The Break Room: In a Heart Beat

April 3, 2012
It was long overdue, but I finally completed CPR/AED training.

Several months ago, my uncle suffered a massive heart attack at the gym. A fellow gym patron began CPR immediately and made use of the fitness center’s AED, two simple actions that saved my uncle’s life.

I, unfortunately, would not have felt as prepared to step in and perform CPR had I been there. Like many people, I imagine those emergency scenarios will happen to someone else, or that another, more qualified person will be able to respond. I don’t think I need to tell our readership of EHS professionals just how faulty – and potentially life-threatening – those assumptions are.

”In my mind, every single person from age 10 and up needs to be trained in CPR,” says Joni Nowak, RN/CCRN, owner of Lakewood Learning Center in Lakewood, Ohio.

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, manually pumps blood through the heart and enables oxygen to reach the brain. Nowak says many people don’t know to perform CPR, are afraid they’ll hurt the victim or simply wait for emergency responders to swoop in and save the day. But even the best doctors can’t save someone who was left too long without CPR.

“People have to understand they can make a critical difference at the scene if they just know the very, very basics of CPR,” Nowak says. “If they don’t do this, nothing else matters.”

My only CPR training – in the fourth grade! – surely wouldn’t cut it in a real emergency today. So I signed up for an American Heart Association’s Heartsaver CPR/AED training course and took my skills test with Nowak.

While CPR isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s still vital to learn how to do it correctly. Nowak adjusted my position so I had enough height over the victim and corrected my compression speed and pressure. One thing I definitely didn’t remember from my fourth grade training was just how taxing CPR is. After five sets of 30 compressions, I already could feel the burn. Saving a life, however, is obviously worth the work.

In addition to CPR, you also should be comfortable using an AED. Tragically, many people leave AEDs untouched on the wall because they worry they can’t use the devices properly or even believe they aren’t supposed to use them. But take it from me: There is nothing easier than using an AED. You turn it on, place the pads on the victim (just look at the pictures!) and the AED talks you through the entire process. It won’t administer a shock unless one is needed, so don’t worry about injuring the victim.

“You just have to put the pads on and let the machine do its work,” says Barbara Riegel, DNSc, RN, professor of nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. “We used to joke that the only way you could hurt someone with an AED is to hit someone over the head with it.”

Riegel suggests that AEDs should be placed in any large building. Of course, it’s not enough to simply have a device – everyone should know where it is and how to use it.

“You can’t just buy the thing, stick it on the wall and feel safe. I would encourage any large company to have an AED and a task force of people who have responsibility for getting CPR trained and AED trained,” Riegel says.

Now that I’ve earned my Heartsaver card, I’m prepared to step in and offer help if someone needs it. I hope you can say the same for yourself and for your work force. If you can’t, then contact the Red Cross or American Heart Association to learn how to get trained. Because if you’re prepared, you can save a life in a heartbeat.

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