CPR: Importance and Training
An editorial by Samantha Henley
We’ve all heard the same thing during the course of our lives: Learn CPR; Save a Life. We’ve heard it in school, on television shows, on the news, and even on social media. For most, it’s a quick consideration, tamped down by thoughts of “I don’t have time, but maybe later.”, “I couldn’t do that!”, or even, “Why bother? I’m sure others are trained.”. The most harmful thought which also flashes through our minds is, “What if I get sued?” These thoughts and more occurred to me when I was approached about getting my CPR certification as an addendum to my Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training for Camden County, MO.
Like everyone else, my schedule is jam-packed with activities for my job, training, volunteer work, and my family. People often ask me if I ever sleep! (Occasionally!) When I found out that the course could be completed in six hours (on one Saturday), I decided to give it a try. CPR has come a long way since the 15 compressions and 2 breaths I learned back in school. The American Heart Association and The American Red Cross offer a wide variety of courses, with anything from (compressions) Hands-Only CPR course to the full CPR/AED/First Aid course. My class was the latter.
I had my doubts about my ability to do the compressions properly, give breaths, and continue administering CPR until a first responder arrived. My trainer, Elizabeth, was excellent at calming my fears. Her outgoing, encouraging personality was reassuring! She had CPR manikins with indicator lights which included green (proper compression depth and rhythm), yellow (near-proper depth or rhythm, press harder/faster), and red (not deep enough or fast enough, press harder/faster). I didn’t have any problem with my depth or timing for compressions. It was as if I could feel the right depth and rhythm! The manikins chest also rose and fell (courtesy of air bladders in the chest, simulating lungs) when I was administering the breaths. The hardest part of the breaths was getting the mask to seal against the manikin’s face. Elizabeth assured me there was a tremendous difference between the hard plastic manikin and the pliant face of a person! After some practice, I finally used the mask properly.
I will tell you that giving CPR is exhausting. We did two-minute intervals, switching off with a training partner, and it was grueling after only a few rounds. A great misconception of CPR is that once you start, you can’t stop. This is partially true. There are three reasons you can stop: the area becomes unsafe and you need to leave, a first responder arrives, or you are too exhausted to continue. When I became exhausted, it was hard to apply the proper force for the compressions and I was breathing hard, so giving the breaths was also a challenge! I found, as the class continued, it was easier to do more intervals since my body became accustomed to the activity.
While the thought that “other people” know CPR is a dangerous, common “crowd mentality”, I feel it’s better to realize there is no way to know who can perform CPR until an event happens. No one walks around with their training or abilities pinned to their shirts (with the exception of first responders and such), so you never know if those around you are trained. I learned people will separate themselves from the “crowd mentality” if someone else goes first.
The demonstration video showed a gentleman (we’ll call him Tom) having coffee with a coworker (let’s call him Fred) when Fred suddenly clutched his chest and collapsed to the ground. He was obviously in need of CPR. Tom asked a bystander (she’ll be Jill) to call 911 and describe what was happening to the dispatcher, while Tom opened Fred’s shirt (necessary for attaching the pads through which the shock would be administered). This scenario took place in a coffee shop and the worker (he’ll be Dave) told Tom the store had an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED). By that time, Jill finished reporting all she knew to the 911 dispatcher (who dispatched an ambulance to the scene) and Jill set the cell phone on the ground near Tom with the speakerphone on. Tom was already counting off his compressions and administering breaths to Fred while he waited for the AED. The dispatcher advised Tom to use the AED as soon as he received it. Dave arrived then with the AED and handed it to Tom. The AED is a compact machine with some simple parts. The best thing about an AED is that as soon as you turn it on, it begins giving you instructions on how to use it! Between the AED “jolts”, the security guard arrived and began alternating CPR intervals with Tom. This continued for several minutes until the paramedics arrived. Though the whole thing was a scripted act, I was enthralled watching it all unfold. It was only about ten minutes, but it felt like time stood still!
Finally, and in some cases, most importantly, is the concern of being sued. While this is always a possibility, there are laws which protect us. I found a broad overview of laws at both the federal and state level: Volunteer Protection Acts and Good Samaritan Laws Fact Sheet, as well as the ASTHO website. I also found a state-by-state listing here and I found this article helpful. Feel free to have a look! Not only did Elizabeth tell us about these laws, but I did the research myself so I would feel more secure performing CPR.
Though it would be rare, if at all, for me to perform CPR in my role as a CERT member, I feel more prepared and grateful (especially as a parent) that I now have these skills. As cliche as it may sound, I would encourage everyone to learn some form of CPR. You never know when you really could save a life!