CPR: Courage to Act
founded 2004 by ron cruger
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by Jon Burras
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2013 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
You are having dinner at an upscale restaurant enjoying the meal and the company. Jokes, laughter and smiling faces abound. Another sip of a fine red wine slides down the back of your throat which brings pleasure and comfort to your life. Life is good. No worries, no problems and no drama.
Suddenly, a woman's scream beckons from the nearby table. You look up and notice a frantic woman who is in "full alarm mode" and a man who is slumped over the table. The first thought that passes through your mind might be the following: "Oh No!" "Holy Crap!" "Someone help that poor guy!" "Why here, why now?" "Call 9-1-1!" "Don't make me get involved!" "Poor bastard!" "There goes the night!" "Why did this crisis have to happen so close to me?"
A man is having a heart attack and you are seated mere feet away. What is your reaction to this crisis? Are you willing to jump in and help? Do you hide in the background or do you wait for others to take charge? Do you call out, "Is there a doctor or nurse in attendance?" Do you run for your cell phone and call 9-1-1 and let the professionals take care of it? You don't know this person who has collapsed so why should you get involved? You were enjoying a nice meal and now it is ruined.
Recently, an elderly nurse working in a retirement home in Bakersfield, California was chastised and crucified in the media because she refused to perform CPR on a patient who had collapsed and had stopped breathing. She was trained in CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) and was acting in a managerial position yet she did not want to get involved. She told the frantic 9-1-1 operator that she was not willing to help. The nurse responded with this explanation, "That is why she had called emergency services." According to the nurse, it was the job of the emergency service professionals to perform CPR. That is what they get paid to do. This woman was blasted from Maine to Washington State. Many people would ask, "How could she have let that poor woman die?"
My question: How many of those critics would have gotten involved themselves? How many members of the overly critical media are CPR certified and how many of them would have jumped in and become involved? My guess—not many. Before criticizing a woman who chose not to act, ask yourself this very revealing question. What would you have done? Are you CPR certified and if not, why not? Do you not care about your fellow humanity?
It was in 1954 that James Elam first convinced the world that CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) could save lives. Along with Peter Safar, (who wrote the book ABC of Resuscitation in 1957), Elam promoted this technique and CPR eventually was accepted as a national (and worldwide) procedure to save lives. By 1970, CPR was being taught on a regular basis.
The American Heart Association estimates that it trains nearly twelve million people each year in CPR techniques. The average term for a CPR card will last up to two years so most people will have to undergo training again in twelve to twenty-four months. Sadly, most of the people trained in CPR do so because of job requirements. These CPR trainees include military personal, doctors, nurses, teachers, lifeguards and fitness trainers. The average American who does not fit into one of the aforementioned categories will seldom take on the challenge to become CPR certified. How many stockbrokers or bankers do you imagine are CPR certified? How many politicians or members of the media are card carrying members of the CPR club? Probably not a whole lot.
Herein lies the dilemma. The average American refuses to get involved in the crisis of others, whether it is a neighbor or a stranger. Something as simple as learning CPR could save a life yet most people refuse to take this on. CPR is not a magic life-saving pill. If there were a pill that could immediately bring someone back to life I am sure most of us would choose that route. Estimates claim that there are 383,000 out-of-hospital heart attacks each year, more than eighty-percent of them occurring at home. How many of your family members are prepared to perform CPR on you? Not with standing, the survival rate even when performing CPR is very low, somewhere between 3-8 %. However, if that is your family member, you will take those odds.
Why would someone who is trained in CPR not be willing to perform it on a person in need? Here is where it gets messy. Society has changed drastically in the last few years. We have become more impersonal and more reliant on technology to save us from our woes. CPR is very hands-on. It is messy. There is no technology to rescue you. It is personal. This is the very opposite of what our technology driven culture has been teaching us. We are taught to believe that at the push of a button we can have all of our problems fixed.
