Everyone knows what CPR means. It means saving a life with certain breathing techniques and chest compressions when one’s heart has stopped beating. Right?
Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation literally means heart lung revival. That puts it in a slightly different light but still sounds promising.
We’ve all seen it work over and over again on television, but is that a reflection of real life CPR? I can tell you that it is not whether in the hospital or on the street. Fewer than 20% of in-hospital recipients of CPR live to be discharged. And, this is with a team of highly skilled professionals, IV medications, and defibrillators to shock the heart.
Many people today are trained in CPR, and that is a good thing. I’m sure that most take the training with the expectation of being able to save lives. It does happen, but the chances of being unsuccessful are high and this is often an extremely hard outcome to accept. If occurring in the clinical area there are several people involved, but if you are performing CPR as a layperson or even a professional in the field you are often alone and it is a formidable responsibility. It can be extremely difficult to overcome emotionally when one is unsuccessful.
Many years ago I was an Emergency Department (ED) Registered Nurse (RN). I was used to “codes” which was the word we used when a patient went into cardiopulmonary arrest. Everyone worked together as a team. We started IVs, did chest compressions, charged and used a defibrillator and we continued until the patient was either revived or pronounced dead. Needless to say with all the needed supplies and professionals working together we often were able to revive the patient and send them on to the Intensive Care Department. From there we lost track of their progress or lack thereof. We went on to the next emergency. I was used to “saves” in that environment.
When my own sixty-nine year-old father had a cardiac arrest at home it was a totally different world. My Mom wept nearby. A neighbor wrung her hands. There was no one to help as I did CPR alone for over twenty minutes while we awaited the ambulance and EMTs to arrive. I felt his sternum crack. Was I compressing his chest too hard? I became short of breath. Was I breathing the right ratio for him? My mouth bled. My father turned blue, first his ears and then his lips.
My father died that day and I have never stopped blaming myself. How could an ED RN not save her own father? My brain itemizes many factors to answer that question, but my heart keeps saying, “I’m so sorry Daddy, I’m so sorry.”
I’ve shared this to warn those of you who are so altruistically prepared to perform CPR that it might not work. It might not be possible.
Please do be trained. Please do try if you are given the opportunity. But, please also know that it is not always in your power and be prepared to live with that possibility.