It was all over in less than two minutes: one of those rare moments where time is momentarily frozen, allowing you to see through the facades we so carefully craft for ourselves. The cameras and lights were already loaded and we were waiting at our gate, getting ready to board the last evening flight from Tulsa to Dallas when we heard the screams. All of the sudden, there was this horrible commotion two gates away from us. People were running around yelling at each other and a large crowd was congregating. When my cameraman and I went over to investigate, we discovered in the center of a rapidly growing circle of screaming people was a very still and seemingly lifeless baby boy.
A t least ten people were shouting that somebody ought to save the baby. But they were obviously giving directions to someone else, because none of them made a move to do anything themselves. "Do something," they screamed. And when someone moved in to attempt resuscitation, another group began screaming to stand back. "Don't touch that baby," they yelled. "You might get AIDS." A man directly behind me was hollering at the would be Good Samaritan, "You're gonna get sued. If that baby doesn't live, the family is going to sue you." The mother of the child was standing less than ten feet away from him. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. "Try CPR," they said. "You've got to use the Heimlich maneuver." "Call a doctor." "Call the fire department." The list of suggestions were endless, but very few people were actually doing anything.
T he two or three that were on the floor trying to revive the baby were getting in a heated argument. One was trying to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, while another was trying to push him away, screaming that whatever was in the baby's throat must be dislodged first. Right in the middle of all this chaos was an attractive young woman reading a paperback romance novel, not even looking up from her book.
M y cameraman, a born-again Christian and self-professed friend of children everywhere, said he was going to be sick and ran for the restroom. My client was worried that we were going to miss our plane and was tugging at us to get back to our gate. One of the gaffers on the crew, a cynical loner who would never be suspected of random acts of kindness, was down on the floor, trying to revive the baby. He was, in fact, involved in the heated argument that was taking place about mouth-to-mouth versus the Heimlich maneuver. When the guy advocating the Heimlich maneuver revealed he was a paramedic, everyone else on the floor with the baby quickly deferred. The paramedic immediately grabbed the child, did something that I couldn't see clearly because of the crowd, and the offending obstruction came rocketing out of the boy's mouth.
A ll this took place in less than thirty seconds, and it struck me that while some were springing into action, I was still trying to decide the best thing to do. Screaming people swirled around me like a small tornado, and I just stood there mesmerized. I think I asked the ticket agent at my gate if anyone had called the airport fire department, but other than that, I didn't say a word.
A fter it was all over, I expected the crowd to cheer, or carry the paramedic away on their shoulders, but instead everyone acted as if nothing had happened. The people who had screamed the loudest, went right back to reading their USA Today and their Tom Clancy novels in the waiting area. Nobody talked. And nobody would look each other in the eye. It was as if everyone had collectively decided that the whole event never happened. The mother and baby were left alone to fill out some sort of paperwork with the airport authorities.
L ater, on the plane home I asked the gaffer what had made him spring into action so quickly. "I don't know," he said. "I don't even like children." The cameraman, on the other hand, wasn't saying much at all.