It Gets Personal

The Open Circle staff is preparing to be recertified in CPR and first aid, a licensing requirement we complete annually. Our instructors have always pointed out that it may not be something we use at work but rather in our outside life with family and friends. I know that every year I give an affirming nod and return to the work of chest compressions on the CPR dummies they provide. This year I am more focused on the value of this education because this year it became personal.

In June my brother was walking to lunch with his wife, on a trip to San Francisco for the opera. They are both healthy and fit. But somewhere in my brother’s heart, something went wrong and he collapsed to the street. He describes it as “a vague feeling of not feeling right followed by nothing.” He had a cardiac arrest.

Coming down the street in the other direction was Jessica, on vacation with her friends. She saw what happened and rushed to help. Part of it was her kindness and willingness to help but the other was her superb training as a cardiac nurse. Who could ask for more in this crisis situation? Not only was she trained but she had actually performed CPR in her work life. Thankfully, Jessica performed strong compressions and wasted no time with rescue breathing.

My brother opened his eyes and took a giant breath and again returned to nothing. An ambulance arrived and they shocked him back. My sister-in-law hurriedly found out who Jessica was and the fact that she lived in Duluth, Minnesota.

Today, my brother is fine and his heart is in beautiful shape except for the moment it didn’t work. There are devices to address the issue of it happening again. My overwhelming feeling is that we really don’t know when and why we are on a certain path. My brother had planned for the opera a year in advance. He thought it was to finally see the Ring Cycle performed by the San Francisco Opera. Really, it was so he would collapse in just the right spot. If he had been at home alone or on the road when this happened, his story would have a different ending. Jessica was planning a trip with friends for fun, not knowing she was on a mission to save a man’s life.

There are so many events and encounters in my life that feel like chance. Some of them have made a profound difference in how I live and what I do. I celebrate these as moments of grace or synchronicity. However, there are an equal amount of “wrong place wrong time” situations that when I think too much, can be debilitating. It becomes a psychological and theological tangle.

This episode, that I now call a moment of grace, has done many things for me. First it reminded me that I am not immune from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” I could have lost my brother that day; so many others have, in different circumstances. Secondly, the fact that Jessica was there, a cardiac nurse from Minnesota, seemed beyond chance, and made me feel that there was something greater at work in this situation. Thirdly, I have an immense sense of gratitude. Jessica, a stranger, gave me another chance to hug my brother.

We are so often powerless over the things that happen to us and those we love. But we also never know when we will be the one who makes the difference. We just need to give it our best. I know that this year my CPR training will feel very different.

Open Circle Adult Day Services offers three convenient locations throughout the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. Each of our locations offers programs, recreation, personal care, respite and social connections to individuals with memory loss or other emotional or physical needs. Contact one of our centers to learn how Open Circle can support care partners to find balance and meaning in a life touched by memory loss or other diagnosis.

The author, Patty Crawford, is the Center Manager at Open Circle of Apple Valley. She has been a part of Cassia for over 40 years. Patty is also a sought-after public speaker on subjects of aging. She weaves her insight and research into meaningful presentations. Patty is a Master of Leadership graduate from Augsburg University.