As They Say, Murphy Was an Optimist
By Gerry Goldshine
Practically all of us have heard of Murphy’s Law, which basically says that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. What most people don’t realize is that there are endless permutations to Mr. Murphy’s original coda. In police work, you can always tell when Mr. Murphy has decided to enforce his rule as soon as you’ve heard at least one officer exclaim, “Oh shit!”
It was 1981, before cell phones and computers. I was working Graveyard shift (9:30 PM to 7:00 AM) and it had been a very quiet night. It was about 3:00 AM and I was about ready to see if I could take break for my first cup of coffee to see me through to the end of shift. Here is where I encountered one of those subsections of Murphy’s Law. This particular one went, “If it’s been a quiet night and you are about to ask for your break, that’s when you get the dramatic call.”
“Lincoln-36, respond to 1634 Redacted Street for a possible man down. Just received a call from a payphone in front of Long’s Drugs. The juvenile reporting party stated that their father collapsed inside the residence. Unknown if any drugs or alcohol involved. No further information. I’ll be sending you backup from the station, Code-Three. Ambulance is also being dispatched.”
I was only about a quarter mile away and was at the house in just a couple of minutes. Standing clustered around the front door of the house was a woman and about six or so children, ranging from toddler to teen in age. Some of the kids were crying or had been crying. The woman was crying, shaking and on the verge of complete hysteria.
“My husband! My husband just had a quadruple bypass. He fell in the bathroom and he won’t move. Please!”
When confronted with a situation such as this, your training kicks in and it is amazing how the mind automatically prioritizes things for you. No sooner had I thought “Oh shit!”, than I was also advising dispatch that this was a possible heart attack while at the same time visualizing the steps to perform single person Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. However, on this morning, Mr. Murphy was running this show. I was sadly mistaken in the belief that I had passed through my “Oh shit!” moment.
There, lying face down in the doorway, between the master bedroom and bathroom, was a man well over six feet tall and weighing-in at considerably more than 300 pounds; I was all of 5’7” weighing just 140 pounds. I felt for a carotid pulse and sadly there was none. He wasn’t breathing and his complexion had taken on a gray pallor. I knew from the EMT training I had received while in the Army, this was a good indication that he had been “down” for a significant amount of time. That spoke badly for his survival chances. I let dispatch know I had a “Code Blue” – which is medic speak for cardiac arrest. By then, the entire family had crowded into the bedroom and all were looking at me expectantly. Mr. Murphy was not finished with me; I asked if any of them knew CPR and was met with blank, unknowing stares. I was on my own. Adrenaline can be a wonderful thing because I somehow got this man out of the doorway and onto his back while the family continued to sit and stare anxiously at me. I could then see the fresh red surgical scar running down the center of his chest. I let dispatch know that I was starting CPR and asked how long before the Paramedics would be on scene. They were still several minutes away, as was my back-up.
As I mentally ran down the checklist to start performing CPR, for the first time in my career, I recalled what my EMT instructor had told us; when CPR is necessary, only 1 in 10 survive. Usually there has been far too much “down” time for CPR to be of any use. While impossible to describe with written words, I will always remember the sounds this man made each time the air I blew into his lungs came back out. Though it was probably less than five minutes when I heard the wailing sirens announcing the arrival of the Fire Department, it seemed like hours had passed as I labored away with chest compressions and rescue breathing. When the Paramedics finally relieved me, my uniform was drenched with sweat. My muscles were screaming from an overload of lactic acid. I felt a bit light headed. My legs were shaky when I finally stood back up.
I made my way out of the bedroom, which felt like it had become a sauna and met up with my Sergeant who had just arrived along with the officer who was my back-up. I filled him in on the situation. I suppose for the family’s sake, the Paramedics continued CPR and transported the man to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
When I stepped outside to take in some of the cool early morning, I reflected on Murphy’s law and all the little details that led to its harsh application in that family’s small house. Had anyone in there learned CPR after the deceased’s heart operation, would that have stymied Mr. Murphy? Had there been a working phone, would I have been there sooner? This being the first time I had tried to save someone’s life, even with what I knew, I still didn’t take the failure easily. I can still see the look of hope and expectation that was on those kid’s faces. However, as I look back after all this time, I can see that Mr. Murphy had me beat even before I had started my shift that night.
I didn’t stand a chance.
Gerry was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Southern California.
Upon graduating from California State University, Los Angeles, Gerry enlisted in
the Army and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. After leaving active duty
in 1979, he worked for Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. From 1980 until his retirement
in 1996, he was a patrol officer, traffic officer, and a trainer at Petaluma Police Department.
Gerry is married, has a daughter and lives in Sonoma County, California.