Working on an ambulance is a humbling experience, one that has taught me how precious life is, and how fragile a human life can be. One moment a person can be laughing and enjoying time with their family, and the next minute they can be on the floor not breathing without a pulse. The family calls 911 frantic and screaming, “he isn’t breathing, his heart is not beating, what do I do?” The tone in their voice is as helpless as their loved one on the floor, who without immediate action will ultimately not ever wake up. This is the time when mastering the skill of CPR and basic first aid could ultimately help saved that family’s loved one, and also help provide a better chance of survival while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
EMT’s and Paramedics are scarce on the streets, because the burn out ratio is quite high due to the amount of stress the job entails. There is hardly a lunch break, and rarely is their downtime. The sad reality is that EMS personnel are underpaid, under-appreciated, and it has created hardships on most states, which are in desperate need of responding quickly to emergency situations. The delay could be the 4-6 minutes that could mean life or death to a person who has suffered cardiac arrest, because you never know how many ambulances are really “available” on the streets.
One of the most important skills that any person, regardless of job title or age should know is CPR. The American Heart Association teaches that the more people who take a general first aid/CPR class, the better the chance of a patient who has suffered a cardiac arrest being saved until EMS can arrive. It’s not anything other than simple preparation, which many people overlook or push off because “it could never happen to them.” The process intimidates some people, considering CPR breaks ribs and the sternum, or people have a fear of putting their lips to another person when breathing for them. CPR masks and safety shields are a requirement now, and are very inexpensive. Gone are the days of “kissing” during rescue breaths, and proper CPR technique once learned is not scary at all.
The sad fact is that someone can go into cardiac arrest, choke, or just stop breathing when you least expect it. When I first started EMS, one of the best examples I can give is a lady who was driving home from McDonalds with her two children in the backseat of her car. She saw her neighbor walking down the street, and he looked a bit hot from the summer sun. She pulled over and offered to give him a ride back to his apartment next to hers, and the man got in the car in the backseat with the children. Moments later both children were screaming, and to her horror in the backseat the man had slumped over both of them and being that he was a large man, they could not lift him up.
When we arrived on the scene in our ambulance, we found two very frightened children holding was used to be nice Happy Meal boxes, which were now crushed pieces of cardboard. The woman was frantic, and I pulled the gentleman out of the back seat onto the pavement and began chest compressions, and my partner began to ventilate him. Fire trucks arrived, and another ambulance showed up with a Paramedic to take him to the nearest hospital. The man did regain a pulse and started breathing on his own, but never fully woke up. Brain death occurs within 4-6 minutes from lack of oxygen, and since it took at least that long with lights and sirens to get on the scene, he had little hope of recovery because immediate CPR did not take place. Scary to think that he may be alive today if someone watching knew CPR, and was able to start compressions before we got there. What if it was you or your loved one?
Everyone should know CPR. The woman who was driving with her kids could have had the same scenario happen with one of her children, and if she is certified through the American Heart Association she will also learn how to save her child if he/she is choking. The same rule applies for anyone, the better prepared you are, the better the chances of being a hero.
Having the skills to know how to save someone’s life is a skill I believe everyone should know, because what if it’s you that stops breathing or starts choking? What happens if you are in a room full of people who do not know what to do? The scenario for you in that situation is quite grim, and it can be prevented if people take one half of a day and learn the simple steps to save a life.
It is a myth that more people know than do not know, and even restaurant staff that you would think “should know” do not. I was eating in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant one day, and I happened to hear a familiar choking sound from behind me. A woman stood up in a panic, and I stood up from my seat behind her, and asked her if she was choking. She nodded that indeed she was choking, and then I asked if I could help her. Seconds later, with my hands pushing up on her abdomen, a fairly large chicken bone flew from her mouth and onto the floor. She started breathing again, and I sat down unable to finish my meal from the adrenaline rush. The Manager from the store offered me a free meal card, and told me that she was glad that I was in the store, because none of her staff would have known what to do. I found that quite amazing, and frightening at the same time. I wrote a letter to the KFC headquarters about the experience, and told them that if they had one employee in the store who knew what to do, and I had decided to eat anywhere else that day, the lady could have died. I got another “free meal card,” and apology in the mail. To me, I just was not taken seriously enough and that is unfortunate for the next person who may start choking there.
No matter where you are, and without warning, someone around you could need life saving techniques that anyone can be taught. Mastering the skills of CPR or basic first aid is not only essential, but it should be required for all people in any occupation. You could ultimately be a hero, and walk away knowing that you did everything in your power to help a loved one or a person simply eating next to you, instead of feeling helpless and having to watch someone suffer or sadly enough, die.
So when are you signing up to take your CPR and basic first aid class? Grab a friend, pay the inexpensive fee, and have fun learning about live saving techniques. Remember, the life you save could be someone very close to you, and that would make you a hero.