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The Saga of Summer: In Which Zach Makes A Save
The pool was a cacophony of shouting and noise. Having been conditioned to this daily evening chaos after an almost complete second summer lifeguarding, I found myself desensitized and gradually losing focus on the waters as the sun set. Hour after hour of monotony numbed my senses, and I found myself wishing that something exciting or out of the ordinary would happen for once.
One quick sweep and maybe I can shut my eyes for a second. Sunglasses do work both ways, I thought lazily.
Alas, after nearly finishing my half-open-eyed-bullshit panoramic scan, I noticed -the same way a missing piece in an otherwise completed puzzle is noticed- something peculiar in my peripheral vision. I forced myself to wake and squinted into the sun; I identified the patron whose unusual behavior caught my eye. On a normal day this man (mid 20s, average height, black) would have been the epitome of a typical patron at the pool -egotistical and cocky- although usually benign and well-mannered. I saw him slowly grab the edge of the pool and climbed out.
“Gimme it back!” a child screamed and my attention diverted to a small feud over a water gun in the shallow end.
But upon looking back, I saw that the man was sitting at the edge of the pool with his head down and his hands around his neck.
I woke like a plunge in ice water and cursed at myself for daydreaming and missing the accident. My arm muscles strained as I pushed myself off the wooden seat and held the floatation tube against my shirtless side. Barefooted, I approached the man sitting on the steaming summer cement. Sweat trickled into my eyes as I reached him and I bent over to get a quality look.
No blood, that’s a good sign. “What’s up man?” I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. He raised his head slowly and I saw two dull, brown eyes looking up at me.
“I’on’ know,” his voice trailed off. His head drooped back down. “I think I hit my head.” His voice was slow and his behavior was distant and drunk. I suspected a concussion.
“Did you dive in or did someone hit you?” I asked, thinking of possible causes.
He didn’t respond right away. “Someone kicked me.” This being the first emergency I had experienced on the job, I was uncertain about my next decision. My heart rate accelerated and sweat developed under my armpits as I mentally reviewed the major points of the lifeguarding course I had taken the previous summer. Unfortunately it had been taught to me by quite the lackadaisical instructor.
I whistled for another lifeguard to take over my position and told the man to follow me into the fenced off lifeguard area. I watched him closely as he arose and slowly walked away from the pool’s edge. We entered the gate and I sat the man down in a hard metallic chair. A couple of swimmers noticed the situation and hung on the fence like monkeys in a menagerie, speculating to each other and alerting their acquaintances.
“Aye man, CJ got f***ed up!”
“D***! That’s all bad!”
“You good man?”
My supervisor Kenny calmly entered the cage. “What’s going on?”
“This guy hit his head, I think he may be in shock,” I replied, relieved that in his my superior’s presence I wouldn’t have to make any more decisions.
Kenny came to my side and after quickly scanning the injured man’s head to his toes, he glanced up briefly. “I’ll take care of him, you need to call 911.” His authoritative tone told me to get moving.
That was just what I wanted to hear. I had never called 911 before and I felt veneration for those three digits on my phone. Pressing the call button, I felt like a superhero, yet after a three rings I felt like myself again and was scared that the call would go unanswered.
“This is the St. Louis City Police department,” a woman finally chirped, “What’s your emergency?” I told the woman our location and that we had a swimmer with a concussion and she said that she was sending help. I hung up.
The three minutes that passed before the ambulance arrived were the longest three minutes of my life.
Two blue-suited EMT’s walked into the cage, slower than I would have expected. Then they put the man on a backboard and took him out of the cage, away from the crowd.
Kenny breathed a sigh of relief, “We’re cool now, he’s gonna be fine.”
The group that had arranged to watch the activity dispersed, and after filling out an incident report I went back to the stand. The sun had begun to set, the shadows of the trees in the adjacent park trickled out, and the sky was filled with oranges and blues. Activity in the pool calmed to its normal pace and I sat relaxed into the seat. There I was, back to watching the waters, and yet for the first time that summer I was perfectly content just doing my job. For the two hours that passed before the pool closed I couldn’t have been happier about the lack of excitement. For the first time I embraced my job: the humdrum routine that did, albeit infrequently, result in a life being saved.