A Relationship Beckons: Crisis Averted
(This is a fictionalized scene based on a real incident that happened years ago.)
“Honey, are you okay?”
Caroline caught sight Peter of the corner of her eye in the rearview mirror as they say at the red light. She was concerned. Her six-year-old was strapped into his car seat behind the passenger side. He seemed quiet and more subdued than normal this Monday morning. He protested saying he was tired. Dark circles hung beneath his young eyes. A niggling cough rattled in his chest.
Every other morning, he woke bounding from under the covers a chatty ninja, racing downstairs to watch cartoons or play with his toy cars heedless of her commands. She had taken his temperature and found it normal. Something just did not seem right.
Turning her head to look at him, she repeated her question. Again, there was no response. That was when she noticed the rapid heaving of his chest. His lips displayed a bluish haze. His rapid, shallow inhalations sounded like angry hisses.
She pulled over, stopped the SUV on the shoulder and quickly rifled through her purse looking for the albuterol inhaler. She could not find it. Panic welled in her. Dumping out the contents of the purse onto the passenger seat, her hands moved through the items desperately touching each one in the hope she’d overlooked it.
Shit! It wasn’t there.
Then the realization struck her: it was sitting on the kitchen counter where she had left it last night as she cleaned out her bag.
She swore out loud again.
Glancing into the backseat again, Peter’s head had slumped forward. His chin rested against his small, heaving chest.
Panic morphed into full-fledged terror.
Ramming the gearshift into drive, she slammed the accelerator to the floorboard. The Cadillac Escalade lurched forward, fishtailing sideways in the soft grass until the tires found purchase on the asphalt. A car horn blared followed by the sound of screeching rubber. The passing vehicle swerved dramatically barely avoiding colliding with her Cadillac.
She ignored the near miss and continued pressing the gas. Her mind ping ponged wildly, assessing her options as her heart was in her throat, bounding rapidly. Should she turn around and head back to the house to retrieve the inhaler? Or she should head to the nearest emergency room? By her estimates, both options meant thirty minutes.
Was Peter breathing?
Oh my God! She should have leaned into the backseat and checked on her son.
Her momentum pulled her alongside the car that had nearly struck her. The still-irate female driver glared over at her mouthing unheard epithets while at the same time moving one hand in rapid, ill-willed gesticulations. Ignoring her, the Cadillac crept passed the other vehicle as they both raced along. Her mind still trying to recall a place where she could take him that was nearby then through the windshield, she spotted a beacon of hope.
When she reached the turn off, Caroline jerked the wheel hard, barely braking. The Cadillac listed severely as the tires wined in protest. She skidded to a halt in one of parking spots at an obscure angle. The other driver, apparently unsatisfied with her earlier demonstration of dissatisfaction followed the Cadillac into the parking area.
Caroline pushed open the door so violently, it bounced back onto her. Pushing it open one more time, she rounded the hood in a full run and yanked open Peter’s door. She could she his chest moving erratically in short, inadequate bursts.
She unbuckled him from the car seat, pulled him onto her chest, darting around the other car which had stopped right behind her. The driver was exiting the car and shouting, “What the hell do you—”
Caroline screamed back, “He’s in trouble!”
She bolted across the parking lot in front of another car causing it to brake hard. Five seconds later, she disappeared inside the pharmacy.
Jake swore under his breath at the growing workload before him for at least the tenth time today. The tightness in his chest expanded, threatening to consume him. As the pharmacist on duty on this first Monday of the month, the number of prescriptions thrown at him today was non-stop. He’d already had two patients scream at him because he’d had to tell them that their orders for pain medications wouldn’t be ready with the speed of a McDonald’s restaurant. It was always the patients on narcotics that gave him the hardest time. Another patient’s insurance wasn’t paying for her medication because it was too soon to fill. The patient refused to leave and was demanding that someone from the pharmacy call the insurance company to get an override because she was heading out of town.
If he had a dollar for every time he heard that one!
The woman stood at the drop-off window, arms crossed angrily across her middle, silently shooting impatient darts with her eyes at Jake.
He had COVID shots scheduled every fifteen minutes. And finally, to make matters worse, one of his technicians had called out sick.
