Not soon forgotten

It's been a challenging week for me, to say the least.  One I'll not soon, if ever, forget.  And I haven't even made it a full 7 days yet.

On Saturday, February 16th, I was at work and it was a crazy busy day, as it normally is.  My normal schedule is to work in the back for 2 hours and then work the circulation desk for 2 hours to cover lunches.  The first 2 hours went by as normal.  I could hear a lot of activity going on out front, but only peeked my head out when absolutely necessary.  I love my job, I love helping our customers, but I have to admit that I do relish the time I get away from the desk.  Horrible, I know.  But it's the truth.

Then came time for me to head out to the desk to do my shift out there.  I grabbed my drink and walked out into the flurry of activity.  I don't mind it when it's busy, it makes the time go by much faster.  The coworker taking her lunch first was working on the concierge desk, which is a desk kinda stuck out by itself.  We are supposed to be the first person the customer sees, and we smile and greet as many of them coming in as we can.  On busy days, unfortunately we don't get to smile and say hello to everyone.  This day was no different.  I noticed people as they were walking in, some I recognized as regulars and others were just random faces in the sea of faces.

I had only been at the desk for about 30 minutes when a lady came up to me to inquire about a problem with her card.  I was checking her account when behind me I heard what sounded like someone falling and the absolutely horrible sound of someone's head hitting the ground HARD.  It didn't immediately alarm me because while we don't have a lot of accidents at the library, there are some, mainly kids falling because they're horsing around.  And it was a very busy day with lots of people and activity.

I leaned back to look around the column that was blocking my view, and that's when I saw a grown man sprawled out on his back on the floor.  I would like to say that I immediately jumped up to assist, but I'm pretty sure I was frozen in place.  My manager rushed to his side, along with several other customers.  I watched, frozen, as the man sharply and loudly inhaled.  My manager was asking him if he was alright and if he needed assistance, all the while a crowd was growing.  He was completely unresponsive.  I know I turned back to the lady I was previously helping, offered an apology, then turned back to the unfolding horror.

I watched helplessly as the man was breathing laboriously and very shallowly, and turning a frightening color of grey.  That's when I noticed the blood on the floor, which was obviously coming from the back of his head.  A customer that I had helped not 10 minutes previously was asking for sterile gloves, and she was waved to the backroom by my coworker who was on the phone with 911.  I once again apologized to the woman standing in front of me, then ran to the back to help the customer looking for the gloves.  I gave her a pair, then ran to the breakroom to grab some paper towels to soak up the blood.

The whole time I was on auto-pilot, responding to the requests being screamed at me from various people.  "We need ice!"  "Get me a wet washcloth!"  I remember mentioning to someone scrambling around him to watch out for his glasses, which were very close to being crunched under someone's foot.  Funny how that was a concern for me, while this man is laying on the floor, barely breathing and bleeding from the back of his head.

I watched as people argued over whether or not to roll him onto his side or leave him on his back, whether or not to use ice on his face or just a wet rag.  The poor man was rolled around and picked up (his top half, not his whole body), before they finally decided it was best to just let him be because paramedics were on their way.  I attempted to go back to work and help the customers that needed help, but I just couldn't hardly concentrate and kept looking back over at the crowd and the poor man on the floor.  Mainly, I was watching to see his chest moving because I desperately wanted him to be breathing.  But he wasn't.

After what felt like an eternity, the fire department got there and immediately began CPR.  I couldn't help but stand there and watch, willing him to breathe on his own and at least respond somehow.  Yet, he was doing neither one of those things.  I simply could not fathom what was happening right before my eyes.  Then, I watched as they removed his jacket and shirt so they could attach the electrodes from the defibrillator.  My heart sank and I felt my knees begin to buckle.  How could this happen?  This can't really be happening!

About this time, I became aware of a lot of shouting away from the people attending to the man on the floor. I managed to look away and find the source of the shouting.  Two women were screeching at each other while my manager and coworkers were trying to separate them and push the ever-growing crowd of gawkers (including CHILDREN) back to give the responding emergency crew room to work.  They were able to separate the women and get most of the onlookers to move back.

Finally, the EMTs got there.  I say finally because it truly felt like forever, when in fact they were there within mere minutes.  The CPR continued as they talked with the firefighters about what was going on, what they had done, and what they had observed.  The whole time I couldn't hardly tear my eyes away from him, pleading silently for him to move, to make some sign of life.  But he didn't.

They got him loaded up on the gurney and wheeled him out to the waiting ambulance, all the while CPR was STILL being administered.  I just knew in my heart that he wasn't going to make it, if he wasn't dead already.  A few firefighters came back in to clean up the mess on the floor.  They wouldn't say anything about his condition or prognosis.  Terrifying.

I attempted to go back to work once it was all over, but it was just going through the motions.  My mind was spinning wildly and I could hardly focus on anything.  Several customers remarked on the sadness of the situation, recounting similar experiences.  I just nodded and finished up their business, then went back to being in total shock.  I have never witnessed anything like that before in my life, and my brain was struggling to process everything I'd just witnessed.

The rest of the day was just a blur.  We went to a book signing that I had been very much looking forward to but seemed very inconsequential after the event at the library.  Later that evening I got a text from a coworker telling me that the library was bringing in a counselor for us to speak to the next day if anyone felt like it.  I agreed, not exactly ready to go back to the scene but definitely wanting to talk things out.

I only slept for maybe 3 hours tops that evening, my brain insisted on replaying the whole scene over and over and over again.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't shut it up.

When I arrived at the library on Sunday, I knew I looked haggard because I certainly felt that way.  But, I was met with what I perceived to be good news.  My manager had spoken to the hospital and they gave her all the information that they could, which was that he was in intensive care.  A huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.  He was ALIVE!  I couldn't believe it!  I ran to an empty office and just sobbed, I was so relieved.  Speaking with the counselor definitely helped to put the whole thing in perspective, and I walked out of there feeling better.  Then Monday happened.

Monday we were closed for President's Day, which was nice because I was still totally exhausted and not fully mentally functioning.  I decided, for some strange reason, to check my work email.  That is when I learned via email from my manager that she had heard from the gentleman's son, and that he was on life support and was in fact brain dead.  It all came crashing down again.  So I really had watched someone lose their life on the floor of my work.  I didn't want to believe it, but that was the cold hard truth.

And, the final blow came today when I learned that he had passed away.  It seems selfish of me to even think of myself during this time, because he was just a customer and not a family member.  But it was a traumatic experience for all involved, and has very much impacted me.

I'm still sorting through all of it, the memories and feelings.  I hope that some day it will not hold as much pain and sadness and terror for me that it does right now.

Just one day at a time right now, just one day at a time.

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