Sandy Says: Having the Confidence to Care

July 9, 2013
An emergency situation reminded me that it's been many years – too many years – since I practiced CPR and first aid.

Late last year, a neighbor and friend was riding his bicycle to work – riding in a designated bike lane – when a drunk driver plowed into him. He was left a quadriplegic, and remains in the hospital. 

A few weeks ago, a local chef was hit by one of our transit authority buses while he was riding his bicycle into work. Fortunately, he's fine. Still, you could tell by his comments that it was a scary situation.

These two incidents were front of mind a couple of weeks ago when I was driving home from work during a downpour. I was following an older gentleman who was riding a bicycle. I didn't pass him and I didn't crowd him, because the street at that point is one lane due to a construction project. When the street widened to two lanes, he shifted over to the right lane and promptly fell over. From what I saw, either his wheel caught on the uneven pavement or he hydroplaned in a deep puddle.

I immediately stopped, as did the woman in the car behind me. We ran to him and he was not moving. She called 911 as a pedestrian and I crouched down next to him. When he started moaning, I was relieved, because it meant that he was alive and it meant that I would not have to perform CPR on him. As I patted him and told him that the ambulance was on the way, I realized that every darned bit of first aid training I had ever received had fled my brain. Fortunately, the ambulance arrived within 4 or 5 minutes of the call; if he had needed CPR, he might not have made it.

Every Minute Counts

For every minute someone is in cardiac arrest without CPR and without defibrillation to restart the heart, there is a 7 to 10 percent decrease in the likelihood of a successful outcome, said Bill Clendenen, CEO of the Health & Safety Institute.  After 4 to 6 minutes, there is a significant risk of brain damage and after 10 minutes, there's very little hope for survival. 

According to him, I'm not alone in immediately shifting into panic mode when faced with an emergency. "There is that human element to emergency response," he acknowledged. "People need to get past the emotions of the situation and remember their training and feel confident in providing care." 

Clendenen recommends regular, hands-on first aid training – which should include CPR and the use of an AED – particularly for people who are more likely to involved in an emergency situation. 

"What's your risk exposure to witnessing an event? A flight attendant who sees thousands of people in a week is more likely to witness an event where first aid is needed than someone working in an office," said Clendenen. 

And while the industry practice is for retraining every 2 years on CPR and first aid, Clendenen added that a recent study found that skill and retention of training deteriorates very quickly after 6-8 weeks. Unless the training is repeated regularly, the information will not be retained long enough to be effective. 

Clendenen said that for first aid training to be effective, it must cover these topics:

   1) Recognizing a medical emergency and calling 911.

   2) Immediately providing life-supporting care for a choking victim or someone who is having trouble breathing.

   3) CPR and the use of an AED.

   4) Controlling serious bleeding.

   5) Providing ongoing care; making sure the victim's status doesn't change.

"I tell people to find a good local trainer who provides hands-on training. Hands-on training is crucial," said Clendenen. "People need to be confident in their skills; they have to have the confidence to care."

Send an e-mail with your thoughts to [email protected].

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