Jake put his hand on his forehead and dragged it over his face, taking with it the patina of perspiration that had formed on his skin. As his palm passed below his nose, he opened his eyes and saw her. It was a thirtyish woman clutching a child to her chest running full speed down the center aisle straight toward the pharmacy department.
I don’t need to hear it from anyone else today, he thought.
The queue at the inside pharmacy register was four deep and—because of the callout—his lone technician had been camped out at the drive-thru for the last forty-five minutes. They had managed to fill very few prescriptions to this point. His best guess was that he had about eighty prescriptions to fill at the moment. And surely there would be more to follow.
Ignoring the work and the frustrated stares of the patients in line, Jake watched the mother frantically trying to get his attention. She jumped the line at the cash register and elbowed the elderly gentleman there out of the way.
“Help me please! Help me! It’s my son!”
She shouldered her son around to face the pharmacist. Jake’s held his breaths and braced himself for some kind of tirade. His angst instantly turned to alarm when he saw the boy. His lips were blue and a gray cast painted his skin.
“Oh shit!” Jake exclaimed. “Is he breathing?”
“Yes…but barely. I left his albuterol at home.” The mother’s voice was husky with fear.
Jake turned his head and hollered to his technician at the drive-thru window. His throat immediately went to his throat. “Helen, get over here now and call 911!
The technician named Helen stopped and turned her head. “What?!”
“I said, ‘Call 911’! Now!”
Racing from his workstation, Jake ducked into one of the pharmacy bays. Finding what he needed, he moved out front without delay. He instructed Mom to move him to one of the chairs in the waiting area. They slipped through the line of waiters as Jake removed the albuterol inhaler from its box. He shook it hard for five seconds. He asked the boy’s name and mom told him. While propped up on mom’s lap, Jake held the inhaler to the boy’s face and placed the mouthpiece between his lips.
“Peter,” he instructed loudly, “when I count to three, I want you to take a deep breath. One…two…three…”
He’d depressed the canister. The boy did not respond. The pharmacist was certain the powder had not make it into Adam’s lungs. Jake could hear the panicked, rapid breaths of the mother coming faster followed by a weak declaration filled with terror, ” Oh my God!” Jake shook Peter’s shoulder hard, rousing him slightly. Behind him, he could hear Helen in the pharmacy shouting into the phone at the 911 operator.
Jake repeated the procedure and counting to three again. On three, the boy sucked in as deep a breath as he could muster while Jake simultaneously depressed the cannister on the device. Again, a short puff of powder hissed into the boy’s mouth. The pharmacist encouraged the child to take several deep breaths to drive the medicine deeper into his lungs. Jake shook the inhaler again and administered another puff a minute later. He checked the boy’s pulse and respirations as patients gathered and gawked.
Helen called from the pharmacy over the repeated dings of the drive-thru bell. The impatient driver outside–unaware of the crisis inside–was mashing the button. “An ambulance is on the way,” she shouted.
A few minutes later, the color began to return to the boy’s face and the cyanotic tint of his lips began to fade. His chest began to move with deeper, regular inspirations and the wheeze from his throat eased.
“There it’s working,” Jake said.
Mom loudly exhaled relieved sigh. It was apparent, she had been holding her breath. “On my God!” Thank you…thank you so much!”
Mom hugged her son tight to her chest and caressed his hair with a thumb. A patina of sweat glistened on the child’s skin. Jake placed his fingers on the boy’s wrist and checked his pulse once more. He counted the boy’s respirations.
Satisfied a crisis had been averted, he stood and said, “EMT’s are on the way.” He glanced around at the patients who had witnessed his intervention. A few had left. Those remaining peered at him with a newfound awe. One, an older man, said, “Great work, young man!”
The paramedics arrived and Jake relinquished care of the mother and child to the first responders.
Jake simply nodded and strode slowly back into the pharmacy and was greeted by three ringing phone lines, the incessant buzzing of the drive-thru and a stunned Helen. The tall stacks of prescription baskets listed precariously to one side like a dying plant.
“What do we do now?” Helen asked minutes later barely above a whisper.
The paramedics had loaded the youngster onto the collapsible stretcher accompanied by the relieved mother who made eye contact with Jake. She folded her hands in front of her in a prayer-like manner and mouther the words, “Thank you so much! I will be back.”
Jake moved his gaze to his technician and rolled his shoulders into a shrug and replied, “I guess we get back to work.”
To Be Continued…
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