were just talking about that at breakfast this morning. He can keep calm in the craziest of situations, and I’m this shitstorm of nerves. In a crisis situation, you don’t want me on your team, believe me.”

“I don’t know. I’m not feeling so calm,” my husband says, laughing a little, but his eyes don’t look right. “I think a stiff drink is in order pretty soon.”

Pretty soon, drink in hand, we wander into the pool and look out at the ocean. I lean my head on his shoulder.

The novel-reading man wades over to us, holding his book carefully above the water.

“Hey. Look. I just wanted to let you know that you’ve inspired me today,” he says. “I’m going to take a CPR refresher course when I get back home. Seriously. I was in the service a long time ago and learned but it’s been years and years, and just, what you did today made me realize that that’s something you shouldn’t let slide, you know? All of us, not knowing what to do. That little girl. She’s what, maybe even four? That little girl.”


That night, my husband and I toss and turn in our bed. Neither of us sleeps much, and we’re up and down in the night, taking turns getting drinks of water, popping Advil, using the toilet, kicking off the covers, putting the covers back on.

At 5am the alarm sounds on my husband’s phone. I turn to him and kiss his cheek.

“It’s over,” I say. “Let’s go home.”


{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherri February 25, 2015 at 7:07 am

Wow. Thankfully, your husband and that other man sprang into action. Very scary. Have only seen a much less dramatic water rescue – though they’re always just awful. I’m glad she’s OK. Glad you guys made it safely back.


Alison February 25, 2015 at 7:10 am

God, you’re a terrific storyteller.
And your husband – a keeper.


Jane February 25, 2015 at 8:33 am

Oh. Wow.




Jennifer February 25, 2015 at 9:41 am

That is amazing. I’m so glad he was there to help. Whether he thinks it was a big deal or not, it was.


elizabeth February 25, 2015 at 10:05 am

If it makes you feel any better, I was on the couch weeping last night during the finale for Parks and Rec while Michael (who also loves the show but not to the weird extent I do) says shortly after 11: “OK, time for bed!” Then again, he loves to talk about how he’s a robot, so maybe that’s why we work so well together as do you and Mr. Kitch.

As for the second half of that post…JFC, what a bizarre holiday you guys had down there.


Annie February 25, 2015 at 10:38 am

Wow- the ups and downs of such a short trip. So glad he was there to save her. You bring out the best in each other.


Dana February 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Oh my god, I am reading this and crying and sweating (tmi?!) and just overwhelmed by your husband and you – I’m like you, as in a wreck under pressure (though I think you did great clearing a path, who cares what you said it worked) and my husband is a – robot, though I’ve called him iceman. However he is not a doctor and I just am floored by your husband’s calm during that guy wrenching moment. Wow is an understatement. Yet I get how you felt after your two traumatic childbirths (though makes sense in a way re doctor) how you wanted some emotion, bc for people like us emotion = caring and love, but this situation turns that idea on its head.

Glad they are people like your husband and you in the world.


Katrina Kenison February 25, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Oh my goodness, I read this whole thing holding my breath. Apart from the story itself, which is such a reminder of how life turns on a dime, I’m kind of in awe of your writing here. Just so good.


Pamela February 25, 2015 at 9:43 pm

This is so beautifully and tenderly written. I am so glad the little girl was ok but what a horrible thing to witness. And yet your words capture the goodness and the humanity and the love.


Shannon February 26, 2015 at 6:18 am

Wow. What a story. I’m so grateful for whatever events led up to your husband being in that place at that time.


Sarah February 26, 2015 at 8:07 am

That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing. Makes me want to take a CPR class too.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes March 2, 2015 at 5:00 am

And now I can’t wait to start my CPR course


Tiffany March 5, 2015 at 6:38 pm

I’m so glad he was there and calm and was able to help!!


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