This evening I watched a friend of mine almost die. What started out as a warm late summer night of softball, ended up as a surreal, terrifying race against time.
It was the bottom of the seventh inning of a 10-10 game. We had the tieing run on third base with two outs, but the batter couldn’t get the winning run in. In normal circumstances the game would have ended in a tie, but being that this was the playoffs we needed a winner. There was another game to be played after ours and daylight was running short so I, as the coach of my team, met with the umpires and the coaches of the other teams to come up with a solution. We decided to play one more inning and, as this was slowpitch softball, someone was bound to score and win the game. As I turned toward our dugout to tell the team we were playing one more, I noticed one of our players was lying on the ground behind the backstop. Other teammates started to gather around and I realized that the player on the ground, we’ll call him Jim, was having some kind of seizure. When he fell, Jim had hit his face on the fence and then landed face down in the dirt. One of our teammates, a police officer by trade, got Jim on his side, as you’re apparently supposed to do when someone is having a seizure. Though obviously concernced by such a thing, it is not all that uncommon for people to have brief seizures, especially in the heat, and I’ll admit that after my first thought of, “I hope he’s ok”, was “who am I going to play in left field.” That sounds especially terrible in light of what happened next.
After a couple of minutes it became obvious that this was not just a seizure. He wasn’t really shaking like someone who is having seizure, but started gasping for air. When it became apparent that this was something far more serious than a little heat stroke, we all started calling for someone who knew CPR. Two guys, both from different teams, and a nurse who happened to be there watching the games, immediately stepped forward and begin administering CPR. Another guy from our team called 911. As I watched Jim lying there, his chest being violently pumped and his face turning blue, I thought for sure we were going to lose him. At at least one point he ceased breathing completely and the nurse, Rene, could not find a pulse.
In times like these it seems like it takes help an eternity to arrive. I ran down to the corner of the street to make sure that the anticipated ambulance could find its way to the softball fields without problem. I could hear the siren off in the distance but it seemed like ages before it and a fire engine finally arrived. I ran back to the scene where Rene and the two CPR guys, Doug and Chris, were continuting to try to revive Jim. He seemed to be getting short, gasping breaths, almost like burps, but still wasn’t able to recover. When the paramedics arrived they continued CPR and then went to the defibulator. I’ve seen death before. I watched my grandfather breath his last and saw my best friends mom lying dead on her living room floor, and as I watched them work, and I saw Jim’s discolored face I was sure that he had that look and was going to die right here behind the backstop.
Meanwhile, the two teams from the other softball diamond had started to trickle down to see what the commotion was. While the paramedics worked we all were saying prayers, some together, some by themselves. I prayed silently to myself as I watched him lie there, gasping. It was comforting to know that while we were competitors on the field, all of those in the league are brothers in Christ and could come together in times like these and be there for each other and pray for each other.
After about 20 total minutes since Jim went down, the paramedics were finally able to get a pulse and a decent blood pressure reading. They lifted him onto the gurney and wheeled him into the ambulance which had driven onto the field. When the ambulance left for the hospital and everyone started to go their seperate ways I had to, as league commissioner, perform some now seemingly meaningless softball business. I cancelled the rest of the nights games and told the teams I’d contact them in the next few days to figure out how we’d finish the playoffs.
I went to the hospital after leaving the field and waited along with my dad, a few teammates, and the two CPR heros, Doug and Chris, to hear what the situation was. The nurse came out after a few minutes and told us that Jim was now awake and resonably alert. He was stil pretty groggy and in shock, but he was able to talk and see a visitor. He had actually awoken in the ambulance we were to learn. The nurse and the paramedics told us that those who had done the CPR had done it exactly right and had definitely saved Jim’s life. Without Doug, Chris, and Rene Jim likely would have died on that softball field. It turned out that Jim had a fatal arrythmia, a heart condition or event that doctors often call “sudden death” for its without warning spontaneous occurence and deadly results. He had a fatal arrythmia and didn’t die! The docotor at the hospital called it a “miracle” that Jim survived. On top of that, the damage to his heart was relatively minor and he should make a full recovery.
When you see a friend lying in the dirt gasping for what may be his last breath things like softball are suddenly thrown into perspective. One minute we thought we were gasping for our last “breath” of softball life, the next we were watching a friend fight for his. Suddenly that game winning run stranded on third base didn’t matter anymore. All we wanted was for Jim to be alright. We live so much for the moment. One moment getting that run in from third seems like the most important thing. The next moment getting a friend medical attention is the most important thing. I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with living in a moment, but sometimes we do need these little (or big!) wake up calls to what really matters.
I’ve known Jim since I was about seven or eight years old. He and my dad played softball together for years when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I really got to know him. I’m so thankful that he is going to be ok. I’m so thankful that God answers prayer. I’m so thankful that there are people who don’t skip out on CPR classes when they are offered at their workplace or school. Right now, I’m mostly thankful Jim is alive and doing well.