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Saving Life

Saving Life

A Story by William Richards

A life saving woman is in trouble herself


This would be Matilda’s final test. She would order a lemonade from the bar. Miller would be proud.

She had journaled, describing her agonies in writing. Then her husband found her notes and what followed was an awkward conversation.

‘You’re an alcoholic?’ he had said, with a clown sad-face. ‘But you’re a paramedic! You drive ambulances for goodness sake.’

She had broken down in tears and promised never to drink again. He helped her, bless him. They had kept it a secret, she would have lost her job, even been prosecuted.

She was not proud of it. She had put lives at risk. It started insidiously--nights out at university in Auckland. Then, drinking a bottle a night at home became a routine. By the time she was sipping from a hip flask on the way into work she knew she had a problem. She hid it; black coffees, chain smoking, and persistent gum chewing. But she was not far from being caught. Miller had helped to save her.

Matilda felt the cool summer breeze fan her skin, the windows were open letting the air in, and although the atmosphere inside was calm, outside dark clouds were forming. She was in the Irish Bar where she had first met Miller--on another drunken night out after she had moved to Tauranga. There were fairy lights alive and clinging to the walls like summer vines and different national flags attached to the ceiling: here the Irish flag and just next to it the Scottish flag.

She would buy a lemonade. If she could stand at a bar and just buy a lemonade then she would be truly in control of her drinking. She had her wallet open in her hand. Her identification stared back up at her with a naive smile and insecure eyes. Brown long hair in those days, she had since cut it short and had blonde highlights. And got rid of those awful Dame Edna glasses.

An Irish Folk band rehearsed near her: a flute player with a short skirt; a concertina player billowing away; a slender harpist plucking out notes; a violinist lost in the music; a piano accordion, a percussion drum and a banjo player. They each did their own thing in unison, producing sounds and melodies that swirled currents of joy in Matilda’s soul. On the round table around which they sat, numerous pints of dark stout in varying stages of imbibement.

Ah, that beautiful drink. It wasn’t her go to drink, but it was so velvety. She could almost see purple as she thought about it. And it contained a lot of nutrients like iron.

‘Grraaa!’ one of the children screamed. Children, in here? But she realised their parents must be the band members. One of the boys was chasing one of the girls. He had stuffed a coat up his shirt, giving him a pregnant look. His arms were outstretched, he dragged a leg behind him, and his face was askew. A pregnant zombie. Nice.

‘I’ll have a pint of cider, the cheap one,’ the man next to her at the bar said to the barman. B*****d, he had pushed in. He had a mullet and an unshaven shadow. Pale yellow skin hugged his cheek bones. A shirt decorated with palm trees bouldered over a swollen stomach. He received his pint of cider and drank half in one gulp. ‘Burrp!’ Matilda was disgusted. But the man just continued to look at his pint with a serious regard as he kindled it in his hands. He glistened slightly with sweat.

Good choice of drink though. She would often order cider herself. It helped stop the tremors in the morning, and helped her face the day. Other people had coffee--how was that so different?

Right, she would place her order. The barman with the ear-ring and the flat cap was busy wiping down the bar counter. What was it she wanted? Her heart pounded. She licked her lips. The taps stood proudly and the bottles jingled and hustled for her attention.

‘Hey Rick, take a look at this,” said a man sitting at a table behind her with a few other guys. The barman stopped wiping the counter and walked over to his friends. They were looking at a tabloid and they started to laugh.

She was only going to order a lemonade, she knew that. But she was too intimidated to distract the barman from his friends.

Miller would have done it though. He would have had a laugh with them and then ordered their drinks. He was her best friend and first love. He was a nurse at the Emergency Department. She would hand patients over to him. That’s how she recognised him in the pub and had the confidence to approach him. And she was wasted, which helped.

‘Is it our Marriage? Is that why you drink?’ Miller had asked her recently. She said she did not know why she drank. She had wanted to wrap him in her arms and run away. He had driven with her all the way to Wellington to get the Valium she needed to go cold turkey. Every day since then, for the last two months, they had climbed up Mount Tauranga. A beautiful climb. Thick bush with many Tuis. The Tuis would sing their wishful eclectic songs and then chase each other crashing through the trees. At the top of the Mount, Miller would cuddle her. They would watch the town wake up, and discuss her rehabilitation.


