There’s a story behind this award.
It’s not one of those joke awards for attending the most meetings.
It’s not an award for being the top performer on my team.
It’s not an award for never missing a day, or for always being on time.
No, this award is for saving someone’s life.
I saved someone’s life.
I saved someone’s life, in the canteen at work.
I saved someone’s life, in the canteen at work, on the second week in my new job.
Starting a new job is incredibly difficult. You have to meet a lot of new people all at once. You have to get used to the new company’s way of doing things, or if you prefer – the corporate culture. (Ugh, I hate that phrase. There’s two words that really don’t fit together, corporate and culture.) New systems and processes have to be learned. It’s exhausting!
When I started my new role, the company had hired a few people in key positions throughout the organisation to facilitate a period of rapid growth. (Man, that sentence looks like something ripped straight out of a terrible LinkedIn recruitment offer…)
Anyway, there were a couple of newbies knocking about when I joined, and just like me, they were searching for a friendly face to talk to. I would talk to the devil himself. Who am I kidding? I work in sales, I’d do deals with the devil himself.
On the day in question, I was sitting at a table on my own in the canteen having my lunch. There were two other people in the lunch-room, each also occupying a table to themselves. The atmosphere wasn’t as cold as the seating arrangement suggests – far from it – we all just happened to be sitting where we were for different reasons I suppose.
One of the previously mentioned “newbies” entered and sat down beside me. We had sat beside each other in our induction and had chatted now and again when passing each other in the office. I won’t name the man, I don’t want to embarrass him.
I was eating pasta, he had a sandwich. As far as I recall, we were talking about cars. I was nattering on about some new German beast that was on the market, and he was telling me that the engines were supposed to be terrible, when all of a sudden he stopped talking and went bright red.
I didn’t react at first. I didn’t know the guy that well, and assumed it could have been some kind of tic he had, and didn’t want to say anything for fear of offending him. When he said “Help me!” in a raspy squeal I knew he was choking. Fuck!
Readers, at this point I shall inform you that I have absolutely no first aid training whatsoever. I did some lifeguard training in secondary school, but this man was not trapped under some heavy imitation rubber bricks at the bottom of the 1.5 metre “deep” end in Cavan swimming pool. I’ve no first aid training, but thanks to years of being a lazy fucker, I have consumed every kind of cop-show, action film and medical drama you can think of. This situation required the Heimlich manoeuvre.
I got behind him and began to administer what I assumed was the Heimlich manoeuvre. To the untrained eye it probably looked more like Andre the Giant trying to suffocate a regional jobber with a bear hug. To be honest, it felt like that too. I didn’t think I was having any effect at all.
I was in a huge state of panic, but at the same time trying to remain calm. I’d screamed at the other two people in the lunch room to get help, call an ambulance or something. My colleague had gone a deep shade of purple at this stage. His eyes were popping out of his head. I was convinced that I was hurting him, so I stopped briefly, and he frantically shook his arms and head, getting me to continue. I just repeated what I had done, trying to give a powerful squeeze at the base of his diaphragm. I was really, really scared at this stage and nobody had come in with help yet. I could feel him beginning to faint, and I thought “No, this is not happening”. I mustered every ounce of strength in my body and gave an almighty final squeeze, lifting him clean off the floor, almost over my head, like a Brock Lesnar suplex. He gave a huge hacking cough and the chunk of sandwich that had caused the blockage went flying across the room.
I’d done it. He was ok.
He caught his breath and turned around and offered me his hand. “You saved my life. Thank you. Thank you so much!”
I reacted in the way I only knew how, “Fuck off, no I didn’t. Sure you’re grand!” I tried laughing it off.
I laughed it off because thinking of all the different ways that this scenario could have played out are terrifying. For weeks afterwards I had terrible nightmares, nightmares where I had sat frozen in my chair while various people I knew clawed at their throats pleading with me, and I wasn’t able to help. I had nightmares where I was the one choking, and people just sat and watched. I also had a nightmare where I lived in an alternate universe where people were being forced to go vegan by a tyrannical world government led by Roz Purcell, but I don’t think it was related to anything else. Or maybe it was, who am I? Freud?
He told me the day after that he had lost all feeling in his limbs before he coughed. He told me that he could never thank me enough for what I’d done. He told me that he’d spent that night at home on the couch cradling his four month old child in his arms.
The last bit buckled me.
I did a good thing. I know I did. I’m not writing this for praise. I’m not writing this to brag. I’m writing this because it’s a story. It’s a true story. It’s something that actually happened. There aren’t many true stories being written anymore.
This is one.