Jun 3, 2008

Training, Unexpected Emotion and the Subject of Suicide.

Note: This entry contains some amount of very real emotion and the subject of suicide.

Today was a training day, specifically involving medical issues. From blood bourne pathogens to medications to mental health problems. We cover it all in an 4 hour period (the first four was CPR and First Aid).

I have had to do CPR once in my life. The thing about CPR is you don't perform it someone unless that person is dead. If a person is breathing, has a pulse, but is unconscious, then there is no need to perform CPR. If those things just mentioned are not present, then you have a whole different issue at hand.

I performed CPR because someone killed himself. Its not someone I knew very well, and the fact that I was there when he was found is simply coincidental to the fact that he killed himself. Having said that, I was responsible for performing chest compressions. At the time, it was 15 compressions and then 2 breaths (apparently it is now 30 compressions to 2 breaths).

I remember helping untie the knot that was around his neck.

I remember how easily it came undone, it was only the weight of his body that kept it tight around his neck.

I remember there was blood coming from his nose, a common effect from the blood in the head building up and having nowhere to go because of the noose.

I remember another person who there asking if I wanted a break from performing CPR, and I refused.

I remember, later, feeling ashamed at how I felt about the situation. The loss of life is tragic, in any event. Someone hurts from it. I, however, did not feel bad that this person was dead. He had made his own decision and that was his choice alone. I felt more ashamed because I didn't care he was dead.

Again, I really did not know this person. I barely knew he existed. But in the end, his decision left me with a lot of issues that needed sorting out. Why, after all, would someone do this? He must have known that, while it would immediately solve all of his problems, it would only create many more for one such as myself. And indeed it did. When a person commits suicide the only person it is easy for is the one who decided to do it. Family, friends, and people who just happen to be there are the ones left with the mess to clean up.

All this comes back to memory quite clearly today. There were videos that we watched that dealt with suicide, training videos that showed people of various mental condition. These videos didn't show anything graphic. They didn't show anything other than an example of the state some people get into that can lead to suicide. I have seen some of these videos before. I have never really been bothered by them.

Today, however, I felt a certain amount of apprehension just before the trainer pushed play. Perhaps, given the content of the video, my apprehension was misplaced. I'm not sure what I was expecting. Was there going to be scenes of gore and violence inflicted upon a person by that person himself? If that were the case I think I might have thought it to be a bit much. But it was nothing of the sort.

I'll never forget looking at the man's face, his eyes staring up at me. They were blank, and a little bloodshot (another effect of the noose around the neck). I knew, instantly, we would not be able to save this person. But we tried. It was only about 3 minutes before paramedics arrived. It was one of the fastest EMS responses I have ever seen. They took over for me and the one who was helping me. I remember my friend Dean, who got there about half way through, putting his hand on my shoulder and asking if I was going to be alright.

And why shouldn't I be? I did my part. I tried my best. But in the end, it wasn't enough. This man had made up his mind and followed through with his choice. There was nothing I could do about it. Shouldn't I be alright?

The question was raised, today in training, "Is suicide selfish?" In this particular instance I think it was. I hope his problems are solved, I guess. At the same time I find him to be a coward for not facing his own issues and leaving them to me.

These are things I haven't thought about in a coupe of years. Hopefully its another long period of time before I have to ever think about them again.


  1. You write for all of us who have seen this. The little details remembered, different for each of us. The conflict we all feel: the anger, the questions, and even a little sense of failure. You asked, "Why shouldn't I be alright?" Because the whole situation isn't alright. It's charged with emotions that we pretend we don't feel. Until a class like today reminds us.
    But we are alright. As the Beetles song goes, "I get by with a little help froom my friends."

  2. Anonymous, if you are who I think you are, I wish you would stop by more often. No one likes a trogladite.

  3. Trog no more . . . my love to you both.

  4. You wouldn't be "normal" if you weren't bothered by what you saw and did... life just sucks sometimes and there's nothing we can do to change it... hang in there - we still love you!

  5. We never know how we will react to this type of thing until it happens. During my career I experienced the deaths of others on a fairly regular basis--suicide, murder, car crash, etc., and it never really gets any easier. You just have to get to know yourself and how to cope with the emotions you feel. Reading your account and then typing this brings up a myriad of feelings that came over thirty years. Hang in there, son. Use friends and family shamelessly, and remember that we love you.

    Love, Mom and Dad

  6. I've never seen or experienced anything like this, but I would imagine that it would be quite haunting. Anytime we see a body where the light has gone out behind the eyes is quite jarring. And it would be even more so with such close contact. I wouldn't worry why you were affected, I would worry if you weren't.

    From the perspective of those left behind, suicide seems very selfish. However, if you are that enmeshed in depression and pain that death seems like the only alternative, you really can't see much outside of that. It's just a tragic situation all around.

    Take care. :)


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