One of Those Days

October 8, 2007
By Brigit Carlson, Brielle, NJ

It was just one of those days. The kind where the only people on the beach are old couples bundled in blankets, sitting in their beach chairs, sipping coffee, reading the paper, watching the surfers. The surf was gray and angry, reflecting the incredibly overcast sky. A fine mist clung to the air, our clothes, our skin, our sunglasses.

Yes, to those wondering, lifeguards are on the beach on crummy days. The past three days we had spent huddled in the shacks, watching the rain, playing cards, feeding seagulls cheerios, and chasing out the few brave (or incredibly stupid) souls who didn’t mind the rain or gale force winds and wanted to try their luck with the raging seas.

We hadn’t bothered to set up much, just the stands, flags, torps, and line bags at two of the three beaches our crew was covering. We took long lunches, leaving three guards on our quarter mile at any point in time. It was just one of those days. We’d sit out in beach chairs at the base of our stands and try not to freeze.

And that’s exactly what my partner and I were doing when it happened. She had her chair fully reclined, and her face covered in a towel, dozing off for a bit. I was settled semi-comfortably in my chair, as bundled up as humanly possible. I was wearing running shorts and my guard shirt over my suit and under my big guard sweatshirt and a pair of gray sweatpants. The sweatpants were pulled down so my feet were covered, and I was wearing a winter hat. I had the hood on my sweatshirt up and a towel wrapped tightly around my legs. And I was still freezing. At the beach. In August.
I looked out at the kids playing in the water. They were staying in only to their knees. Good patrons. I thought as I turned my whistle over in my hands inside my sweatshirt pocket. All it would take was one of them losing their footing and I would have to go in after them. Then I’d have zero chance of warming back up the entire day. I sipped my coffee and settled deeper into my chair. Another day of doing almost nothing and getting paid for it. Nice.
It was then that it happened.
“LIFEGUARD! LIFEGUARD!” A mother’s frantic screams ripped through the mist-laden air. I jumped up, suddenly alert, a shot of adrenaline jerking me awake, and began throwing off clothes. Dammit who did we miss watching that’s now caught in a rip? Is all that was going through my head. I got as far as hat, sunglasses, and sweatshirt when I saw a mob of people running towards me. I ran towards them, trying to pull my shirt over my head as I did, stopping when I heard a second cry.
“My baby! My baby! She’s choking!” before I could think, a blue in the face, unconscious, limp little girl was thrust into my hands. Her eyes were rolled back in her head.
“She’s choking!” The woman screamed again before collapsing in sobs to the sand. I instinctively turned the baby over, supporting its weight along my forearm, and brought her down to my raised knee. I started the baby Hemlich Maneuver.
My partner came running over. I somehow knew, once again, what to do without thinking. I handed her the baby, who was no longer as limp and she continued performing the Hemlich.
“I can’t watch this!” The mother screamed, leaning down to face the sand. The radio crackled in my partner’s hand. I grabbed it.
“Do you need a bump?” Someone from the next beach down questioned, ready to send back up. For the first time since the baby had been handed off to me, I became capable of thought other than autopilot.
“No, we need Mobile 2, we have a choking baby.” I said authoritatively, surprising myself, into the radio, and began trying to clear away some of the crowd. All of a sudden, the baby began throwing up.
“Get her on her side! Get her on her side!” I shouted, and my partner held the baby on her side until she stopped regurgitating. I was suddenly aware of my racing heart, the adrenaline coursing wildly through my veins.
“Is back up coming? Did you call someone? We need 9-1-1!” A lady, the baby’s aunt, as I later was informed, almost as frantic as the mother came over and asked.
“Yes. Our EMTs are on their way and they’ve called 9-1-1.” I spoke as calmly as I could.
“Someone’s coming? Are they running?” She yelled at me. I peered nervously into the mist, searching and hoping with every sub-atomic particle in my body to see the quad’s headlights. They, miraculously, appeared.
“Yes. He’s coming. The headlights. That’s our EMT.” I said to her.
A noise caught my attention. A whimper. Then a cry. Then applause. The father took his little girl, sitting in the sand, holding her on her side. He had managed to remain clam through the whole ordeal.
With a roar and a small spray of sand, the quad screeched to a halt and the beach EMT jumped off with his EMT bag. I quickly gave him a rundown of events. I looked around. Another guard from the next beach down had arrived and was standing, recovering from his run, next to me. I had barely realized he had gotten there in all the commotion. I was shaking from head to toe. I squatted down and clasped my hands together tightly, trying to stop the shaking.
The baby, who I later learned was 13 months old, continued to scream and cry as the EMT checked her out. Her father held her in a sitting position on the parked quad. He gently kissed his wife’s forehead when she came to stand beside him, her eyes red, visibly shaken, her sister’s arms wrapped around her. Their little girl was going to be okay.
Police officers showed up with the ambulance, took down names and made a report. We were still shaking and trying to process all that had taken place. It had seemed like an eternity, but was only a few minutes. The parents walked the baby up to the ambulance. Family members of the baby came over and thanked us. People who had been watching told us what a good job we did.
I walked back to the stand, plopped down in the sand, put my sunglasses and hat back on, and finished off my coffee in a single swig.
“That was the scariest moment of this job number one.” My partner said in a deadpan as she sat next to me.
“Pretty much. Yeah.” I responded blankly as I stared at the water and held onto my empty coffee cup with shaking hands.
It was just one of those days.

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