Thursday, February 28, 2008

Facing My Fears

Theater can be a dangerous business, and I've seen my share of workplace accidents. I've never been proud of the fact, but in the past, I've been a fainter. I tend to over-identify with the injured person, and also feel really helpless, and up until now, I assigned myself the task of being the person who called 911, and then waited on the sidewalk to meet the ambulance. Considering how out-of-the-way most of the places I've worked have been, this really was a useful task. I always worked with people who knew first aid, so I was never walking away from an unattended injured person.

The funny thing is that if I ever get injured, I keep my head and do just fine. Back in college, I dislocated my knee (the kneecap was sticking out of the side of my leg), and I decided that I would do well to knock the patella back into place then and there, rather than waiting who knows how long for a doctor to see me in the emergency room. I'll never forget how green my friend Landis turned as I re-located my kneecap.

Yesterday was the day for all the fainters at work to be certified in CPR/AED and basic first aid. Our day-long class was with a woman who had worked as an Emergency Room surgeon for years and a certified physician's assistant (which is different from a nurse). They both had extensive experience, and told some pretty funny/gruesome stories.

A lot has changed in my life since I last took CPR. I've realized that I've got to learn to become the tough person that I fear I'm not. A lot has also changed in the word of CPR. CPR has been simplified, and the use of Automatic Electronic Defibrillators by non-medical professionals is quite wide-spread.

I hope I never have to put my newly learned skills into practice, but at least I'll feel empowered to help, and not stand by and watch someone die.

First Story from our Class

Three days before our instructor was supposed to start teaching CPR and First Aid to laypeople, she went her gym. As she arrived, she overheard the front desk people saying something about an ambulance arriving, for a gym member who was conscious. She didn't get terribly excited about this, but headed downstairs. On her way down, she passed a big picture window, through which she could see a man laying on the floor of the gym's basketball court, and about thirty people standing around, doing nothing. She could see from one story up that the man was unconscious and his skin was blue. She ran the rest of the way down the stairs, where she came upon about sixty more people standing around the doorway to the basketball court. She dove through the crowd, and started to administer CPR. As she was doing this, she started barking orders to the people in the crowd.

Every gym in California is required to have an Automatic Electronic Defibrillator, so she called out for it. Turns out, someone had brought it into the basketball court, but NOBODY HAD EVEN TURNED IT ON. The machine was JUST LYING NEXT TO THE DYING MAN. Make no mistake about it, at that point, this man was dying. His body had been making some noises, and everyone had convinced themselves that this meant he was conscious and breathing.

The AED was used, and immediately he started to breathe normally. Our teacher had done this procedure hundreds of times in a medical setting, but had never performed "bystander CPR." She said that she took it as a sign that teaching this class was the thing she needed to be doing.

Afterwards, it came to light that there were several gym members present that had been trained in CPR, but who had done nothing. And worse, there were three trained life guards on staff, who had also stood by, not helping a dying man.

I never want to be the person who feels too powerless to help.

Second Story from our Class

Some time this year, there was a boating accident on the San Francisco Bay, and a man amputated a finger in the rigging. The finger went into the bay, and while he raced off to the emergency room, some other sailors searched the water for his finger, which -- amazingly -- they found.

The problem was that he ended up at California Pacific Medical Center, but the finger went to Marin General. And then a little turf war kicked up between the two teams of specialists, who both thought that they should be the ones to re-attach the finger. Should the man be sent to Marin General and rejoin his finger? Or should the finger be sent to CPMC to re-join the man? Apparently, this was bitterly debated by the two hospitals.

I got a big laugh from our group by saying, "I dunno. It seems to me that the small bit should travel to the big bit." Which is what ended up happening. But not before quite a bit of argument between the two teams of surgeons.

Poor man.


Becky said...

Excellent story. Synchroniciouslly, I took a CPR/AED class, too, recently ( and got the same things out of it you did.

We had a tough/funny emergency room nurse teaching us, and I appreciated her gruffness towards putting the power in our hands. When we expressed queasiness at the concept of breaking ribs while compressing the chest, she said "what do THEY care? they're dead!"

I, like you, hope I don't have to ever use it, but like the feeling that I *can* if it comes to that. Thanks! Avid lurker Becky

lisa said...

That toughness on the part of both our instructors *was* weirdly empowering. It was good to know, from people who would know, that we can't hurt the person lying unconscious on the floor.

Better to try, and potentially break a rib or two, than do nothing and accomplish nothing.

shiloh said...

Some years ago when I first got certified in CPR I was telling some of my co-workers how inportant it was and I wished others at the plant were certified.(I tried to get the company to form a first responders team.) One of my co-workers said he didn't want to know how because he would be afraid he would do more harm than good. I told him I would remember that if he ever need CPR and I would just let HIM die.

Cricket said...

Firstly, I envy, and desire for myself a good dose of empowering, life-saving knowledge.

Secondly, and pardon my language, but Lisa, you are Brick-Shithouse Strong. Don't even begin to doubt that.

Anonymous said...

I need to update my cpr training. The last training I had was in high school twenty-four years ago. In emergencies, I'm the super calm act first freak out later person. I also dislocated my kneecap on many occasions-first time when I was 16 and the worst when I was a week past my due date with my second daughter. That one had to be put back in place in the hospital. I feel your pain :) Glad that you and Robb are still healing (your hepatitis and the regeneration of nerves for Robb).

Anonymous said...

Well hey- keep in mind when doing CPR that it is highly recommended to use a saliva guard while doing CPR. so that you don't contract Aids thru mouth to mouth contact.

Also, they used to say "adjust the head and neck to get a clear passage for airflow" and that is highly ill-advised nowadays, as this act seems to aggravate any neck or spinal injuries that may have occurred.

Thats about all I know that has changed with CPR since I had first taken it in 7th grade, a long long time ago in a land far far away.

By the way, kudos to your friend who has as much balls as brains. Good person to have around in a crisis!


Anonymous said...

PS- Your next sweater knitting project should be purple, as that color looks awesome when worn by a yellowed jaundiced gal with black hair!


Ron Sullivan said...

I can't decide which of those storied horrified me more. Well, dead is worse than nine-fingered, but holy shit. And I already know that most surgeons are egotistic assholes who should be put in cold storage when they're not actually surgeoning.

Anonymous said...

According to what we learned in class. 250 people administer CPR every day in America, and there has never been a reported case of any diseases being transmitted.


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