We found her motionless.
The couple who called 911 stood silently and watched as the officer kneeled to check for a pulse. The places he checked were motionless. As he turned her over to begin CPR, despair began to creep.
How long had she been face down before we found her?
Does the officer's close contact put him at risk?
Is she dead and CPR a lost cause?
What is taking the ambulance so long?
I was riding with the officer rendering aid and seeing him pump her chest underlined the roller coaster ride of police work. Two minutes before, we were sitting in a parking lot chatting about our families. Chaplaincy partners sponsored cases of water that day, and his cold bottle sweated in the cup holder as the radio chirped. Suddenly our pulses were racing and hers was nonexistent.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. Immediate CPR can double or triple chances of survival after cardiac arrest. A rescuer is to provide between 100 and 120 chest compressions per minute and continue until help arrives. The officer was committed and the strain of his assignment began to show.
Chest compressions also work the lungs, and saliva puddled in her nose and mouth. As if on queue, he turned her sideways to drain the fluid. Stillness was required as he checked again for a pulse. Why did holding my breath seem a way to help him feel the rhythm? Elusive, shy, almost mythical, her pulse presented and disappeared; winked and hid. He hunted with gritted teeth and a delicate up and down cadence.
Up and down and up and down, the lady and the officer became one, until the ambulance came to relieve him of his commitment. As he handed her pulse over to the emergency medical technicians, bittersweet bile puddled in my chest.
How could I not praise the Lord for the silent simplicity with which the officer stooped and served? There were no cell phone donning citizens, news cameras or howling crowds uploading videos. Instead, pedestrians, officers and a chaplain witnessed the quiet, determined redemption of a pulse. The officer caught the quarry he was chasing and gave it to the EMT's, but he also exposed the shameful marrow in my bones.
In the handoff, I saw professionalism, compassion and attention to detail. I also saw an African-American woman pass from one set of Euro-American hands to six sets of similar hands. Documented health disparities hissed and squirmed in my mind. She was at their mercy and the magnitude of her vulnerability stunned me.
Equally stunning was my suspicion of the care givers after what I witnessed. The White man, I was trusting with my life, had hunched over an anonymous Black woman and given his all. He was sweating, smiling and genuinely interested in keeping her pulse going. The EMS workers' arrival triggered my involuntary response.
Black women in the United States have experienced substantial improvements in health during the last century, yet health disparities persist. These health disparities are in large part a reflection of the inequalities experienced by Black women on a host of social and economic measures. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33237831/)
It was good that I played a marginal role in her rescue because my concerns would have been a distraction. How could I be worried about her care after what I just witnessed? Why would I suspect things would be any less heroic with the ambulance crew? As they peeled off layers of clothing and attached her to a chest pump, the Holy Spirit spoke:
"Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him." (John 12:37)
Jesus was amazed at eye witnesses of His miracles and their lack of faith.
He must have been equally amazed at my witnessing the genuine concern of the officer, while fretting over her continuity of care.
The Father used the officer to squelch fear in me, but the ambulance resuscitated the leach. I feared for her brown-skinned life all over again. Would they fight for her? Was there empathy? While I swirled in melanin-laced anxiety, they began whispering to one another.
Her pulse weakened and slipped away.
A trained, melodic exchange, full of counting and "On your mark," filled the air. The EMT's worked like a NASCAR pit crew. By rote memory, they knew who was doing what and understood that time was of the essence. Each had an assignment that seemed to flow into the assignment of the next teammate. They counted the seconds since her last EKG. Then, as if on an invisible signal, they all raised their hands and distanced themselves while her body twitched with an electric shock. After hearing "clear" they descended again to their breathless, rhythmic preoccupations.
Her pulse stabilized and the tension slackened. As they brought the stretcher and prepared for transport, the NASCAR crew passed trophies of a pulse and respiration in congratulatory grunts and head nods. The testosterone-laced celebration was gone as soon as it appeared and they were off to the hospital.
The emergency medical technicians had their own language; officers too. As adrenaline slackened, we picked up debris and loose articles of clothing, before everyone got into circles of familiarity. Officers huddled with officers, pedestrians huddled with pedestrians and firefighters huddled but there was no chaplain huddle. I'm kind of an oddball, though many of the huddles are polite enough to let me in.
I needed to be alone, though. In the interregnum between her resuscitation and the next 911 call, I needed to bring all of my humanity to the Lord. The officer laid hands, brought her back and passed her to poetic professionals while I fixated on people's skin color. While health disparities are real, her rescue was just as real.
I put my thoughts here because people ask, "How's the work going, Alex?"
In short, the work is bringing me to the feet of Jesus with hands full of baggage. None of the rescuers mentioned the Lord but seeing her life reclaimed was a holy moment. I'm supposed to be the Jesus guy but their dedication and determination reconnected me to the Lord. The rescuers ministered to the minister.
There are no uploads of the video, but if you close your eyes, you may be able to see the scene.
We found her motionless.