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CPR - A Beginner's Guide to Saving a Life

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CPR, or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, can save a life if a person's heart stops beating.  Obviously this isn't a skill that you would practice on a regular basis. However, if you or anyone else, has a sudden heart attack it is critical that everyone around you knows how to do CPR.  In my years past, both as a teen-aged lifeguard and then as an emergency doctor, I have performed CPR on dozens of cases.  While not all went on to recover, the procedure is indeed most amazing, and one of the most gratifying skills to every use.  However, like shooting firearms, flying planes, and playing a musical instrument, this is a perishable skill that gets rusty without practice.  So learn it once, then plan on revisiting it to maintain your skills.  There are excellent courses in your area that can be found on line, sometimes sponsored by your local hospital, fire department, or Red Cross.  The sequence below is to show the beginner the process, but is not designed to replace hands-on training sessions or certifications. 

If you see someone on the ground (or strapped into their seat) and you suspect they have had a heart attack, here are some action steps for you to follow.

1. YELL: Use the patient's name if you know it, or simply raise your voice to see if they are merely sleeping.  You can feel for the carotid pulse in the neck  below the angle of the jaw, and you can try to listen for the sound of breathing.  If no response, then take a deep breath of your own and begin these remaining steps...

2. CALL: If you are with others gathered around the victim, do NOT say "Run for help!"  I have seen this happen, and the whole crowd vanishes, leaving nobody to help with the resuscitation.  Look one person in the eye, point to them, and ask them to please call 911.  Tell the others to stand by, as there may be more they can do (from flagging down the ambulance to taking a turn at the CPR if your arms get tired).  If you are the only person around, call 911 and leave your cell phone on speaker so you can get directions from the dispatcher, and have both hands ready for action.

3. Attend to POSITION: If the victim is on the ground, make sure you roll them on to their back, and lift the chin so it is not resting on the sternum.  If the victim is strapped into a seat (and we hope that it is not the driver seat next to you in a moving vehicle!) then lie the person down, preferrably on a firm surface.  Loosen any obvious constraints like neck ties or tight collars. 

4. Start the CAB: the sequence of  Cardiac, then Airway, then Breathing is now the standard.

  Begin by one smart smack with your palm against the sternum.  I have seen cases where this one blow can stun the heart back into action.  If still no sign of life, then place your palms on the chest wall, keeping your arms straight, and lean into each push.  You should be able to compress the chest a couple of inches with each thrust, and you should time it to be about the speed of fast dance music (or 100 beats a minute). 

5. Now check the air entry.  If breathing has not restarted, try to pry the victims jaw open and sweep a finger inside to move the tongue or other matter out of the way.  Pulling the jaw forward by using your fingers behind the angle of the jaw will help remove a swallowed tongue. 

6. If there is still no spontaneous breathing, procede to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.  If you are compressing the chest wall at a rate of 100 per minute, then pause every six beats to allow for the next breath.  

7. The first few minutes are critical, but miracles can happen even after prolonged resuscitation times. 

For more information, please seek out professional courses, preferrably one that ends in certification and offers updates for your skills annually.  For more info, check: Red Cross CPR

For a great beginner's approach with only two steps to remember, please look at the video on this link:

Hands-Only CPR

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