Banana-Strawberry Smoothie

by Emily Chao | A first responder’s first loss.

Banana-Strawberry Smoothie

I hum “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees under my breath. A hundred beats a minute. A hundred beats a minute. I have taken many CPR classes and the instructors failed to impress upon me how different CPR would be on real humans as opposed to plastic dummies; they didn’t mention that the chest would get … mushy. There’s a slight crackling sound, and I think I must have broken a rib. The man’s stomach wobbles and drops of spit fly out of his mouth with every push. The paramedic captain stands over my shoulder, staring intently at my clenched hands. I’m worried that my compressions aren’t quite right, too shallow maybe, but the captain doesn’t say anything. Someone next to me cuts his shirt off, sticks white monitors to his sweaty skin, and covers his eyes with a cloth. A few minutes later, a firefighter takes over compressions and when I stand up, my arms are shaking and my head is spinning. 

The paramedics are eerily calm. I wonder how many people they’ve been with in their final violent moments and how obvious it is that this is my first. A glob of yellowy green liquid gurgles up next to the oxygen tube and lands on my boot. It’s quieter than I would’ve thought: just low voices, the beep of monitors, and early morning traffic. We are at the bus stop by the Speedway underpass, a path I’ve walked a hundred—maybe a thousand—times on my way to class. The beeping slows over the next twenty minutes and eventually stops. 

We clean up the scene, averting our eyes from the white cloth draped on the ground. It takes longer than usual, as if we feel an obligation to stay and make sure he will be taken care of. The captain is gruff. “You guys did great, nothing we could’ve done ... The mortuary guys will be here in ten but you guys are all set.” He peers closer at the four of us. “First time?” Three of us nod. His eyebrows crease. “Get some rest and take care of each other, OK?” 

Bianca, our shift supervisor, asks how we’re doing as we drive away from the scene. None of us has much to say. She sighs a little. “Every time, it gets a little easier to process. We did all we could, and we did it well. And I take comfort knowing that.” 

We stop at a bagel shop, and she buys us smoothies. They are banana-strawberry and taste like ice cream. Dessert more than breakfast. The only people at the bagel place this early on a Saturday morning are an older couple, sipping black coffees and bickering back and forth as they read the news, and a sleepy high school swim team. Such a normal scene seems wildly inappropriate. We take a roundabout drive back to Station and comment on the weather. It is unseasonably pleasant for September in Tucson. 

Emily Chao is from Detroit, Michigan, and is a senior at the University of Arizona majoring in physiology and medical sciences and minoring in creative writing. She has absolutely no idea what she wants to do in the future, but she longs to flee the desert and move to NYC with her beloved cat, Mr. Benjamin. 

This essay originally appeared in a Memory Vending Machine located on the campus of the University of Arizona.

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