No question about it: Take a CPR class

By Eva Murray | Sep 12, 2011

“Help! Somebody do something!”

If a person of any age is unresponsive (meaning you cannot wake them up or make them react at all) and is not breathing, his or her heart will stop beating soon if it hasn’t stopped yet. People cannot survive for more than a few minutes without breathing. The brain cannot go more than about five to eight minutes without oxygen, and once the brain fails, everything fails. Could you be that “somebody” when a frightened bystander calls out, “Somebody do something”? Definitely.

Take a CPR class.

There are several good reasons to take the CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) class even if you don’t think of yourself as a medical type at all, and even if you feel you are too old or too young to be much help (those are hardly ever true, by the way). Having the conversation, even with yourself, about whether you would respond, and how to know when you should respond, and what to expect when you respond, and then of course, exactly what to do — having the conversation with yourself about making the decision to act, even if it’s just making the phone call — is a very good idea.

Recent changes in the CPR guidelines mean the class is easier than ever. There are fewer things to memorize now and the new “Heartsaver” CPR course does not include a written test.

We are taught – I think too much — in our culture to defer to experts. CPR does not require an expert. Usually if CPR saves somebody’s life (either directly or by buying some time for the paramedics to get there) it’s because a bystander or a coworker was willing to step in — not because a cardiologist was around.

Find a CPR class that includes instruction on how to use an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and how to respond to a choking victim of every age. Learning how to respond to choking is especially important because there’s a decent chance you’ll really need to use that skill some day. It would be great if our older children, and every babysitter, learned how to respond to a choking child and infant.

AEDs can, increasingly so, be found in public places such as shopping malls, auditoriums, airports and the like, and it is important that a large portion of the general public know what they are and how to use them. The AED can make a big difference for a cardiac arrest victim, but it needs to be used quickly. It only takes a few minutes to learn how to use an AED; you do not need to be a doctor or an EMT to use one. In your CPR class you will practice on a “trainer AED” which cannot shock you, but you’ll learn what to expect. The AED has a voice prompt, like a tape recording, which tells you what to do. You just turn it on and follow the spoken directions. It is safe, simple, and requires only a little bit of training.

The person who needs CPR is not always somebody having a heart attack caused by heart disease. In fact, CPR has the best chance of saving a life when the patient has an otherwise healthy heart , such as with a near-drowning, an electrical injury, or when the patient is a child who has had a respiratory emergency first (such as choking or asthma) which led to the cardiac arrest. A friend told me the story recently of his colleague, a healthy woman hit by a car while riding her bike, who was resuscitated with CPR. Although she unfortunately died a week later of her injuries, she was able to make her own decisions, say goodbye to everybody and tell people she loved them — and that’s a big deal.

Earlier this summer an 18-year-old Massachusetts lobsterman was pulled overboard after entanglement in the gear, and was saved by a crew member who knew CPR. He was unresponsive when pulled back aboard the Helen Irene a couple of minutes later, and the Coast Guard stated that his life was saved by the CPR. CPR is the way to respond to a drowning — or, what we’ll hopefully be calling a “near-drowning,” meaning a survived incident. Everybody who works on or around the water should learn this basic skill. There is no magic trick for getting the water out of somebody’s lungs first — you just start CPR.

Some employers require CPR, that’s where having the card matters, but don’t worry so much about your card. Nobody is going to say, “I’m choking but I only want you to help me if you show me your CPR card first.” Learn the skills. The card reminds you to update your training on a regular basis.

If somebody, even somebody frightened, in pain, bleeding or obviously injured or ill, can clearly describe what’s going on, then although it may be an emergency it’s reasonable to assume you can call 911, or call the doctor, or take them to the hospital, or whatever. If they are unresponsive and not breathing, there is no time to wait for somebody else to come to the rescue, no time to take them to the doctor. Somebody on scene needs to act fast. That brain needs oxygen. That person needs CPR.

Remember that you can call 911 and talk to a dispatcher even if you are in a remote area where help can’t reach you quickly, or, for example, on a boat. The emergency dispatcher is a trained human being, and sometimes just talking to a human being helps when you are dealing with a crisis. In more and more places now dispatchers are trained to talk people through CPR.

If you’ve had the CPR class, you’ve given yourself the chance to think about this stuff at least once before it happens. Let’s hope it never does, but should you be the person on scene, you’ll need to calm yourself down, recognize the emergency, and get to work. You can do it!



Eva Murray is an EMT, a wilderness responder and an American Heart Association CPR instructor. She lives on Matinicus Island.

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