Without the alcohol, striking up conversations was frightening. There was no way she was going to talk to the belching man, but to her left was a middle aged woman. She had greying blonde hair and neatly applied makeup.

‘How’s your day been?’ asked Matilda.

‘Ai, fine. Fine.’ She gave a small smile.

‘Did you hear that a cyclone is passing close to here?’ Matilda tried.

‘Of course,’ she replied, ‘it’s been all over the news.’

‘Always makes me worry,’ Matilda persevered, ‘I don’t want a tree to land on my car as I drive home.’

‘I like cyclones,’ the woman replied factually.


‘Ai. They’re my favourite natural disaster.’

‘I don’t really have a favourite natural disaster,’ she said tentatively, not wanting to be rejected for such a bold assertion.  

To Matilda’s right, there was another loud burp. She shook her head slightly in disgust and her eyes fell onto a glass vase. It was filled with water and had coins at the bottom. A cardboard sign attached to it read, ‘Wishing Well.’ She wished she could have done the last few years better. Not have drunk, been a better wife.

There was a thud beside Matilda.

Then the flutist screamed.

The burping man had collapsed.

The room panicked. The musician’s instruments went limp. The children cried and ran to their parents. The barman’s friends looked at each, no jokes forthcoming. The barman, Rick, stood over the collapsed man and busied himself by reaching at nothing in the air. He took his flat cap off and scrunched it in his hand. The woman at the bar did not react. She carried on drinking her pint.

The belching man lay in a pile on the ground. He was completely pale now. He had a confused look on his face.

Shoot, she thought, I’m going to have to do something about this. Her gut wrenched. What if she was not good enough? What if she messed it up? And with all of the people watching, no pressure. But then she remembered her training. He was already dead. She could only make things better.

‘Everyone listen to me, I am taking charge of this situation. I am a trained paramedic.’ She shouted it out to the ceiling. All the stunned faces turned towards her. She took the opportunity to get to work.

‘Sir, can you hear me? Can you hear me?’ she said briskly as she squeezed his trapezius muscle firmly. There was no response. She put her ear close to his mouth and looked at his chest for signs of breathing. There were none.

An unresponsive collapsed man who was not breathing needed chest compressions, so she proceeded to do them. She clasped her hands together interlocking her fingers and pressed down on his chest keeping her elbows completely straight. She used her weight to get a good depth and she went at a rate in time to the earlier music, around one hundred beats per minute, the melodies now coursing around frantically in her head.

The surrounding faces were still in disbelief, but there was the inertia of letting someone else deal with a situation.

‘Rick!’ Matilda snapped.

‘Yeah?’ the barman exited the trance of the previous few moments.

‘Go call an ambulance and stop flapping!’ she shouted, slightly out of breath.

‘Shouldn’t you do mouth to mouth?’ asked one of Rick’s friends.

‘There’s no need,’ she shouted back. And it was true. For lay people, just compressions are fine. If she had the right equipment she would ventilate as well. But as she compressed his chest, air would be passively moving in and out of his lungs. She could smell his acrid, acidic breath float up to her from his earlier burps, proving her point.

She was on autopilot. She felt the fear but also a driving compulsion to work through the resuscitation protocol to get her through the situation.

Rick returned. 'I have called the ambulance,' he said.

'Good,' she said feeling relieved. But she knew the average response time was eight minutes. 'Now I need you to go and find a defibrillator. They are often kept at shopping centres, police stations or gyms.'

Rick replied that a gym was nearby and he hurried out of the bar.

She was getting tired. Usually she would swap with a partner, but she did not trust anyone else in the bar. She thought she could keep going for eight minutes, so it should be okay.

