A very common question people often wonder is what is CPR really like? Doing it in a training class in a controlled environment on a plastic manikin isn’t exactly the same as doing it on an actual human being in ‘real life’. CPR classes do a great job in preparing people to be as confident as can be in the skills and steps needed to help save someone’s life who is in cardiac arrest, but there are of course inherent variables that are difficult (if not impossible) to replicate in a training environment and most people if they are not in an emergent, patient-care related position will rarely be called upon to perform these skills. Though ‘unlikely’ to perform CPR, it is crucial everyone is trained to handle cardiac emergencies to give people the highest chance of survival.
So back to the basic question, what is CPR really like? The following is of course only my opinion based on my experiences and that of others I have worked alongside performing CPR. I have performed single rescuer and team CPR as a Firefighter/EMT more times than I am able to (or want to) remember, ranging from newborns to the very elderly, the extremely frail to the morbidly obese and everywhere in-between. I think it is good for people to know some of the things that happen in ‘real life’ CPR.
- Things don’t always go as planned – Even for the well trained, well-oiled machines of EMTs, Paramedics, ER nurses, etc. who perform CPR on a relatively frequent basis, there are still things that come up unexpectedly. It’s good to know that this is ok, it’s expected, the most important thing is to communicate with those around you and stay calm to work through any of these unexpected occurrences. Some examples of this may be a power outage, a loud surrounding environment or safety equipment breaking.
- Yes, it’s true, ribs oftentimes do crack – One of the most crucial focal points in any CPR class is to perform HARD and FAST compressions. Depending on when you were trained and with what organization, this generally means pushing down at least 2 inches on an adult’s chest. That’s a long way! If you think of it logically, of course, it is extremely likely that the ribs or cartilage may crack beneath this force. You likely will hear and feel a slight ‘crunch’ the first compression or two, this doesn’t mean it’s the ‘goal’, but more a good ‘FYI’ so that if this happens you know it is expected and normal, JUST KEEP GOING. People can recover from cracked ribs; they can’t recover from cardiac arrest without CPR. Focus on good compressions to give the best chance of survival.
- Mistakes happen, it’s ok – Especially if you are a lay-responder, or someone who is not expected to perform CPR in the medical field it is not realistic to think there won’t be some apprehension, some fear, some questioning and some mistakes. THIS IS O.K! All anyone can ever do is the best they can with the situation they are dealing with. Taking a CPR class will help you to minimize any of the barriers to act and help the emergency go as smooth as possible, but don’t feel over pressured or anxious if you have trouble remembering every number or details from class. Move on to #4 and you’ll be ok.
- STAY CALM, CALL 9-11 and CARRY ON – Yes, the old adage of stay calm and carry on is probably one of, if not the most important things in an emergency. Take a breath, call 9-1-1 so help is on the way and do your best. Push hard, push fast and don’t be afraid to ask for help or communicate with others during an emergency to help get through it. By simply doing these things you have given the patient a gigantic boost in their chance of survival as opposed to not doing anything.
One can never foresee every single variable that could come up in an emergency. Taking a CPR class regularly, at least every other year and taking a moment from time to time to go over things in your mind will go a long way in helping you feel more confident and prepared to help someone. By staying calm, calling for help and doing your best by pushing hard and fast you can feel good that you did all you could to help the person in need. I sincerely hope that you never need these skills, but since nearly 400,000 people go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital setting each year, we all need to be prepared so that our community, our friends and our loved-ones have the best chance possible to survive a CPR related emergency.