Another Shift Worked

“You should have takenĀ his wallet!”… “DeadĀ  people don’t need credit cards!”


Job descriptions for waiters are usually very vague, so are the S.O.P’s(1). They don’t state “Hurry up and wait” or use “Common sense” or simply “Do the best you can do in any situation!”

I am used to the waiting part. The waiting for whatever might happen next, in short “Hurry up and wait!” are typical for my profession as a waiter. It all translates into “Hurry up and wait for another unusual situation you might have to deal with sooner than you think, if you want it or not!”
We have a wedding rehearsal dinner, a true-big-time-affair with guests from all over the world. The waiters and waitresses serve cocktails and hors d’oeuvres for over an hour. After that the party has a multicourse-sit-down-dinner. Speeches are held. Champagne is poured with the appetizers. The air is filled with happy, laughing voices, joy is in the eyes of the couple to be married the very next day. Their parents pride reflects in the extravagant dinner whose cost they wish to be split evenly into two checks.

Chardonnay is offered with their soup and fish-course. There is one toast after the other. Laughter is present at every table, promising an unforgettable wedding party.
We, the wait staff, open plenty of Cabernet Sauvignons of the best quality to serve with the main course. Like every course this one too is nothing but the best the kitchen has to offer. Just as I serve a plate with venison on a wild cherry and red-wine sauce to the bride, looking past her husband to be, I notice the bride’s father trying to get my attention. I hastily set the plate down and step close to him. His lips move. There are faint sounds. His voice is fading. Without any further warning his body goes limp. I catch his falling body before he hits the floor. His face turns ash-white. The body feels lifeless like a bag full of potatoes and bones. I shout at one coworker “Call an ambulance!”
I feel for a pulse, listened for any breath. Nothing! Now what? I look around searching for a way out. None of the guests seems to be wanting to take over. I hear my own voice echoing in my ears “Anyone here who is a doctor?” No answer “Anyone here who knows CPR?” Total silence follows this question. I think, “Great! Why me?” as I check the man’s mouth for any objects. He looks dead to me. I take a deep breath hearing the bride’s plea “Do something! He isn’t dead? Is he?” I feel again for a pulse, listen for any breathing. There is no breath. On my knees next to the man, I move his body to lay flat on the floor, then pinch his nose shut and blow my breath into his mouth. “Was it ten and two or fifteen and two?” I ask myself. Another lung full of my air goes into the body beneath me. Still nothing, no pulse, no breath. My fingers look for the right spot between his ribs. I find his breastbone and start the compression. I do twelve of them before giving him mouth to mouth another two long breaths of air.
I continue the compression’s. I do not realize how much energy it takes until the paramedics arrived and take over. Sweating from the effort I ask one of the paramedics, “What is the right count? Ten and two or fifteen compression’s and two breaths of air?” He asks “What did you do?”
“Two full breaths of air after every twelve cardiac compression’s!” I answer. The paramedic says “You did fine.” and after a pause “The CPR textbook says fifteen pushes and two breaths!”
They take the gentleman, who was only about fifty years old, to the hospital. The bride leaves in tears following the ambulance to the hospital, without even taking a bite from her venison. The dinner is cut short, still some finish their plates. Where there had been joy, a cool morgue atmosphere has taken over. The guests are quiet, except at one table where too much wine has loosened some tongues. The party leaves without dessert. Some guests have a cup of coffee before getting into their cars.
I feel helpless. There is nothing I could have done differently or was there? Maybe we should have carried the man outside the banquet room, so he wouldn’t have interrupted the happy party-goers with his untimely passing away? I didn’t know. After the guests have left, we clear the tables. Now I get advice from everyone. The ideas and wordings range from “You should have taken his wallet first!” over “Dead people don’t need credit cards!” and “Dead people don’t pay their bills, you know, at least you should have taken his credit card run the charge, a thumb-print instead of the signature, why not?” to “You should have covered the bill first before showing off your lifesaving techniques.”
I know it doesn’t happen too often that a waiter has to use CPR. I have had only one occasion, the one above, in more than thirty years and after waiting on a couple of hundred thousand people. However I have been successfully helping a handful of people who showed symptoms of choking. The most difficult one was a heavy female customer. She had something stuck in her windpipe. I used the “Heimlich Maneuver” on her and the obstacle a lemon wedge, dislocated from blocking her airways, she spit it right out. I do admit I had a hard time helping her. It did take three attempts of holding and pressing up. She was opulent all right and I had to search between tires of fat to get a good grip to push up and let the air out of her. Another side effect was that she threw up, and I was sure glad to stand behind her. However, after all she was okay and in good spirits.
My job-description does not say anything about the above. It does not even describe a fraction of the excitement which I have been allowed to experience over the years while waiting on tables. Job descriptions for waiters are usually very vague, so are the S.O.P’s(1). They don’t state “Hurry up and wait” or use “Common sense” or simply “Do the best you can do in any situation!”

1. S.O.P. stands for standard operating procedure.

by helmut schonwalder