One quiet Sunday, not long ago, far way off in the middle of nowhere, was
THE DAY A COOKIE SAVED A STRANGER’S LIFE
There’s a man in my neighborhood I barely knew but now won’t likely forget. He works the desk at the self-storage business next door to my gallery. Turns out his name is Frankie.
About three weeks ago on an early quiet Sunday afternoon Frankie walked out into the sunshine to halloo a lone customer unloading stuff into his storage unit. Frankie offered him a cookie along with a brief chat on the slow day. He studied the emptiness out front, turned his tall wiry frame from roadside dust kicked up by a breeze, checked the sky for cloud formations and figured rain wasn’t coming and mentioned that last part outloud. Frankie went back inside to catch up on his bookkeeping.
The customer popped in before driving off so he could deliver a thank you for the cookie. Frankie looked up, smiled, suddenly went rigid and blank, looking as if he’d vanished from the earth, and then into a collapse on the desk in front of him. He was in the grip of a massive heart attack.
That man who happened in, who’d been greeted by the storage guy he didn’t know, ran across the office to Frankie, now unconscious, pulled him off his chair, stretched him out prone on the floor, all six feet of him, and went to work on his chest. It wasn’t more than a couple of minutes that a woman walked in. All the action in the room was hidden by the big front desk.
She called out, Hello! Hello? Where is everybody? That’s odd…..
Her church rented space at a discount for sports equipment at Frankie’s storage. She had a few minutes on the way home and wanted to stop by with her 14 year old son so her boy could meet the nice people who helped out their church and his team. They walked in on the impossible scene unfolding, unseen.
Call 911! Call 911!!!
Frankie stayed alive that long with just the CPR. The EMT guys, fire and ambulance pulled into the big lot out front, lights and sirens. Their team of five worked about twenty minutes to get Frankie pulsing, then fast on the stretcher, in the ambulance, speeding to coastal Highway One and the hospital between Carmel and Monterey.
I’d heard the sirens while I was painting, and put down my brush, walked out of my studio and gone over to investigate the commotion next door. By then the front lot was empty of people. I went inside help but stood back to watch the EMT guys do a brilliant text-book save.
Trying to size up what was going on around me I noticed a boy sitting on the far side of the room, looking intense, on alert, taking it all in, calm as pie.
He looked right at me and said,
That’s the kind of work I’m gonna do. That’s for me.
My eyes and heart swung back to the intensity on the floor. There are five guys in uniforms. Equipment used, scattered, grabbed for, shouted for, sterile packing ripped open, low volume talk back and forth between the man at the head, men at the throat and chest, shirt pulled off a stranger laid out lifeless and going blue. My neighbor. Everybody there fighting for his life.
It produced a kind of surreal glow, an atmosphere as if they were all contained in a cloud of activity and moisture and dancing light. It was so compelling a fleeting vision, a test, a challenge where everybody’s body goes working in sync with that just one so desperate for air. You feel tethered by the event of it….held back, to stand clear, to let the experts at it, to give them all you’ve got that’s maybe not visible and maybe not enough but you send it over into space, and you can feel the outpouring register on your skin or in your brain or somewhere.
Minutes into it, the rescue, the team wanted a name. There’d never been much visit or talk between us. I didn’t know what he was called.
We need a name, who is he, does anybody know his name.
I knew the other manager, Terri. I rifled desk papers for her number, found it. The woman phoned her, got it, repeated it to me,
He’s Frankie, his name is Frankie,
I called it out to the emergency crew,
Then spoke it to him myself, his name, that link, though he was barely alive ten feet away, Frankie! You’re in good hands, Frankie! Friends are here. You’re going to be okay, Frankie. You’re not alone!
Where did that come from? I figure it’s the residue Brooklyn in me. The last thing any New Yorker ever wants is to die alone on that city’s streets. The stuff of nightmares.
They got a pulse. The pulse held. They got Frankie on the stretcher. His head was way back, his neck way arched and still. All of a sudden he gasped coarse and hard, so deep from him like every molecule he had was pulling air, and in that second he went from blue to pale pink. They rushed him past me and I quicksilver hovered my hand over his leg, figuring not to add to shock he must have already felt from so many hands he didn’t know, just near his foot for just the second I had to do it I said it again,
Frankie. You are going to live, Frankie.
The front door swung closed and in that quiet once more Sunday office the little group of us all at the same minute stopped to look at each other to take it all in. The man who’d done CPR first was leaning against the back wall, shaking. The boy was solid. His mom and I were weeping. Terri, the store manager had sped in from her day off and was intense on the phone, choking back tears, to reach Frankie’s wife who she’d never spoken to before. For one damn fast half hour we were connected inside one brief enveloping hurricane that was so unique and extraordinary, breathtakingly impossible but for a whisker’s width of chance, and we knew it. And when that knowing it hit, we all turned to stare at the on-the-spot miracle worker who nobody knew either.
You saved his life, mister. You did. Who are you.
My name’s Chris, he said. I can’t believe this. I just finished a CPR course last week. Holy God, I can’t believe it. I didn’t know him. I never talked to him. I only stopped back in to say goodbye because he came out to give me a cookie!
Frankie’s back home resting after his totally successful battle with death. Fit as a re-strung fiddle.
And oh, for future reference?
The cookie was a
chocolate chip. .