In a car accident, an angelic voice from Onstar beckons to us like a voice from heaven. "Are you alright. Shall I call emergency services?" A flat tire is just a AAA phone call away. Call 1-800-PLUMMER and your sink is fixed. We have been erroneously led to believe that wherever and whenever, we are just a push button away from a professional to drive up and rescue us from our plight. No need to rely on neighbors or strangers anymore for help. Everything is neat and tidy that way. Just keep paying those yearly service fees and you are covered.
When you are having a heart attack and stop breathing you are three minutes away from brain death. That is how long it takes for the oxygen in your brain to be depleted and your brain to die. In many cases, this is not long enough for emergency services to arrive and began administrating high-tech medicine. That is where ordinary citizens come in. Knowing CPR can save a life if it is started immediately and continued until the appropriate professional emergency services arrive. You can save a life.
But here is that other question. Why should I get involved? CPR is very personal and very intimate. CPR requires hands-on close contact with another, often a stranger. People often fear catching diseases, getting sued or making mistakes. New guidelines have been enacted and mouth breathing into a victim has been eliminated and training on a portable defibulator is normal (AED). Good Samaritan laws protect anyone from a lawsuit.
As a certified EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), I have had the opportunity (or misfortune) to perform CPR on several occasions. Easy- No! Rewarding-Yes! Once when I was in a hospital emergency room I was in an observation shift and a young woman was brought in on a gurney with no vital signs. The crash team quickly arrived around her. The doctor pointed to me. "YOU! Start chest compressions!" "ME?" I was scared. I thought I was just there to stand in the corner to observe but in a heart beat I was now involved in trying to save this woman's life. It was personal. The sound of her ribs cracking beneath my fingers was alarming. Her cold skin touching mine was frightening. My sweaty brow showed signs of my anxiety as I tried frantically to bring her back to life. She did not make it.
The next occasion to get involved was almost again by accident. I did not want to get personal. I was working in a restaurant. Our whole staff was recently certified in CPR. The training was fresh in our memory but no one every expects to have to use it.
One late afternoon a woman ran frantically into the front of the restaurant and shouted that her husband had collapsed in the back parking lot. "Heart attack" is what we all thought. Perhaps half the staff ran out the back door, most people just curious. My manager saw the collapsed man lying motionless on the pavement and began CPR. I watched from a distance. I did not want to get involved. It was messy. Soon my manager became tired of chest compressions and requested that I help her. "Oh no!" I thought. I was being called out. Do I run or do I participate? Without skipping a beat I was now down on my knees performing CPR on a dead man. I was pressing firmly into his chest to pump his heart and blowing deep breaths into his mouth to inflate his lungs. My fears of catching anything from herpes to hepatitis C loomed in the back of my head.
Essentially, I was kissing a corpse. Adrenaline was pumping through my veins. I could hear the siren in the distance from the approaching ambulance but it felt like it took forever to arrive. Vomit was coming out of the man's mouth as I was blowing air into his lungs. It was personal. I did not have time to think about how personal it was. I was trying to bring a man back to life. He did not make it either.
The lessons I learned from my medical training were profound. Helping your fellow human being is more than just writing a check to your favorite charity or lacing up your tennis shoes and walking for a cause. Helping humanity means you might have to get your hands dirty, the situation might be uncomfortable and you might not succeed despite your greatest efforts.
What troubles me is this general separation from the intimacy of our communities. We would rather have "fake friends" on our social media outlets and send a cowardly text to someone rather than confront them face to face. "Twitter Courage" has become the latest jargon explaining how easy it is to hide behind the screen of social media. The text message/cell phone culture has taught us to keep a safe distance away from each other. Personal cell phones are a way to keep all human connection at a minimum and create an environment that is guarded.
I can understand why a nurse would not want to get involved and perform CPR on a woman in distress, even if she were trained to do so. CPR is intimate, it is messy and it is personal. Performing CPR on another human being is real and requires armfuls of courage. Getting involved in another's crisis is what real heroes are all about. Relying on technology to solve all of our problems will often fall short. Being a real hero and having real courage means you might get dirty.
What would you do if someone needed your help and what is your excuse for not being CPR certified?
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Jon at