Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tattooed Consent



“Do not resuscitate” is tattooed across his chest, and he’s just keeled over.  My newly recertified to perform CPR self is ready to spring into action, ready with my well rehearsed thirty chest compressions, then two short breaths, and repeat until he’s cheated death.  I want to get him ready again for another round of golf, or another pitcher at the biker bar down the street.

What do I do now?  Try to save his life, or just wait for the ambulance.  Maybe he’ll die, and I haven’t done a thing.

We’re all sitting on the floor, our hands sweaty in our brand new Red Cross gloves, fresh out of the box. our CPR mannequins are strewn across the floor, resting from yet another round of our chest thrusts, then breathing into their plastic, unsmiling mouths.  Thirty and two, thirty and two, my new mantra I’ll take from this class, is running through my head. 

We’re talking about getting Mr. Heart Attack’s permission to pound on his chest, restarting his heart, saving his life.

“You need their consent,” the instructor intones, in his best, by the manual, voice.

“What if they say no?” someone asks.  

Saying no, right when you’re itching to put your hand in the middle of their chest. Your fingers are laced into your other hand, ready to begin your compressions, singing “Stayin’ Alive” to yourself, to keep you on your rhythm, 100 compressions a minute.  Disco beat, heart beat.  You and John Travolta are singing your duet, waiting for the ambulance, saving a life.  

“What if they’ve got a tattoo, one that says no, inked across their chest?”  

The guy next to me, the guy with dreadlocks in his beard, my practice buddy with Ricky the Mannequin, is asking the question.  He’s the tattoo artist from Indiana, taking the class so he can start inking the few people in Portland who apparently have a few uninked inches left on their pale Northwest skin.    

“I’ve inked that tattoo on a number of guys, and a few women, too,” he says.  “And, for most of them, they do it as a joke.”  

Consent. Informed, you hope, the instructor intones again, in his best Red Cross voice, making us think about how some folks may not want us to push hard and fast into their chest, maybe cracking a rib, maybe restarting their heart.   But what if they keel over, pass out cold, not letting you know if they want to hear your version of 1970s disco music, maybe saving their life?

We all laugh, breaking the tension in the room, the first time we’ve really thought today about what it means to maybe save someone’s life, by beating on their chest, reprising old disco tunes, just something to do until the ambulance comes.  Like the warning label on mattresses, we ought to plunge on, we agree, ignoring what’s probably a bad joke of a tattoo, inked on there to make the girlfriend, or the boys down at the bar, laugh a bit.  

After all, “Stayin’ Alive” was a pretty popular song.  The guy underneath my hands probably wouldn’t mind hearing it again.


Neal Lemery
August, 2013

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