When Death is in Your Arms
Life can change in an instant. This afternoon was one of those moments. It changed and it didn't. William Esper would say it's just another moment. Each moment. Another breath. Another creation. Another opportunity. For something. Unknown. Then every once in a while the universe surprises us with something completely different. Something that changes things. Sometimes everything.
Today I was at the beach at Nosara giving a session when suddenly a lot of people started running towards the ocean. There was a lot of intense commotion that felt like it could have been panic or awe as I saw people pointing out into the water. I paused the session to ran over and see what was happening. I found several people intensely yelling and gesturing out from some outcropped rocks. In front of them about 10 yards away were two individuals in the water in an area that looked tricky. They appeared more stuck then struggling. Like they were trying to navigate their way back to the shore while this man guided them. I asked a woman, as I ran past her, what was happening. She said that there were people out in the water drowning. I heard four. I looked out and saw two guys heading out on a board towards what looked like a person about 80-100 yards out. I didn't know where the other three were or if the other two I saw were a part of the four. Things weren't clear. I could just see that going out there from that entry point gave me access to all three if I needed it. I still had no clear idea what was happening. The words 'So this is happening' went through my head as I took off my clothes.
I used to certify lifeguarding for years though I rarely was in the stand. I used to think it was because I thought it was boring. Now I believe it was because I was scared to be responsible or vulnerable. I was strict and loving as hell as a coach. I wanted them to feel so confident. So solid that if anything happened they had the best chance possible to show up fully for themselves and the person in their arms. Knowing they did the best they could and give that person the best chance. I remember always thinking that if it was my kid out there and they were drowning who would I want in the stand. Clearly one of my students over myself. It has been about 6 years since I certified anyone in CPR, First Aid or lifeguarding and I haven't seen a dead body since my mother passed 18 months ago. All we can do is trust its still there and we are doing the best that we can.
So I swam out. Because I didn't have a board I was able to get out faster. The downside is that when you get out there you don't have a board. The water was strong and the swells were solid. Strong though totally swimmable. The entire time I was just confused. I was confused why I was one of the first people in the water to help these people when I was at least 100 yards from the entry point. So many were just pointing. yelling. Why wasn't anyone else in the water? I went after the person that appeared to be the furthest out near where the two guys with a board were going. The other two swimmers were close enough to the shore and still active. I was believing and trusting someone else would be able to help them more easily. I knew I could get out there fast enough to at least help or get their head out of the water. The board was just moving too slow. The fourth person, if he or she existed, was out of sight. The swells were too large. I got to the first person about the same time as the board. They grabbed him and said he was dead. Like it was over. Fuck that. I grabbed him and started hauling him in. The swim in was tough. I was rusty and out of shape though trusting that it would all come back. Most of it did. About half way back someone met me and helped the rest of the way. By the time we got to shore we had 3-4 people dragging him up the beach. We laid him down and started CPR. Regional medical professionals (Fire Dept?) had arrived on sight as soon as we got to the beach and started hitting his chest. No response. Water and foam started to come out of his mouth. I turned his head to the side and the water started to drain from his system. The emergency worker kept pumping his chest and I would give mouth to mouth. His chest elevated. By the second round, the smell and texture of the acid that was coming up from his system was around his mouth. The fluid from inside his body. It's stench strong and wet as, what felt like death, touched my mouth. The back of my throat began to burn as his breath fell into me creating a reaction that caused me to dry heave and vomit. It was strange and intense. This was something different. It felt like a gift. Like I was tasting death. And in it was giving me life. It felt like it released something from me. A story. One last gesture of love hidden in the quiet depths of a young man. Left for me to find in the stillness of his lifeless body.
In his death he gave me life.
