When CPR is needed, there’s no time to wait for professionals

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I really didn’t want to learn CPR. I always thought there would be someone more knowledgeable around if the need ever arose, and if I learned it I might be obliged to resuscitate someone.

 

I was disabused of that belief several years ago when I was attending a CPR and first-aid training session for employees of Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks. Such training is mandatory because Senior Concerns is a licensed adult day care facility.

Our teacher asked us, “Who is the best person to perform CPR in an emergency?”

Being the Type A personality that I am, I immediately raised my hand and replied, “A doctor or a nurse.”

“Wrong,” the teacher said. “The best person to perform CPR in an emergency is you.”

He explained that if you’re in the vicinity of a person whose breathing and heart have stopped, they need immediate medical attention. If you’re nearby, you are the best person to perform CPR.

He made it very clear: “Don’t wait around for someone better to arrive—take action. It’s better to perform CPR imperfectly than not at all. Remember the person in cardiac arrest is already clinically dead. CPR can only help. Even if it’s not done letterperfect it will probably provide some benefit to the victim.”

That certainly made me feel better about learning a skill that I was a bit frightened to use.

These lessons came flooding back last week as I came face to face with a man suffering a heart attack.

As I was leaving Bed, Bath & Beyond in Westlake, I noticed a tractor-trailer crashed into a row of cars in front of the store.

Then I saw the driver inside the cab. He was holding his chest and saying he was having a heart attack.

A woman who arrived at the scene a few moments before me was on the phone with 911. After we helped the man to the ground, a store employee noticed the driver beginning to lose consciousness. The employee began performing chest compressions on him almost immediately.

Many people still believe CPR is a combination of chest compressions and mouth-tomouth ventilation. In fact, the American Heart Association issued new guidelines in 2015 for performing CPR on someone who is unresponsive and not breathing, or has abnormal breathing.

AHA advises performing chest compressions only because it is very difficult for an untrained person to adequately give mouth-to-mouth ventilation.

Those who have performed CPR correctly can tell you that it’s exhausting. One is supposed to press hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute and at a depth of 2 to 2.4 inches until the victim regains consciousness or medical help arrives.

Many people don’t realize the force that must be applied to chest compressions for them to be effective. Frequently ribs are broken. Some studies say up to 30 percent of cardiac arrest victims have broken ribs as a result of CPR. But don’t be concerned about that.

“You can recover from a broken rib, but you don’t recover from poorly performed CPR,” says my friend Amy Commans, vice president of community and employer relations at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.

Some people worry that they might be sued if they perform CPR. The 2000 Federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act grants immunity from civil charges to those who administer CPR, except in instances of willful misconduct or gross negligence. In addition, good Samaritan laws are there to protect you.

Receiving CPR quickly and correctly can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival, according to the AHA.

If you’d like to be trained in CPR, contact your nearest American Red Cross office. Someday your training could provide the gift of life to another.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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