Today it's still morning and I need coffee, so I don't try and brave it too much, I head for Molly Pitcher. It's teeming with schools of perspiring humanity in the muggy heat. People are irritable and sweating, moving back and forth in tight-packed streams. I've got a book with me, and figure I'll sit for a bit in the air conditioning and eat some breakfast, too. I wander around a bit, and realize the sign for a Starbucks is a filthy lie, but there's a Cinnabon. Over the loudspeaker, someone says, "If there is a doctor or a nurse at the rest stop, please come to the front doors."
I queue up for some coffee. I'm thinking about indulging in a cinnabon, but good lord, they're so fatty and enough calories to power Manhatten for a few minutes. I'm debating this when a woman with an absurdly grating voice says in a high-pitched shriek, "First Aid kit? First aid kit? Does anyone have a first aid kit?" Behind her are a few men, with a slumped form carried between them like a particularly large sack of millet. One of them says, "Put him down on the ground, gently, gently..."
They lay an old man down. He is completely still. His face is a deep shade of purple. None of the blood above his neck is oxygenated. To my eye, he's clearly dead. The woman continues shrieking, demanding a first aid kit. What first aid kit is going to help this man? A defibrillator, maybe. First aid? Pointless.
The men begin a clumsy CPR. One of them begins compressing the old man's chest far too vigorously and fast. The other braces the old man's mouth open, and his dentures fly out, tracing a perfect parabola over his face and chin and landing directly over his head, tops and bottoms like a dentifrice halo. The man at his mouth is clearly reluctant to give the old man a breath. He gets his face close, pulls back. "Does anyone have one of those.. things?"
The woman's shriek, impossibly, goes up several more decibels. "Doesn't anyone have a first aid kit? Why doesn't anyone have a first aid kit?" One man continues chest compression. From the coaching he's getting on strength and frequency by the man by the old man's head, I can tell at least one of them knows CPR. There's a crowd around them.
I feel guilty for buying coffee and food, so I stand and watch. I think about my training as a combat lifesaver, as a lifeguard. I know CPR, and clearly these guys are not going to give the old man a breath. Even if they do save his life, he'll probably have brain damage, at this point - no oxygen is getting to his brain. I think about walking over, and going through the steps for life-saving. There's a crowd though, and one of the three men who carried in the old man is on the phone with 911 - and then turns to the crowd and says, "If you're not helping, get out of the way. This isn't tv, folks."
The two men continue with their half-hearted CPR. I've just decided I've had enough, that their reluctance to really do what it takes is too much to bear, when a cop dashes up. He is fat, wet and florid from running in from the heat. He has a breather in hand, which he gives over to the man at the old man's head. The cop gets on his radio while the other man puts the plastic over the old man's mouth and finally begins to breathe into his mouth.
There's no reaction at all. The old man is still perfectly still, mouth gaping slackly, eyes open and staring at nothing. He is dead. He is dead. He is clearly dead. Maybe his wife or grandchildren are waiting for him in his car, and wonder what has happened.
I get coffee. I don't want food. I go out to my car, hoping that I'm wrong, hoping he isn't really dead, that the help of the people there is sufficient to keep him alive until the ambulance arrives with a portable defibrillator. I think he is dead though. I hope that I don't die at a rest-stop on the Jersey turnpike, wearing cheap polyester pants and a short-sleeve dress-shirt. I hope that I don't die because someone was too squeamish to put his mouth on mine.
But then I think - what would it matter? Death, good or bad - it's an end to cares. I won't care one way or the other when I go.
I hope the old man lived.