Whilst she continued doing the compressions, and the people around her chatted nervously all the while staring at what was happening, she found herself thinking about the belching man, her patient. He was likely in liver failure. The yellow skin. The large abdomen--probably ascites. What she was doing was pointless. It could have been her though. In ten years’ time. She was sure it crept up on him. The compulsion to drink. That that became the only reason to be. Another few months she would have lost her job. Maybe lost Miller. Then drink her benefit money and be pleased to do so. Perhaps this was the man she deserved, perhaps this was the man to start a new life with me.

Rick returned faster than she had expected. He marched in barely out of breath with a little plastic suitcase like one that a child might take into kindergarten. He handed it to her and she opened it up.

'Attach pads,' the mechanical voice said with authority. But the patient still had his palm-tree shirt on. She tore at it, each hand on either side of the buttons, and quickly ripped it open, the buttons spinning off into every direction. She regretted not having someone else to do compressions now as she realised this could have been done whilst someone was still doing CPR. She tore the plastic film from the black adhesive pad and attached it above the right n****e. She did likewise with the second pad and placed it under the left n****e.

'Analyzing heart rhythm, DO NOT touch the patient,' it said. There was an uncomfortable silence.

'Shock advised, charging.' A low whorl quickly progressed to a high whorl, followed by a shrill siren noise and a button with an electric shock sign becoming lit up.

'Everyone stand clear!' Matilda shouted. The crowd took a step back. 'Shocking!' and she pressed the button.

The patient’s chest heaved into the air for a second like he had been stung in the back by a wasp, and then he slumped back to the ground. Matilda continued chest compressions.

A moment later, however, she heard a, 'What the hell,' and then her arms were swept away by the patient as he sat up looking even more confused.

The crowd cheered and clapped.

'What do they call you, Sir?' Matilda asked.

'They call me an Artist.' He grinned, 'a Piss-artist.' His fetid breath caused Matilda to be knocked back slightly. 'My chest hurts, what did you do to me, sexy lady?'

Red and white flashing lights flooded into the bar from outside. The ambulance crew quickly entered with a trolley. Matilda was relieved to see that she did not recognise either of the paramedics. One of them rushed up to the patient and started asking questions. He asked about his past medical history and whether or not he had any allergies. Several unhelpful replies were returned that were meant to be funny. A blood sugar was taken and a blood pressure, and he listened to the patient's chest with a stethoscope. And then the patient was helped onto the trolley.

Matilda spoke with the other paramedic and briefly explained what had happened. She was thanked and, with the patient on the trolley already, the paramedics turned to leave.

'Burp! Can anyone get me another drink?' said the patient. He then vomited blood onto the trolley in front of him, but did not seem bothered. The paramedics briefly looked at each other and then left in a hurry.

People started to relax and talk excitedly to one another. Numerous people came up to Matilda to congratulate her, even the natural disaster woman. And then Rick approached her with a pint of draft in his hand.

‘Here you go my love, this one is on the house,’ he said extending it up to her.

Why not, thought Matilda, I’ve earnt it.

But then a million voices shouted at her, screamed at her, what the hell was she doing? She had just saved someone’s life. But that person could have been her. And that was not the future she wanted.

‘No thank you,’ she said, ‘I don’t drink.’

She walked outside, tears coming down her face. This whole test had been a stupid idea. Why put yourself at risk like that?

She phoned Miller on her mobile. She told him that she loved him and to come home early to avoid the storm.


© 2016 William Richards

Author's Note

William Richards
Thank you for reading. This is a work of fiction and all characters and events are fictional. All constructive comments are welcome. Image is from Wikipedia.

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This rings very true as I know a thing or two about recovery and temptation and relapse. Smart thinking to make your main character a paramedic. She realizes all too well what alcohol can do to the body and yet for a time also she loses control. I was moved by the fact that her partner takes her every morning for 2 months up the mountain to watch the sunrise together and support her recovery. Great story. Good writing. The no thank you I do not drink ending might need some thinking. Maybe too easy, I do not know.

