The First Time I Saved Someone’s Life

I was hoping to save some of my best stories for later in the month, and this is one of them, but I figured that it’s a pretty important one, so I’d better have a written record of it.

Once upon a time, it was 2004 and I was in Alaska. More specifically, on a cruise through Alaska with my dad, sister, and aunt, but in Alaskan waters just the same. It was the third day of the trip, and since my body clock was completely messed up with the lack of the sun setting, I was awake at 8 AM. I wanted to get out of the room for some reason (probably because my dad was snoring) so I decided to grab my sketch pad and head to one of my favorite parts of the ship, the top deck, where there was a bar called Biergarten and a small seating area. I liked this area because it was generally quiet, and it had the best view.

After a short conversation with the bartender, a Polish woman named Marta, I settled on a chair set a little ways apart from the bar area. I was drawing the mountains of the Inside Passage in pencil when I heard some coughing erupt behind me. I ignored it and went on drawing. Then I heard it again. Then I heard it a third time, along with some gurgling/vomiting sounds and someone saying, “Are you okay?”

I turned around and what I saw made me drop my sketchbook on the deck, inadvertently drawing a dark pencil line right across the middle of the picture. An elderly man in a fishing helmet was sitting at the bar, convulsing and drooling everywhere. He was rocking back and forth, flailing, spilling his drink, and generally acting very strangely. His friend was sitting on his right, and I got on the stool on his left. I learned that the guy’s name was Frank, from his friend, so I held his left hand and shoulder to stop him from shaking and kept repeating “Frank, Frank, can you hear me? Frank, can you hear me?” The milky look in his eyes was one of pure terror. Yeah, he didn’t know who I was, but his eyes were stretched wide open and he couldn’t look at me straight. He responded briefly to the sound of his name before going back into the fit. While the bar waitress went to call for help, I pushed the ashtray (still with his smoldering cigarette in it) across the bar, away from him, and his and his friend’s glasses into the sink, so Frank wouldn’t hit his head on them. His friend told me that he’d known Frank for years and nothing like this had ever happened before. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere.

After what seemed like ages (but was probably all of five minutes) a guy in a white Texas A&M Medical School sweatshirt showed up. He said he was a med student and that we needed to lift him off the stool and lay him down flat, but on his side so he wouldn’t choke on his own bile and vomit. Frank was a big guy; it took me, the friend, Texas A&M, and another guy to pick him up and lay him on the deck. I had his upper body in my hands and his head in my lap. By now, people were starting to emerge onto the decks and watch what was going on. I was wondering when the paramedics would arrive. A few minutes later, they came in with a stretcher, and I helped lift him up and place him on the stretcher, and then they carried him away and the crowd dispersed. I was by the pool when my dad and aunt showed up, and I told them what happened and what I did. They were proud of me and said I did the right thing. I felt like a hero.

Later that day, I found out that the ship’s infirmary was on the same floor as our staterooms, so I went to the infirmary to see how Frank was doing. When the paramedics were at the scene, they asked me and the three others for our names and passenger ID numbers for some reason, so when I told them my name at the counter and asked how he was doing, the ship’s doctor came out, along with another lady, who I learned was his wife, Kate. The doctor thanked me for my help earlier and told me that Frank had had a seizure, but that he was going to be okay. Kate also thanked me, and told me the two of them were from California and on the cruise with some friend. She also said that they had tender tickets and they were planning on going into Juneau at around 9 or 10 to do some sightseeing and probably getting drinks at the Red Dog Saloon. The doctor then told me that he was glad that I had been there and glad that it happened on the ship rather than in Juneau, which is when I learned that the ship’s paramedics were not allowed to leave the ship at any port, and if the incident would have happened at the Red Dog Saloon or anywhere else in Juneau, there was a good chance that Frank could have ended up in the local hospital, missing the ship, or he could have even died right there in Juneau, Alaska. Both, horrible ways to spend your vacation.

It was one of those moments in life where even though I didn’t do too much, I was proud of what I did, During my bouts of depression and self-pity later in life, my dad would always remind me that without me, “Frank would have died in Alaska,” which usually made me feel better about myself.

It also made for a killer college admissions essay, what with the whole “rescue on the high seas” angle.