Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Flip, face up. Compress chest. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Check the breathing. Do you feel anything? No. Check if anything is visible in the mouth? No. Check the heartbeat. It’s high. Do babies normally have high heart rate? I don’t know. I look up at his mother. How is she doing? She’s in tears and looks in bad shape. These are too many people around her. They should give her some space. I’m done with the questions of these two uncles, I know what I’m doing. Is there a way to throw them out of the train? Leave it. This is not the time to react.
I’m going everywhere in my thoughts. I stop talking in my head, flip the toddler in my arms, grab his jaw firmly and align my left arm under his sternum, bend forward, take a deep breath and continue gently striking firm blows on his back through the heel of my right hand – slightly below the shoulder level, between the blades.
I don’t know who this toddler is. I don’t know who his devastated mother is. I’m not even aware of who these two men are, who are not letting me do, what must be done. There are more people surrounding me, but they just want to argue. I’m scared to even look at their faces. I don’t know anyone here. Time is slipping out of my hands, and I begin to feel helpless.
This is the ‘blue line’ of the Delhi Metro. I boarded this train from Noida sector-18 towards Dwarka after a long and exhausting weekend of meeting friends in Noida.
The train was flooded with people like any Saturday, and I hopped from one coach to the other, to find some space for myself, when I saw this baby. He was safe, happy and playful, wearing a bright-yellow jacket and dark blue bottoms with a black and white bracelet and a large black scar-shaped kajal tilak on his forehead. This baby caught my attention when I saw two girls playing with him. But, I ignored and continued reading about how Frank Kuiack would fish in Algonquin Park, through the book “The Last Guide”.
The book was gifted by very special friends, who I spent my summer with, in paradise named Algonquin Provincial Park over three months as a Wilderness Leader and Youth Counselor in Kingston, Ontario (Canada) where I learned important life-saving skills.
The baby had caught my undivided attention just three minutes ago, when suddenly there was chaos, as girls shouted “the baby is not responding and he’s turning red” as they tried to wake his sleeping mother. He was choking. His skin (already pale) was slowly turning from red to blue. His mother was in a panic – shoving a finger in his mouth, trying to get hold of something (as suggested by an old man on her left) – with little idea about what had gone wrong in a matter of five minutes. The others were throwing in their suggestions, and I could see the combined IQ falling like ten pins. The voice in me amid such a chaos of strangers, is my fear, so I decided to wait till someone acts.
I’m impatient when anxious, and I was fighting a battle in my head – to either continue to watch what was happening or possibly, take control of the situation and guide the mother on what to do.
The condition of the baby was getting worse, time was slipping out of their hands, and he could die in a matter of next 10 minutes. The closest aid in Delhi’s traffic could be 20 minutes away, and I didn’t know if there were paramedics in any Delhi metro station. I’d never seen one, so the emergency exit button was useless in such a condition.
Using all the courage I could gather in those few seconds, I threw my bag on the ground, jumped on the mother, snatched the baby out of her hands without her permission, kneeled down on the floor and started the standard choking procedure I was trained in.
Assessing the situation quickly, and calling emergency services immediately was the first step. Not realizing that I was in Delhi and not Canada, I shouted “Call 9-1-1”. The next step was to hold the baby between my forearms and turn his face down so that his head is lower than the rest of the body. I remembered the rest of it too: thump the baby gently, but firmly, five times on the middle of the back using the heel of the free hand, turn baby’s face up, place two fingers on the centre of his chest, just below the nipple line, and push hard and fast, and check baby’s mouth after each thrust and remove the obstruction.
This procedure is fine when the baby is conscious. But, the baby was not responding; it was probably partly (or completely) unconscious. I could not sense breathing when I placed my index finger closer to his nostrils. The procedure says I must switch to CPR when the baby is unconscious. I didn’t know what to do since when he was struggling to breathe, so I had absolutely no time to think. However, I decided to stick to the standard procedure for the next one minute and then switch to CPR.
I made changes to the standard process as there was very limited space in the packed metro. I opted for 15 back blows and five chest thrusts. Others, instead of helping or supporting, were busy either adding to the panic, or questioning me “Do you even know what you’re doing?” or ridiculing me as they told me to stop. Recruiting them to help was one option that must’ve been done, but I was too scared.
After struggling for nearly a minute, I was in the third cycle now. In my head, I’m living the time when I saw doctor perform CPR on my mother nearly a decade ago. I didn’t know how to perform it, and we had to wait for 20 minutes to get a doctor, and she didn’t survive. But today, losing was not an option. I’m scared. Are these voices in background right that accuse me of knowing nothing and killing the baby? With every back blow, my heart rate is shooting up. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Ting. A shiny five rupee coin slips through his lips, and under the force of the thrust, falls on the ground. I immediately turn the baby and check the breathing. I still do not sense anything.
I’m scared if he’s even alive. I check the pulse by placing a finger around his neck. I can feel the heartbeat, still racing fast. He’s alive! But, why is he not responding? Just as we enter Kirti Nagar Metro Station, in a quasi-automatic gesture, the baby shook his leg, punched his arms, and breaks into a faint cry like a newborn. I’m bewildered by what just happened and kept looking at him as he squeezes and opens his eyes. Still kneeled on the ground, I look at his mother on my right. She’s in tears and looks in my eyes with a million questions. I still have no expressions. I look at her, the baby, her and the baby again. I smile and lift the baby close to my chest. I keep the baby with me for a few seconds more as others help the mother recollect herself.
With a smile and shaky hands, I hand over the baby back in the safest lap and keep a watch from a distance for the next minute or so. By that time, the metro reaches Moti Nagar station. Panicked, I search for my bag, lift it from the floor and run out of the metro amid the pats on my back by most of the people standing around me. They have a smile, much bigger than mine.
I stood outside the metro, as the door closes and I see that baby, his mother and the others for the last time. As I walk down the stairs to get on the other side, to board the next metro to Kirti Nagar, two young boys have a quick conversation about what just happened and wonder about how I knew what had to be done and, what should have been done. Another boy, overhearing our conversation suggested: “You should have got that on video or should have kept that coin”. “I don’t know what to say. You’re brave. Mostly these days, people just make videos of others dying in front of them” follows another random man as we part.
How was I feeling? I’m happy, probably happiest ever in my life. Satisfied. Thankful to almighty to help me stay in senses and provide strength to that little life to stay put in his mother’s lap. More than anything else, I’m experiencing that contentment to find strength in letting go of the grudge of “I could not save my mother”. At the same time, I apologize to the mother for not asking for her permission. I apologize to the crowd; if I was disrespectful and didn’t trust them enough.
I thank Steve Tripp, my first aid instructor from Kingston (Ontario), for being the amazing human he is and training me on something that I could use at the right place, in the right time. It’s still tough for me to completely absorb, this happened to me, and I succeeded. And yes, I’m tad bit proud of what I was able to do.
I did what I expect anyone would have done if I was that baby. I’m that every common man, who should stand up when needed the most. That’s what I expect from every commuter among those 2.5 million travelling by the Delhi Metro every day. We are one big community. Stay united, stay alert, stay strong. Bhavatu Sarvamangalam.