Posted 4 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Richards

4 Years Ago

Thank you Philip for reading. Good point about the ending, I'll have a think about that. Cheers :-)
Philip Muls

4 Years Ago

My pleasure! Could you read mine.
William Richards

4 Years Ago

Will do a bit later today


You did a great job describing the CPR process and the use of the defibrillator (I work with paramedics - though I'm not one myself) and I recently did my CPR training so for those readers who don't know what it's all about they sure do now :) I like the story of a paramedic having an alcohol problem - why not! It could happen to anyone so I think it adds a good punch to your story. I love the fact that her husband was so supportive and anxious to help her deal with her illness. Her struggle and testing her strength by putting herself in a tempting situation and almost failing just shows how easy it could be to relapse - I'm glad she didn't :) all in all I quite enjoyed this

Posted 3 Years Ago

This rings very true as I know a thing or two about recovery and temptation and relapse. Smart thinking to make your main character a paramedic. She realizes all too well what alcohol can do to the body and yet for a time also she loses control. I was moved by the fact that her partner takes her every morning for 2 months up the mountain to watch the sunrise together and support her recovery. Great story. Good writing. The no thank you I do not drink ending might need some thinking. Maybe too easy, I do not know.

Posted 4 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Richards

4 Years Ago

Thank you Philip for reading. Good point about the ending, I'll have a think about that. Cheers :-)
Philip Muls

4 Years Ago

My pleasure! Could you read mine.
William Richards

4 Years Ago

Will do a bit later today
I like the atmosphere you've set up, the fairy lights, the flags, the rehearsing Irish band.

For me the story would work better if you left off the last short paragraphs. The end would have been more pointed.

The description of the defibrillator is interesting. I didn't know they talked.

Posted 4 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Richards

4 Years Ago

Thank you for reading. I fear I may have gone into too much technical detail with the CPR sequence, .. read more
This is quite interesting and entertaining. A little slow in the beginning, it really picked up when the drunkard collapsed, and then ended on an especially positive note. It reminded me a bit of something I witnessed years ago, when a drunk man fell into fast moving water. Most everyone just stood and watched him drown, but then one brave fellow jumped in and saved him. What did the drunkard then do? He returned to his drinking while stumbling around too close to the water. Oh, well. I guess it's impossible to pull some folks away from their road to destruction. In Matilda's case, her sense of duty displaced all else, so there's hope.

Posted 4 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

William Richards

4 Years Ago

Thank you for reading Samuel. Interesting anecdote you've shared as well. Sadly some people can't be.. read more
I'm going to review as I read. Hopefully this will be helpful. Certainly that is my intent -- of course it's only one persons opinion. Take what you can use and throw the rest to the wind with my apologies.
1. You set up intrigue and good tension right at the beginning by introducing the idea that her husband would be proud of her for drinking lemonade and then revealing that he had inadvertently discovered that she is an alcoholic. You've also described the possible consequences facing her if she were to relapse.
2. I like your use of the wallet photo as a way of providing the reader with a description of Matilda and of the bar. Sharing the process of her thinking -- that she'd be in control of her drinking if she could order a lemonade at the bar -- I spent years as an addictions counselor and this thinking is sooooo typical.
3. Really excellent description of the man who came into the bar -- loved "Pale yellow skin hugged his cheek bones"
Well again, because of the pace, I stopped critiquing line by line. All I can say is "wow!" This is such a powerful piece, beautifully written, full of suspense, intensity and emotion. It's just a beautiful piece of writing. I admire the detailed description of the process of coming so close to the brink and being saved by the skin of her teeth by a man whose life almost ended as a result of his alcoholism (and which no doubt would end shortly despite being snatched from the jaws of death). I only wish that this would be the true story for all alcoholics and addicts who test their ability to resist their drug of choice -- that in the final moment they could choose life instead of death. Again, beautiful piece. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Posted 4 Years Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

This comment has been deleted by the poster.
William Richards

4 Years Ago

Thank you for reviewing. You've picked up exactly what I was intending to do i.e coming face to face.. read more

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5 Reviews
Shelved in 1 Library
Added on June 6, 2015
Last Updated on June 18, 2016


William Richards
William Richards

Hamilton, Waikato, New Zealand

I am a guy who enjoys writing. I dunno why. It's just a thrill when you create something believable which conveys emotion and to know you made it all up. I have a wonderful wife and blessed with a .. more..