Don’t call Carl McInerney a hero. The unassuming groundskeeper from Roslindale, MA is just a regular guy, to hear him tell it. But early last week his low-profile status instantly changed, when lifelong friends Jessica Hayes and Barbara “Bobbie” Clarke found themselves in trouble at an outdoor café.
“Bobbie and I were eating way too fast,” explained Hayes. Clarke had just returned from a week’s vacation in Bali. “I was telling her how I almost missed my plane home because I always run late. It’s like a running gag between us so we were laughing about it.”
Laughter turned to panic when Hayes showed signs of distress. “All of a sudden I look up,” recalled Clarke, “and Jess wasn’t laughing anymore. She was grabbing her throat and banging her hand on the table.”
That’s when McInerney unexpectedly joined them for lunch. “It was my first day at work at the Arboretum so I was kind of in a hurry to get over there,” Boston’s Arnold Arboretum is a much-loved public park, nature research facility and national landmark. “I saw one lady, she was screaming over there and the other lady was hunched all over the table choking.”
McInerney explained what happened next. “I ran over to the lady who was choking and did the Heimlich on her. So then the food comes flying out of her mouth toward the other lady who was right across from her, and the other lady’s got her mouth hanging wide open ‘cause she was in shock, I guess, from being a witness to the whole thing. So then the food comes flying out of the first lady’s mouth and goes right straight into her friend’s mouth, and gets stuck in her throat! So then this second lady starts choking and now she can’t breathe. I thought I was having a wicked nightmare or something.”
Instinct kicked in again, as McInerney quickly raced to the other side of the table and re-performed the lifesaving maneuver, this time on Clarke.
“I couldn’t believe it!” said Hayes, after regaining her breath. “It was a cherry tomato that got us both, which was kind of gross, but now we joke about it.”
“Yeah,” echoed Clarke. “We always say we share everything but this time it went too far!”
McInerney didn’t stay around long enough to receive the thanks he deserved. “I made it to work just on time and told my new boss what happened. They made me employee of the month the first day I was there! It was crazy, and I said, ‘Is this for real?’”
McInerney, Hayes, and Clarke plan to have lunch together soon, “But this time,” joked Hayes, “we’re going to make it a liquid lunch!”