Close to death, during a run

I’ve been racking up the winter miles, logging back-to-back doubles most weekends and really, it has been going well. Until last night, when something happened that made me re-examine my love for running, my writing and just about every other damned thing in my life.

I was running the Coastal Trail in the late afternoon twilight, a time I love best, when the air hushes and the sky turns a vivid shade of blue and there’s that lull between daylight and dark that feels magical and expansive. I’ve been fighting a cold and my nose ran and my chest wheezed but still, I made decent time and the dog was in good spirits and I remember thinking, “This is what I love best about running.”

Then, right after I passed Point Woronzof and headed into the wooded section toward Kincaid, a guy ran toward me carrying his skis. “Someone collapsed up ahead,” he said. “I called for help, can you go stay with him?”

I nodded yes and took off, and just over a quarter of a mile later I saw two people gathered in the middle of the trail, and as I drew closer my heart sank because I could see the woman’s arms moving up and down and knew she was performing CPR. And I knew it wasn’t going to be good.

And it wasn’t. When I reached them a man was on the phone with an emergency dispatcher, who was instructing them what to do, and a woman was leaning over the collapsed man and giving him CPR chest compressions. The man had no pulse, the other man told me. Since I know CPR, I stayed with them, in case they needed me to take over. The man lay still, and I could hear the sounds of his body hitting the snow with each compression. It was one of the loneliest sounds I’ve ever heard. Even now, hours later, I can still hear it. I can’t get it out of my head.

I offered to do rescue breaths but the dispatcher recommended chest compressions only. I stood there and the only thing I could think of doing was singing that damned Bee Gees song I learned in CPR class, “Staying Alive.” The rhythm is supposed to perfectly match the chest compression count. So I stood with the dog beside a collapsed and dying man singing “Staying Alive” while a woman performed chest compression and a man advised her and an emergency dispatcher over a cell phone urged them on. The man’s face was unresponsive, his body was unresponsive and what I wanted to do, more than anything, was kneel down and touch his face with my hands, offering him the only thing I had to offer, the warmth of my fingers on his cold skin.

The dog might have felt the same for she kept trying to get closer, and after the rescue workers arrived and I ran back home, I thought of how if I were dying, I’d want someone to touch my face, acknowledge me. I’d want a dog to trot up and lick my face with the dumb luck of all good dogs. Yet I didn’t know this man, and I certainly couldn’t let my dog interfere with the CPR and rescue. Still, I would have wanted that.

The fog rolled in on the run back home and we passed only two people the whole way, and it felt lonely and I realized how vast the world is, and how insignificant we are all, in the big scheme of things, and how as most people drove home and worried about their jobs and their relationships and their finances, there was a man lying in the snow in the middle of the wood-lined trail, fighting for his life.

And what I hope more than anything is that that man made it, that he’s sleeping in a hospital bed surrounded by his family. I hope this. I want this to be true. I don’t think that it is but still, I am hoping. It’s all I can really do, all that most of us can do in most situations: we can hope.


The frozen beach along the Coastal Trail.

11 thoughts on “Close to death, during a run

  1. lindahuber

    What a disturbing experience; you must have felt so helpless. Sometimes things are just too powerful and there’s nothing we can do, no matter how much we’d like to or try to. Maybe you could find out what happened to the man, it might give you closure? Or maybe you should just keep the hope. Hugs whatever you decide. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Christa B

    My name is Christa and I was the one skiing with my dad and giving him CPR on the trail. He died that evening doing something he loved. I wish that made me feel better but it doesn’t. He was a beautiful, kind, generous person who was a friend to everyone he met.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cinthiaritchie

      Oh, Christa, I am so, so sorry about your dad, and that you were the one giving him CPR. He sounds like he was a wonderful man. This will sound odd and I hope I’m not being disrespectful, but as I stood there with my dog as you did CPR, I felt a great love for your dad. I didn’t know who he was and yet I loved him, in a vast and unknowable way. It was a beautiful night. The sky was so blue right before sunset.
      Big, big hugs, and please take care of yourself.
      P.S. I lost my dad when I was six. Sometimes I swear I can see his face in my son’s.


  4. Sandra Allen

    The man was my Husband Brandon Allen. Unfortunately for everyone he did not make it. I had heard about your blog and hesitated to read it but what I liked was how you captured the moment, the air, the color as he left us. I know he was loving that right before he collapsed and it touches me that people stopped to help my Daughter. I’m sorry you did not know him. He was truly an exceptional human being and read your writing over the years. Brandon was a wine writer. Last thing I said to him was “be careful out there” It had been a while since he skied. So yes for every runner, skier etc. Please be careful out there but cherish this beautiful world we celebrate even to the end.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cinthiaritchie

      Oh, Sandra, oh, honey, I am so, so sorry about Brandon. It sounds like he was a fine man, and the kind of man the world needs more of. I wish I could have known him. I will think of him each time I run past that spot on the trail, and I will send him a little prayer, and I will also thank him, and you, too, for reminding me of the beauty of the world, even up to the very end. Take care, Sandra. If I were talking to you in person I’d give you a big, big hug.


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