Ever been in a situation where your actions literally meant the difference between life and death? It is terrifying stuff, and it has happened to me.
So a lot of you know that I used to be a nurse. I say used to be, you never really stop. Once you have the training in you, a lot of it stays. Much of your ‘nursey’ thought processes remain deeply ingrained in your psyche, regardless of whether or not you practise.
Yes, as a nurse I was regularly faced with life/death situations. It was part of the norm. It was part and parcel of the average day at work.
But what I’m talking about are the everyday situations that suddenly take a dramatic turn for the worse and challenge your nerve to the max.
It happened to me about three years ago. I was in my car running a few errands. Just around the corner from home, I turned the corner and a scene on the pavement grabbed my attention. Lying on the ground, flat on his back, was a gentleman. The man had a couple of people around him, but he didn’t appear to be very well at all, and the people around him didn’t appear to be particularly hands-on with his needs.
I swiftly parked my car and ran over. On closer inspection, it was apparent that he wasn’t conscious. I made enquiries with the people around him about what they had seen, how they had found him – tried to get some background whilst simultaneously assessing him for responsiveness, breaths, pulse, obvious injuries. Keep in mind that all of this assessing and chatting took all of five seconds.
Among the gathering. there was a woman. She said that she was a first-aider. She said that he was ok because he was breathing.
He wasn’t breathing.
He was making some attempts at breaths, but they weren’t functional breaths. They weren’t even gasps.
Just as I was assessing him, a uniformed district nurse on duty ran over, as did a man reporting that he was a psychiatrist. I had a quick chat with the nurse, as I felt for a pulse, and we quickly came to the conclusion that we needed to start giving this man chest compressions – CPR.
The man, for whatever reason, had gone into cardiac arrest.
This meant that his heart was no longer circulating vital blood around his body, his brain, his cells. His body was rapidly being starved of oxygen and he was dying right there on the pavement in front of us.
Often incorrectly referred to as a heart attack, cardiac arrest is one of the most frightening and devastating medical emergencies. If it happens in hospital, your chance of survival isn’t brilliant, but if it happens out in the public, your chance is much worse.
By the time we had commenced CPR, a crowd had formed around us. Before I had begun CPR, I had made sure that someone had called an ambulance, telling the operator that there was a person in cardiac arrest. That was vital information to ensure that the ambulance arrived as quickly as humanly possible.
It seemed like an eternity, although it wasn’t, until the paramedics arrived. And boy did they arrive! No less than three ambulances turned up – so this man had a super team of paramedics on hand to help him.
He was lucky. He survived. He didn’t regain consciousness on the pavement, but they delivered a shock which returned his heart to a normal rhythm.
Later that day, I had phoned the local intensive care unit to find out how he was – so I know that at the very least, he made it to hospital and was stable.
When I look back on that day, the drama of it floors me.
Although I was accustomed to dealing with this type of emergency in hospital, I wasn’t mentally prepared to encounter this situation whilst out and about. Who is? If we could predict when we were going to encounter a person in medical dire straits, we’d be far more prepared than we are.
And I guess that’s my point. I was so thankful for my training that day. I was so thankful that I knew what to do.
That despite the white-knuckle, adrenalin-fuelled, fear-factor of that situation – of being fairly responsible for the outcome of that situation – that I had the knowledge and skills to adequately help that man.
CPR isn’t hard. We can all learn it, and we all should. It should be part of the curriculum and once we’re taught it, we should update our skills. That first-aider should have known that he needed CPR. But for whatever reason, she failed to recognise the signs of cardiac arrest.
If we hadn’t started CPR on him at that time, he may have died right there on the pavement in front of us. And I feel emotional at the very thought of that.
I believe that we all have a duty to each other. That man could have been someone’s dad, someone’s brother, someone’s son, someone’s friend.
Your dad, your brother, your son or your friend.
I’d love to hear your views. Do you think that life-saving skills should be a compulsory part of the national curriculum? Would you consider taking a life-saving course? Have you done so before? And have you ever had to implement your skills in a life/death situation?