Friday, July 19, 2013

A Fish Out of Water

I have performed CPR - several times.  I have kept someone alive as I listened to the ambulance I had summoned approaching in what felt like slow motion.  I have helped people in seizure.  Dramatic, adrenaline pumping situations.  I was calm, methodical and practical.

So explain to me why on walking around my kitchen counter last week and seeing one of our goldfish lying, apparently dead on the floor, I whimpered, recoiled and out right panicked? I knew as I was doing it, it was the wrong response.  Not helpful in any way but I was immobilized. The husband had to run around me, grab the fish and drop it back into the tank.  We had no idea how long it had been there but we felt it couldn't have been long.

The fish bobbed upside down near the top of the tank.  My heart grew heavy.  We recently lost our two newest fish and the five year old was so sad about it.  These fish we've had for over four years - they are family. I could only assume the sadness would be bigger.   Then the fish burped.  I suddenly remembered a situation I had been in once when I was working with a patient in their home.  They had a huge tropical fish tank built into the wall - my patients husband's most prized possession and hobby. As we worked away on trying to restore function to her post stroke arm - the tank spontaneously cracked.  A large hole opened up and water cascaded onto the floor.  I grabbed towels and tried to save the carpet.  It was a so hard to watch - the fish that I couldn't get to were losing their life support.   Eventually the tank drained.  The husband had run out to the store and his wife had no idea how to access the built in tank.  I watched at least fifteen fish flip desperately.

A full twenty minutes passed before the husband came home.  I ran to tell him on the driveway.  He strode purposefully but calmly into the room.  He grabbed a bucket and put water in it.  He then unlocked a side door to the built in and accessed the tank.  One by one he gave his beloved fish the kiss of life.   He sucked the air from their lungs and deposited them back in the water.   They all lived - every single fish.  I visited that home for weeks and marveled at the rescue every time I stepped through their door.

"We have to suck the air out of it's lungs!" I shouted.  The husband and I looked at each other.  Neither of us moved.  We looked at the fish bobbing in the tank.  I tried to think of ways we could do it that would not involve me putting my mouth over a fish mouth and sucking.  Time ticked by.  I felt bad about myself.  We love our fish.  Why wasn't I reaching into the tank?  

I like to think that fishy felt the love and that encouraged him to save himself - he vomited - several times and began to 'breathe' his water normally.  He tried to right himself and swam in a heartbreaking sideways position for about 10 minutes and then finally found his equilibrium and swam normally.

It's been about a week and he seems fine.  No worse for his ordeal.  I, however, still can't look him in the eye.  I failed him.  I like to imagine I would have done it eventually - I just needed a minute to warm up to the idea and in that minute - fishy saved himself.  No harm done.  Right?  I'm just out of my life saving routine.

If your opinion about me has changed for the worse now - may I respectfully request you read the first paragraph again.  We can't all be perfect all the time.  Just don't tell my children.


  1. I'm not sure that I could perform fishy CPR in an emergency either. I'm certain he felt the love.

  2. I can't decide whether to laugh or cry. But I'm very glad he survived the ordeal.

  3. I'm with Stacey on this one.

    We had a Beta fish once that you had to burb or it would explode. Needless to say that fish exploded.


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