We have been darting around the road for an hour since our last stop and the energy in the car is dismal. I can feel my eyes retracting from the road, looking down to the left to ensure we are still within the confines of the long streaming, snake like lines that make up the road. I could fall asleep at anytime. I can sense that fifth negroni from the night prior impeding my judgement.
The car flys around a hairpin of a corner and we are greeted by two women. one of them short and boisterous adorning a purple shirt and boots to match. The second lady is of darker ethnicity and is rummaging between the side of the road and asphalt. The weeds kiss the surrounding forest and highlights the disparity and contrast of the landscape. The ladies are in distress and hoop and holler to wave us down. There is a motorbike parked up with the hazard lights on.
We pull over briskly to the left, leaving the car and stampede across the road. Looking down the hill, we see a man lying on his side with another male cowering over a body, comforting and holding him. He doesn’t know the recovery position. We yell from the road - “Is he breathing”? The man replies - “he’s breathing”. We yell “is he responding, Is he speaking?” The man screeches back - “Yes, he is responding”. We offer water but are refused. We stand from above in a gravity of misconception, disbelief and deliberation. Can we leave this situation now? Fuck no, it’s too late. We are already too consumed and involved and I am awake from any earlier fatigue almost instantaneously. We scramble down the hill in a dusty flurry to offer our help. What the fuck - "the man has stopped breathing", the man yells from below. We sling him onto his back - CPR, CPR. Help, he needs help. Glen is the name of the man’s friend and they have been riding their motorbikes together through these treacherous roads. We remove the mans helmet so carefully, supporting his neck and his body. We are moving slowly and steadily to avoid any fractures that might be. Glen starts to pump on the man’s chest. Blood squirts and hisses from the man’s mouth and scours Glen’s face and beard. The blood is oozing from his mouth and you can sense the internal injuries that might already be. Glen is slowly wearing from pumping on the man’s chest. Glen grunts and squeals, putting all of his energy, compassion and strength through his two hands. He is unfit and old, although not 74 years old like the man who lies in front of us looking dead to the world. Glen needs our help.
There is no phone reception out in the bush and we haven't been able to make contact to any medical services without leaving the body. The two ladies are up on the road and they have waved down a car and asked them to make a phone call once they get signal. I can’t believe that any of this is real. It feels like only a moment ago we were back in a small town eating lunch and deliberating on which surf spot we would head to. It feels like only a moment ago I was checked into a hotel, enjoying the luxuries of life with anything at our disposal. Now, I am being summoned to perform CPR on a man I don’t know, who lies horizontal, catapulted from the road in the sparse Australian forest.
George, who has been accompanying me on this road trip is running up the hill to find reception. His lacklustre attempts find him back down the hill in the dust. The motorbike sits about 10 metres from the silent man, wrapped around a tree. I'm not sure what kind of bike it was but it doesn't resemble anything fit for the road.
He hasn't been breathing for almost 5 minutes now. How can I do this? All this time spent studying first aid and my heart is racing at the speed of light. I lose all confidence. My heart is sinking and I am so scared but Glen is running out of energy. I am coming face to face with death. I don't understand death. Who the fuck does. I start CPR on the swelling body and I can feel the man’s chest deep through my clenched hands. His bones crack and his ribs and bones are disgruntled and out of whack. He adorns a thick motorcycle jacket with gloves, a white t-shirt and heavy motorcycle pants. Glen’s eyes are swollen and heavy and he is deeply saddened. His hands have been entrenched in the man’s throat to clear the mans airway. Glen is a long time friend of this man. He has known him since he was 8 years old and is now well over 60. The man’s throat is full up of blood. We need to keep his airway clear - I keep reiterating this. I am thumping on his chest for so long the sweat is pouring from my body, but I can’t stop. I feel so deeply removed from the materialistic lifestyle that I work and live in. I keep repeating to the man - "come on mate, come back to us", "don't leave us", "stay with us". I am present, hoping for a fucking miracle. I keep CPR going for as long as my body allows me. It feels like 20 minutes. No one is here yet, it’s just the three of us fighting to bring this man back to life. The man hasn't shown any signs of life in so long, the blood is flowing from his mouth and nose and nausea sweeps over me. Glen digs deep into his throat to lift his tongue in the hope he’s not suffocating. His belly is showing and the jacket is riding up as we continue to work on him. His chest isn't moving though, we know his heart has seized but we continue to circulate the blood around the mans body.