The EMS had a huge medical kit yet they weren't using it. It wasn't even open. I asked them if they had a defib and they said he's dead. I said do you have a defib? Do you have a mask or a pump, Oxygen. Anything? They took out a Mask and pump and started using it. The air didn't seem to be going in and they shortly after stopped doing CPR for the third time. It wasn't until then that I realized his throat was blocked. I kept thinking the mask wasn't on right. I'm now realizing I didn't tilt the head back either even though the air went in initially. They said he was dead. I said he still has a chance. The ambulance wasn't there yet. They said he had been dead for an extended amount of time. I said. "You don't know how long he was out there! He has a chance." After the third time the medical professionals stopped I almost stopped as well. I was putting them on a pedestal. Thinking they must know more then me or had to be right because they were the professionals. It threw me for a moment. I started questioning myself. Forgetting myself, my intuition, my training. How could they stop? Why would they stop? What am I not getting here? Then, without a moment's pause, an impassioned woman in the crowd came over saying, "You can't stop! The ambulance isn't here yet. I know CPR!" and knelt down placing her hands on his chest. Her assistance and encouragement was all I needed to remember. Until the ambulance arrived we had to try.
It was surreal to see his face. His eyes open, mouth ajar, food and foam falling out of him. A large tattoo on his chest of what looked like a heart. Another on his left wrist of something resembling a compass. He didn't look a day over 25 at the most. Though he might have been 20 or even younger. His mother was there with him. After trying to give him several breaths it was clear that his throat has been blocked. So I started to pump his stomach. A large amount of food came up clearing his esophagus. We felt a renewed sense of hope. He had a chance. I always know there is a chance. Though as soon as we began to continue CPR the family interjected and told us to stop. We complied, stopped and the EMS personal covered his body with a white sheet. I didn't understand this. I didn't understand any of it. I also didn't understand why anyone would give up including myself. I wanted to honor their family's wishes yet I was upset with myself for stopping. Why so many people were okay with stopping. That said, what do I know? What is to say that I know best or any better. I don't know. I don't. We all just do our best. I don't judge anyone for anything that happened or how it happened. I'm just confused. It almost felt like it was all set up for me for some reason. To learn something or have a certain experience. Then I think' 'how arrogant is that?' Or is it? Then I see myself judging that and myself. I don't know. As difficult as that is to say it's the only thing that my rational mind can wrap itself around perhaps in an effort to protect my heart from feeling something. And then wondering did I get it? Did I fail? Is there even such a thing? Some people said I was courageous. I don't feel or get that. I felt confused yet grateful and now curious and neutral. Another moment.
I stepped away. Took him in for a moment. Bowed and walked back to finish my session. On my way back, the man who met me in the water and helped me carry him in, repeated in frustration how fucked up that was and that he needed a beer. He asked me for 2000 colones so he could get one. I said I had him covered. He met me a little later, this time crying. We thanked each other, handed him some change and off he went. Another man came over crying just to express himself and that he was a friend of the deceased.
I was honored to be the person that got to bring him in. Honored to serve and experience such a sacred and precious moment and try to help his family. It made me wonder if he was cramping or was choking on some food that came up while he was swimming and swallowed water. I couldn't understand why or how he had drown. I couldn't understand why virtually no one was in the water. Why EMS didn't take out their equipment automatically? Why the family wanted us to stop? Also frustrated at not checking his throat for food or scooping his mouth or tilting his head back more or getting to him sooner. Though who am I to determine whether or not someone lives or dies? Who am I to think I have that kind of power. Or do I? Do we? Did I let him die by stopping? If we create our own reality do we also determine who stays to any extent? Do we play a co-creative role in that? Does anything we do do anything at all or are we all just writing love stories.
The ambulance arrived about an hour later. I walked back over after my session to see if his mother was still there to pay my respects. She was sitting down with two other souls supporting her. His body still covered under the white cloth on the ground about 15 feet to her right. I just looked at her. Touched my heart and said in Spanish, "I tried."
I asked her, "What was his name?"
Sending you love Brando on your journey. Thank you for touching my life and heart with yours before you left and the honor to hold you. I did the best I could. I wish I could have done better. I wish we all could have though perhaps that was exactly the way it needed to go. Because sometimes perfection doesn't look like what we think it is. After all, how can it be anything else. I'm trusting that. That you knew.
Thank you Brando.