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First-aid lessons: all’s well that ends well

emily flake The Globe and Mail

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Stratford, Ont., is a dream town. We have swans, fantastic restaurants, engaging culture. But the glorious summer quickly descends into a winter of discontent once autumn's beauty wanes. Stratford ingenues and single moms soon realize that the post-theatre season is a good time for refreshing skills.

As the flakes began to fall last year, I decided to take a first-aid course, hoping to learn how to distinguish wounds needing TLC from those requiring the EMS.

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My all-female cast of classmates was more interested in whom we might rescue than how we would administer procedures. There was much joking about performing CPR on handsome bodies. But amid the jocularity, our instructor, Joanne, professionally directed lessons on everything from severe bleeding to bee stings.

She stressed that the scene of a real emergency would be different than the classroom. Rehearsing CPR on a girlfriend was one thing. Acting in real life would be another. Little did I know that I would soon be summoned to the first-aid stage.

Just when you think you can't shovel another ounce of snow, summer arrives, swans grace the river and the Stratford dream is beautiful again. As well as theatre, there is a fantastic repertoire of outdoor concerts, including BargeMusic, in which bands jam on a floating stage. My kids and I took a picnic down to the Avon River to listen.

The Heavyweights Brass Band was putting out groovy arrangements of jazz and pop tunes. Why Can't We Be Friends was playing, my shoes were off and I was happily swaying to the beat when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A casualty was lying face down in the river.

I leaped into my role. I ran to pull him out, turned him over and mentally ran through the items on my first-aid checklist.

Step 1: I was taking control of the situation.

Step 2: Bystanders were ready to assist.

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Step 3: The history of the scene indicated that the man had fallen into the river; he was the only casualty.

Step 4: Before I could engage my stage voice and say, "My name is Jane and I am a first aider," the casualty sputtered, "My walker!"

Back to Step 1.

I asked the bystanders to rescue the red and black mobility device that was slowly sinking in the greenish river.

Assured of the safety of his prop, the aged casualty sighed with relief. Then he looked into my eyes and spoke. "God, you're gorgeous!"

Perhaps my blond hair was highlighted like a halo by the brilliant August sunshine. Maybe I looked like an angel of mercy. Or was it possible he had hit his head and was suffering internal bleeding, preventing him from acknowledging our considerable age difference?

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I focused on my task, telling him to stay in the recovery pose so I could follow through with my ABCs.

When I asked if I could perform a rapid body survey, the answer was a delighted "Go right ahead!"

"Thank you, sir," I said.

With a wrinkled wink, he replied, "It's not sir. It's Gary."


Still intent on my role, I hastened the primary survey.

Clearly he was quite all right, and then some.

Gary told me his backstory. He had been "imprisoned" in hospital for a heart attack a few months ago. This was his first outing. The walker was a brand-new doohickey, and he didn't know it came with brakes. While enjoying the music, he hadn't noticed his downhill slide into the river until it was too late.

My children were glancing over. I needed to return to my role as mother, but I told Gary I would return as first-aider after the concert.

"Is there anything I can do before I go?" I asked.

"Well, I am rather wet," he grinned, "and I do like your outfit."

Cheeky! I told him there was no wardrobe mistress on site. I really can't tell you his response. It just wouldn't be proper.

During the concert, Gary and his walker danced a merry jig. The dude was smoking a cigarette! He winked at me, and I couldn't help but smile.

The concert concluded with the band meandering through the audience – a fantastic finale. But this show wasn't over.

Going up to Gary, I inquired after his health. He puffed away and said, "Better than ever, darlin'."

Then I gave him a checklist.

Step 1: Inform your doctor. He agreed.

Step 2: Stay close to a phone. Looking alarmed, he felt his pockets and let slip an expletive. His brand-new cellphone had taken a swan dive. Still, he gave me his number and asked if I would call him.

Shaking my head with amusement at his persistence, I agreed.

I should never have given an inch, because he took the mile: "Seriously, you are gorgeous. Are you available?"

I told him I couldn't date a man who smoked, and left it at that.

As my kids and I headed for home, I spoke silently to the universe. "Next time you cast me as a first-aider, I'll happily accept," I said. "But please send me someone 40 years younger. And a non-smoker."

Jane Czarny lives in Stratford, Ont.

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