December 23, 2017. Christmas Eve Eve. A day, for most, of last minute shopping and cooking, many people spending time with their families. It was that kind of day for me as well. I was home for the first time in four years for Christmas, finally with my family again. It was a good day.
Until my dad died in front of me.
The Perfect Holiday
I love Christmas. Seriously. Ever since I was a little kid, Christmas has been my thing. I had, and still have, an Advent calendar that I used to countdown the days until Christmas morning. When December hits, the magic begins. I would spend every day at school before break just thinking about how awesome break would be. Two weeks off from school! How could it get any better?
Both sides of my family did Christmas big. It was an all-day event for me. Wake up at home and go see what Santa left under my Christmas tree (it was always my tree). Go nuts while tearing apart all of the toy packages. I am an only child, thank God, so everything under the tree was mine. Then we would be off to my mom’s side of the family, where I was, for a while, the only grand kid. Again, everything under the tree was mine. The final stop was to my dad’s side of the family.
Now, his family is huge. Tons of people. Tons of fun. I will always remember everyone stuffing themselves into the living room around the giant tree (my grandfather loved having a giant tree, which the marks on the ceiling prove).
In short, Christmas has always been amazing.
The Holiday Changed
The official documents say, “Sudden cardiac death.”
It wasn’t that sudden.
My mom and I needed to get one more present for my dad. I had just finished mowing the backyard (it was warm that day). We decided to run across the street to a store three minutes away from the house. We were there a total of five minutes, getting my dad a sign that says, “Let the Sea Set You Free.” My dad is a huge Jimmy Buffet fan, so this went perfectly with the new Buffet album we bought him.
We were home ten minutes after we left.
I noticed that the lawn mower was now around front of the house and part of the lawn had been mowed. Dad had gotten it out, intent on getting the front finished.
You see, in 2011 dad had a stroke. He couldn’t walk or talk right after, but has since made a mostly full recovery. Don’t tell him he can’t do something, because he will set off and do it.
All Watson’s are notoriously hard-headed that way.
My mom and I walked in the door and dad was sitting in his usual chair with his always present green cup filled with ice water beside him. He was taking a rest, but said he needed to get the side yard finished with the mower. Mom sat on the couch and I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.
One minute after we walked in, I heard my mom and I knew something was wrong.
“Honey, honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice not quite panicked, but heading that direction. I immediately went to the other room. Something was very wrong.
My dad was seizing up, his face red, veins in his head bulging. He couldn’t breath and it looked like he was trying to swallow his tongue.
It looked like a scene from a movie where someone gets poisoned. Remember Joffrey at his wedding? That’s what this looked like, but nobody was cheering.
At this point, something happened to me. I zoned out completely because I knew that emotion could play no part in what I was going to have to do. I had been an EMT for nine years, but had never worked on a family member. This was different.
Instinct took over.
Once I realized the danger of the situation, I ran to my phone and called 911. As soon as the operator picked up, the call dropped. I called right back and told them what was happening. This was all about 30 seconds after the incident began.
This whole time my mom was trying to get dad to tell her what was wrong, but he couldn’t. No words would come out, but you could see the panic in his eyes.
This is when my dad stopped. I can’t say he stopped breathing because he wasn’t doing that anyway. He just stopped. The life drained out of him.
I threw him out of his chair and onto the floor, handed the phone to my mom so she could talk to the dispatcher, and got ready for business.
If you’ve ever wondered if people really do turn blue when they stop breathing, stop wondering. They do, and it happens quickly.
I put my ear to his mouth and nose to listen for breathing and looked towards his chest for movement. Nothing.
I checked his neck for a pulse. Nothing.
Head tilt, chin lift, squeeze the nose. Just like they teach you. Two breaths. Chest rise? Check.
Begin compressions. Hands interlaced, find the right chest placement. Go.
Not to sound morbid, but they tell you that the best song to keep in your head when doing chest compressions is “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. It is important to keep the right pace with chest compressions, and the beat to this song does it just right.
As soon I started compressions I felt and heard the cracking. Ribs, cartilage, and sternum. All parts of the body not used to this kind of trauma. To get the necessary depth to keep the blood flowing, it has to be done.
Thirty compressions. Two more breaths. Thirty compressions. Two more breaths.
He tried to breath on his own.
I check for a pulse. None. His breathing stopped.
Thirty compressions. Two breaths. I hear the ambulance coming. Thirty compressions. Two breaths. Thank God I live on the same street as the fire station.
He takes another breath on his own. Still no pulse. Only one breath.
Thirty compressions. Two breaths.
At some point my mom had gone out to flag down the ambulance. They came in and took over. I watched at they continued CRP. The AED was hooked up.
Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.
I’m making phone calls to family members and letting them know what is going on. I’m looking for phone chargers because I know it will be a long day at the hospital…or somewhere else.
Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.
At this point I was sitting with my mom and we decided to pray. Mom lead the prayer while EMS worked.
Also at some point he began breathing on his own, a pulse came back. They loaded him on the ambulance and took off for the hospital.
We followed shortly after. The thirty-minute ride to the hospital was remarkably calm for my mom and me. We had no idea what we would find out when we got there. It was really 50/50 whether he was alive or dead.
We walked into the ER waiting room and were told that someone would be with us shortly.
We waited an hour.
A nurse came to get us and led us to a waiting room with a doctor.
Dad was alive.
He was alive.
A New Beginning
My dad has now had a quadruple bypass to correct a serious arterial blockage. The night before the surgery, I took the dog outside. I was walking around the backyard, thinking. Praying. I just happened to look up to marvel at how clear the sky was when a shooting star sailed by. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. I made my wish.
He is going to be fine. The first few nights at the hospital were rough. He was on a ventilator until late the first night, which he wanted to rip out. The next few days were horrible, as he had aspirated a few times and sucked some of his December 23 lunch into his lungs. This led to a horrible cough.
Have you ever coughed with a cracked sternum, broken ribs, and torn up cartilage? It looks like it hurts.
The bypass led to another few nights of agony, but he did everything they asked him to do. He got up when they said get up, and walked when they said walk.
If you asked him now, he would tell you he was certain he was dying for two days straight. But things got better. The bypass saved his life.
We should have many more years to come.
And we can’t wait until next Christmas.
The Importance of CPR
If you don’t know CPR, you need to learn. You never know when you will need to use it on a loved one. Please don’t think you know it if the only place you’ve seen it done is on a medical TV show. Most of the time on the show, the person comes back. The reality is much worse.
In 2016, there were more that 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the US, according to the American Heart Association. Of those, 46.1 percent received CPR. Of those 46.1 percent, only 12 percent survived to be discharged from the hospital. That means that only around 19,000 of those 350,000 survive.
Many times, when CPR is performed, it is performed incorrectly. It is recommended that bystanders just perform chest compressions now, as doing that correctly will significantly improve the chances of survival. Many people were hesitant to perform CPR because of an aversion to the mouth-to-mouth part. I was a trained health-care professional, not to mention this was my dad, so I didn’t think twice.
It could be your mother or father. Your brother or sister. Your child. You really never know.
We were in celebration mode, happier than we had been in years. This still happened.
Don’t be caught off guard. Learn how to save a life.
If we had been at the store a minute longer, or if traffic had held us up, my dad would have died. We would have walked in and he would have been gone. I can’t explain the timing, but I’m glad we were there. I’m glad my mom and I worked together as a team to ensure my dad’s survival.
I can’t yet get the images of the incident out of my head. Maybe they’ll fade over time, maybe they’ll follow me for the rest of my life.
I’m just glad he’s alive.