And today, the day I turned 27, being the reader that I am paid off in a big way.
Right now, my little family and I are visiting my mom, stepdad, sister and grandma in Tennessee. The husband had to visit the VA here and so my boys and I decided to tag along and spend mine & my mama's birthdays together. This morning started off like any other. I got up. Ate cake for breakfast, because if you can't eat cake for breakfast on your 27th birthday, when can you? Afterwards, I wandered outside to smoke my morning cigarette and crack open the latest book I'm reading. I was lost in the world Julia Hoban created when I heard my mom scream out my name. My full name. And I knew as I was dropping my half smoked cigarette and running for the door it had to be serious, because I've always been and always will be her baby name for me unless something is desperately wrong.
And it was. Oh, God, it was.
My grandma, who will be 83 in February and has had a novel's worth of health problems since turning 80, was slumped back in a kitchen chair that my mom had managed to get her into just as she was passing out, eyes rolled back in her head with my mom standing over her, patting her face and yelling at her to wake up. When I reached them, my mind blanking out except for a single thought, "she's dead," my grandma's head lulled to the side and I could see her tongue curling back towards her throat. She was dead. I knew it as surely as I knew my name. As surely as I knew that today I turned 27. My grandma was dead and she died on my birthday and this was something I would always carry with me. My grandma, the second most important woman in my life, slipped out of my life on the anniversary of the day I slipped into hers.
My mom was frantic. She wasn't making sense. Her actions were of pure desperation and her words were barely coherent. And then she stopped. She stopped and said, "she's not breathing. Oh God. She's not breathing. Is she breathing?"
I put my hand up to my grandma's mouth. That same mouth that spoke so many words to me. That taught me things. That stuck up for me when I didn't deserve it. That scolded me when I deserved far worse. There was no air. No breath tickled my hand. I felt along her neck for a pulse. Not a single thump against my fingers. She was gone.
And then, I reacted.
It wasn't a conscious thing. Instructions were running through my head. The voice wasn't mine. Clear her airway. I stuck my hand in her mouth and pulled her tongue straight. Tilt her head back. "Get her on the floor!" Check for breath. There isn't any. I already know. Check for a pulse. Nothing. There's nothing. I'm kneeling next to my grandma's corpse. Plug her nose. Seal her mouth. 2 breaths. Chest compressions. Be gentle. Be so gentle. Mind her scar. She had open heart surgery. Repeat. "CALL 911!" I'll breathe for her. I'll keep oxygen in her until the paramedics arrive. I can't bring her back. They will. I'll just breathe for her in the meantime. 2 breaths. Chest compressions. Not too hard. "FIND THE DAMNED PHONE." Repeat. Keep repeating. Keep oxygen flowing. I'll give her my breath until they get here and give her back hers.
And then, as I went to do chest compressions again, I felt it. A thump. And then another. I didn't think. I didn't say anything encouraging like they do in the books. I didn't tell her to come back. I plugged her nose, sealed my mouth over her lifeless one, and breathed again.
And she gasped. Under my hand that was resting on her chest, her lungs expanded with my breath, then she exhaled it, gave it back to me, and took one of her own.
And glanced over at me.
I sat back, cracked a grin, and said the first thing that popped into my head, the approaching sirens wailing in the background: "well, hey there, pretty girl."
The paramedics came in shortly after and I gave up my spot kneeling next to her head. I gave them the run down of what happened. My mom filled in my grandma's medical history that I didn't know. They whisked her away, assuring us it wasn't a stroke. One lingered behind, told my mom and I what a good job we did. Praised us for our quick thinking. We smiled and nodded and thanked him for doing his job and their quick response time and then my mom and I were alone. I turned to my mom and said, "I don't know CPR." "But you did it. I'm so proud of you." "I don't know CPR. I've never taken the classes. I kept meaning to." I grinned. "I read how to do it in a book."
And I did. This past summer I've read something like 115 books, majority of which were YA. Some I read specifically to review here or over on Goodreads. In one of those 115 books, one of the Morganville Vampires ones, if I remember correctly, a character gives another CPR. His/her internal monologue is running through the steps. That was the voice in my head. That was the instructions I was following. That author, most likely Rachel Caine but maybe someone else, wrote that scene. In the course of that book's publication history, a group of people agreed that it should stay in the story. It went to print and at some point this summer, I picked that book up, read it, wrote a review then went on my way. And then, this morning, that scene, that one little scene, from that one particular book, came back to me at the most critical, absolutely crucial moment.
Last year, Maureen Johnson started the hashtag #YASaves on Twitter that quickly turned into a worldwide trend. Thousands of people started sharing their stories how the YA genre helped them, inspired them. How much good YA can do, despite how critics have said otherwise. And while I've always believed in the magic of YA, real YA, and not candy coated, sugared up, preachy books written by adults about how they think young adults should act and think and believe, today I stand up and scream it from the rooftops with Maureen Johnson and the others. Today, I add my voice to theirs. Reading saves. YA saves.
Today, it literally saved my grandma's life.