Source American Heart Association
Note: This is day 14 of National Preparedness Month. Follow this year’s campaign on Twitter by searching for the #NatlPrep or #NPM14 hash tag. This month, as part of NPM14, I’ll be rerunning some updated preparedness essays, along with some new ones.
Although we often talk about preparedness in terms of having an emergency plan and the right supplies (First Aid Kit, Emergency Radio, Bottled Water, Full Pantry, etc.), it is also important to have the right skills to deal with an emergency.
Basic stuff – like how to use a fire extinguisher, how to turn off the gas supply to your home or business, how to stop bleeding or apply first aid.
One of the most common emergency situations you are likely to encounter is witnessing a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). More than a thousand occur every day across the nation, often in public places like parking lots, shopping malls, and houses of worship.
This from the Heart Rhythm Association:
- Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 350,000 lives each year.
- Approximately 92% of those who experience sudden cardiac arrest do not survive.
- SCA kills more than 1,000 people a day, or one person every 90 seconds
What the people who witness these events do in the first few minutes can mean the difference between life and death for the stricken individual. Luckily, hands-only CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) is easier to do than ever before, and there are thousands of AEDs (automated external defibrillators) stationed in public venues across the nation.
With a little bit of training, you have the potential to save someone’s life.
AEDs are designed to be used by laypersons who ideally should have received some AED training. Like doing CPR, the required skills are relatively simple, but they do require some degree of familiarity. I would strongly encourage everyone to take a CPR class, and if you already done so – take a refresher course every couple of years.
While this blog isn’t a substitute for taking a CPR class, it can help familiarize you with the basics.
Witnessing a cardiac arrest, particularly of a loved-one, can be a terrifying and traumatic experience. Far too often, bystanders are paralyzed into doing nothing while they wait for rescuers to arrive. As a paramedic, only rarely did I arrive on scene to find someone attempting to resuscitate a patient.
Almost inevitably, however, some kind soul had placed a pillow under the head of the victim to make them more `comfortable’, effectively closing off their airway.
Consequently, even with the advanced life support equipment we carried, our success rate in reviving these patients was dismally low.
Luckily, the new hands only resuscitation method - which eliminates the need for mouth-to-mouth ventilation - makes doing CPR easier than ever before. But hand’s on training is still important, if you expect to be able to react properly during an emergency. While it won’t take the place of an actual class, you can watch how it is done on in this brief instructional video from the American Heart Association.
A CPR class only takes a few hours, can be fun, and is well worth the effort.
Last year a buddy of mine passed along a link to an online training site that, in a few short minutes, can familiarize the layperson with what to do when confronted by a sudden cardiac arrest, and what to expect when opening and using an AED.
If you see someone collapse suddenly, check if the victim is responsive. If not, remember these three easy steps.
Have them send help. Stay on the line and listen for further instructions.
Start Chest Compressions
If the person is not breathing normally, start chest compressions. Push down hard and fast in the center of the chest. Keep your arms straight. Send someone to find an AED.
Use An AED
The AED (automated external defibrillator) is a portable medical device that delivers an electrical shock to restart a person’s heart. It provides voice prompts that tell you exactly what to do and will only administer a shock if needed, so there’s no reason to hesitate.
It only takes a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the operations of an AED by visiting the following website.
I should point out that not all cardiac arrests can be corrected by defibrillation, even if conducted in a timely manner. There are non-shockable arrhythmias that an AED cannot convert to sinus rhythm.
Non-shockable cardiac arrest arrhythmias are asystole (flat line) and PEA (Pulseless Electrical Activity) – what we used to call back in the stone age of EMS, electromechanical dissociation.
Neither of which respond to defibrillation.
Patients can sometimes still be saved with CPR alone, at least until the right cardiac meds can be administered. For more on all of this, we have the press release from the American Heart Association.
April 02, 2012
- CPR can save someone with cardiac arrest even if they don’t respond to a defibrillator.
- People with non-shockable cardiac arrest are more likely to live if they receive CPR based on recent guidelines emphasizing chest compressions.
- The American Heart Association’s CPR guidelines emphasizing chest compressions are saving more lives, according to a new study.
Of course, despite your best efforts, many SCA victims will not survive. It isn’t at all like on TV, where 75% of recipients of CPR survive. Even when cardiac arrests occur inside a hospital, the survival to discharge rate is less than 40%. Outside the hospital, the odds of seeing a good outcome are lower.
While there are no guarantee of success, early and coordinated action taken by bystanders (calling 911, starting CPR, using AED if available) can substantially improve the SCA’s chances of survival.
For more on heart attacks, and CPR, you may wish to visit some of these earlier blogs.