There are some life events you just can’t plan for. One such event caught up with me in the mid-1990s, in my office overlooking a large park in downtown Colorado Springs had only glass facing out onto the floor, so anyone walking by could see inside. I was a young manager of a software support team. It was grueling work in many ways because we always had more urgent problems to solve than we had talent to solve them. So we were always busy, but the larger team of managers of other teams and those who supported us were all great people to work with and so we all helped each other stay focused and sane.
This story, is about one gal who worked behind the scenes to help us help our customers. Because it is germane to the story, you need to know that she was very attractive both in appearance and temperament, had a great sense of humor, very smart, hard working and a consistent delight to have around,
Her name was not (and still is not) Cindy, but that’s what I’ll call her in this account.
Also germane is the fact that I kept a bowl of candy on my desk for the enjoyment of any of anyone who stopped by. I also hoped it would attract visitors because my work was often exhausting and talking with many of the folks right outside my door helped break up my day.
So, one day, Cindy, appeared at my door with a question around our performance metrics, how many help-tickets we were closing, both in recent weeks and months. We had a neat new system for pulling this data and quickly producing reports that we could slice and dice in a variety of ways. Her question was about some conflicting results she was getting and could I help her sort things?
“Sure! I can do that”.
Thus began a fun, banter-filled hour where she demonstrated how she’d produced her results, I showed her how I would build the query to produce better results followed by her showing me how wrong I was followed by my correcting her numerous wrong assumptions and her arguing that I needed to be dangled by an ankle out of a window at least 3 stories above a sidewalk until I could bring myself to understand how she was right and I was dead wrong. Laughter filled the office and we were having a great time disagreeing. Yea. Dodging friendly fire on a never-ending search for truth was all part of my job – pretty cool huh?
So this round continued because, okay, yes, she had a few points correct. Just don’t tell her because I had her in retreat before a big distraction made the whole question moot.
I’d just said something like, “What you just said can’t be true because . . . ” and I started typing my new query which was going to wipe out all her evidence with undeniable wisdom. I pressed my [ Enter ] key and the results scrolled up my screen. I found the line that would put her to shame; highlighted it and pointed, as I said something like, “Okay, here it is. Read and weep.”
I kept starring at the screen as she must be reading and thinking what a genius I was and how horribly wrong she was and how I might never let her live down being so wrong, as I waited for her ultimate surrender — which was taking too long to arrive.
As I starred at my screen, for those few seconds, I began to wonder if somehow she was missing my flawless logic and conclusion. Even that short silence was not normal for her. Had I said something wrong? Had I somehow mangled the question itself? I did a quick review of my query — no, it’s perfect. Did I misread the results somehow — no. It was the right team, the right metric over the right time frame, sorted correctly, blaa, blaa, blaa. So, what’s wrong here?
I turned my head, finally to see if she had silently left my office to avoid how I’d embarrassed her. But no. She was still there, in her seat – looking like she’d seen a ghost.
That day, Cindy was wearing a modest but very flattering, lavender knit dress. My eyes met hers and I realized that something was terribly wrong. She was fussing with the neck area of her dress and the rest of her body screamed discomfort or maybe even distress — but not a sound was coming from her moth.
In those few seconds her face began to take on the color of her dress and I put it together. Cindy was choking on something, likely a piece of candy from my bowl.
No – no – no! I thought. This can’t be happening.
My mind started racing as I did a quick brain-search for all the times I’d had first-aid CPR training and specifically that almost impossible to spell Heimlich maneuver? Had I ever actually tried it even on a dummy? Yes, I think I did.
But then, with the seconds ticking away, I was close to freaking out because Cindy did not look like any training dummy I’d ever used. She was a very attractive. No scratch that as not helpful — she was a full figured . . . no, that’s wrong too. Damn, she simply had big boobs okay . . . and other than an ancient shaking of hands when we first met, I doubt that I’d ever touched her and doing a Heimlich on her was scary close to her Do-Not-Even-Think-About-Touching zone. Was I somehow not paying attention when the CPR instructor taught us how to deal with women built like Cindy?
By now, I was running around the desk trying to sort out how to do this by both the book of CPR first aid and respect for this woman’s modesty. There’s not much space to work with between her, umm, obstacles. and this thought somehow triggered a fragment of memory that I have to come in lower, slightly below her lungs — definitely not on them. I can do this and maybe not be fired.
She was looking very unwell as I lifted her from her chair. Thankfully she was able to help with that at least and did not struggle as I made a double fist, found was felt like a correct and safe place right where the sides of her rib cage met to execute this maneuver and gave her quick inward jerk pulling her into my chest which caused her to lift her chin and fire a single butter-ball across the room like a human Nerf-cannon where it ricocheted off of my window with a loud crack and left a mucus splat.
Before I forget — guys, here’s the right place to place your fists to do what might someday be needed. You won’t have time to find and check your CPR First Aid book and do not waste any time aiming, just jerk her and fire away, This question will be on the exam.
I immediately heard the blessed sound of Cindy gasping in a big breath of fresh air so I quickly relaxed my double-fist’ed grip around her lower chest and moved to her elbows to support her as she took a couple of big breaths and regained her composure.
We could both feel the fear from only seconds ago dissipate and fade into something more like, I hope no one saw that through the window.
What followed, was an awkward sense of thanks that she’d be okay except for maybe for the tragedy of never wanting a butter-ball again. We could now sort out if we ever needed to talk about this. Without discussion, we agreed that no, this topic would remain an isolated memory that, except for the fact that it did, never really happened. Cindy was entitled to keep her modesty and this secret. There was nothing about this event that needed to be shared with anyone, well, except for today (with her name changed) as a reminder of why we all should learn how to do a Heimlich if we ever need to.
Now that I think of it. We never even finished our discussion about who was right about those metrics reports and I think we could both live with that. Deep down, I know that she knows I was right all along. . .
It’s now twenty plus years later and I still see notes about Cindy float by on social media, and each time, whisper a prayer of thanks that she’s still out there, improving other peoples lives no doubt, and that we never even had to involve HR in this event.
And yes, it does feel pretty good to have saved her life in that moment and yes, I did clean up that butter-ball projectile and window splat myself. I also decided to keep the candy bowl because: first, butter-balls and second, what are the chances that something like this could ever happen to me again?