We continue CPR and George is next on this duty. Between him and Glen they are working on the man. We struggle to see any life or signs of response. George is sweating profusely. I am sitting behind him wondering what the fuck to do next, we’ve tried to much and we don't have the resources to kick on. The dust is so bad, it’s so dry and the flies are swarming around the blood on the man’s face that is continually flowing. How did he manage to come off the road in the first place? Was it a heart attack? This is the longest episode of my life. A new man pulls up, he a has a medical kit and is a tow truck driver of some sort. He comes down beside us and offers his assistance. He doesn’t know too much about the situation and his english is broken at best. Another man pulls in with his reflector lights on his roof, I thought it was an ambulance. He has gloves and equipment and we are grateful for his presence. He has spent time in the Australian Army, serving time in Afghanistan and has seen many people die. You can tell by his calmness and energy. Glen has been holding the man’s neck in place while George has been performing CPR on the crushing bones. Firstly, he removes Glen from the situation to avoid any shock. How the fuck can we save this man? Glen’s face and beard is covered in blood and his hands are dripping wet with blood from having his hands down the man’s throat.
The new male appoints everyone a role. I am performing CPR again and I notice again his throat is blocked and we need to clear the airway. We all manouver his body. Firstly raising his knee, followed by his arms and shoulders. We support his neck and pull the broken body over to his side. The blood flows into the dirt and falls into a pocket of the man’s jacket. The blood is bright red and lively and sits in a pool by my knees. I take a moment and think about the blood and the possible infections. We flip the body onto the back and continue with the repetitive motion of force upon the man’s chest. Our next task is removing the man's jacket to get closer to his chest. One of the guys tugs on the zip and slides the zip between my arms as I try my best to continue CPR. I am so exhausted. Our new company takes over the process and I am given a moment to breath. He repeats over and over, saying, “it’s too late, this guy is dead, we just have to keep going until the ambulance arrives”. We continue to pummel this man, pumping on his chest and turning him multiple times to continue clearing the airway. I am asked to clear his mouth by putting my hand deep down his throat and pulling his tongue forward out of the airway but there it too much blood, too much gore and death for me to comprehend and I decline. I feel somewhat defeated but there are more qualified people here now for the job. He’s already dead is the message that keeps playing on my mind. We try to give him oxygen through a mask but his chest is seized. His chest is full of blood and his organs have given up. A car drives past and yells from the road - the ambulance is on its way. It's all hands on now. Glen is standing up on top of the hill, looking down on his dead friend, his eyes are dense with tears, his hands and beard is drenched with blood and he smells like death.
The paramedics arrive, they are two little old ladies who aren't much use other than emotional support and their first aid kits they provide. The nearest town is Niregga and we already know there is no hospital there, only a lonely pub that sits in a deserted paddock waiting for the locals to enter the watering hole. The two ladies offer us gloves and we try to attach the man to oxygen. But again, his chest remains dormant, disarrayed and deadly. The flies swarm for his dry blooded mouth. George swats at the flies with disgust. His mouth is like a well - dark and full of stone cold blood. He won't mutter another vowel or ride a motorbike ever again, not in this lifetime anyway. His eyes are closed and won't ever again see the natural light they once did. I have a deep feeling of remorse and sadness, wondering whether he has a family. This day will have an impact on me for the rest of my life, watching someone die and leave this universe in such a close proximity. The images are so strong in my mind, the smell, the dirt and decay in the afternoon heat.
The ambulance arrives, they assess the body and pronounce the man dead. They check his eyes and realise the magnitude and impact we have experienced. Everyone is at ease almost. We fought for the man, we tried all we could. The ambulance takes Glen away and a blue sheet is swept over of what remains of the dead body. The motorcycle still sits there frozen around the tree. This image dwells in my mind. The silence is deafening. My shirt is wet with sweat and I make my way up the hill towards the road. I rinse the blood from my hands and face and change my shirt. The task is over. The police arrive to provide us comfort. These guys see some shit on the job. We give our details and make way to the nearest pub to drown this whole fucked up scenario.
The man from the bar recognises us from the day prior. He pours us beers and asks which direction we came from. He can see in our eyes that we have seen death. He can see the how fucking destroyed and emotionally consumed we are. He knows the story I have told from the sadness and despair deep in my eyes.
Nothing last forever.