How to Save a Life

My friends and I were having a great time Friday night. The music the live band was playing was slamming hot! We were outside in the middle of town along with about 500 of “our closest friends,” and were dancing, talking and generally having a great time. It was quite hot out and our levels of perspiration were at unprecedented levels.

I had just danced a cha-cha with my friend, Joe*, when we walked back to sit down and grab another drink of water. The next song began and I asked someone else to dance. We headed to our quasi-dance floor and left Joe and our other friends behind.

Sometimes the band played longer arrangements of their songs, and this was one of those times. By the time I got back to the sitting area, I was exhausted, sweaty, and in dire need of some more water.

As I was taking a drink, I noticed Joe sitting in a chair. That alone really wasn’t characteristic of him. What was more unusual was that his eyes were staring straight ahead, but clearly, he wasn’t looking at anything. He was leaning back in the canvas chair and his mouth was open in a perfect circle. It looked very strange.

I don’t know Joe very well, but I knew something wasn’t right. I ran to get a mutual friend who knows him quite well. It took seconds for us to get back to Joe. By now, he had probably been in that position for a couple of minutes. Our friend tried to get him to respond, and when he wouldn’t, I ran for the nearby police officers. They didn’t take long to summon the EMT’s, and by the time they arrived, someone else had begun to do chest compressions. It was determined that he was breathing, but had no pulse.

Almost immediately, the EMT’s used a defibrillator on Joe, but it wasn’t enough. While in the ambulance on the way to the local hospital, they had to shock him again. He was stabilized and the standard tests were done at the hospital. Doctors decided that Joe would need to have surgery soon to insert a defibrillator to jump start his heart as needed. Less than 48 hours later, he is doing well, but still in the ICU awaiting surgery.

I imagine that most of my readers have had a friend or family member at one time or another who has had a heart attack. Although this was, more accurately, ventricular tachycardia (thank you to my medical professional friends!), the question still remains.  What do you do when you see someone who is clearly not well? How do you respond? What action should you take?

The answer is that you most likely will not know that someone is having a heart attack, or other cardiac related problem, just by looking at him/her. Therefore, you will have to use good old-fashioned common sense.

It’s often difficult to summon our common sense when we are busy or having fun. I will never know how many people walked right past Joe that night. He was sitting in the front row next to a sidewalk over which many people passed. It should have been easy to spot that he was in trouble. The problem was that no one was interested in noticing the mundane – like someone sitting motionless. People were walking, dancing, talking, and having fun.

If you’ve learned anything about drowning, you know that victims are motionless. Lifeguards are not trained to watch for motion in the water. They are taught to watch for what is still. If someone is screaming and splashing about, they are probably scared, and simply need a flotation device. If someone is completely motionless, whether in the water or on land, and they are not sleeping, they are in trouble.

If you see someone who is not moving, you need to investigate. That doesn’t mean that while sitting at the concert, you try to shake the person beside you who is simply enjoying the music. If they don’t appear to move and give no sign that they are alert, give them a chance to show you they are. Shift your arm on the armrest to see if they move. Walk past someone and smile at them to see if they respond. Even “accidentally” bumping their foot should result in some response.

When I looked at Joe, I had no idea anything was wrong. Someone else suggested he was just sitting back in the chair and yawning because he was tired. It was common sense that prevailed when I called his name. “Joe, are you okay?” If you are EVER in doubt about someone, anyone, at any age, call their name and ask if they are ok. They may be in a daze and thinking about something. They could be faking it, but few people will not respond when you call their name. If they are fine, they may very well call you paranoid. I’d have given anything that night for Joe to have looked at me and called me crazy, but he couldn’t.

As soon as you realize that a person is unresponsive, immediate action is necessary. The one thing I had going for me (and Joe) Friday night was that I knew where the nearest police officers were. I was able to get to them immediately and they called for the EMT’s within seconds. You may need to know where your cell phone is to call 911. Because I had directed the EMT’s to Joe, they had guessed that I am a relative. I’m not, and had no answers for them.  I did, however, know that our mutual friend was quite familiar with his medical history and brought her over to answer their questions. This immediate action helped the EMT’s to do their work and save Joe’s life.

The rules:

  1. Pay attention to people. If someone looks weird and out of place, take a closer look rather than turning away.
  2. If someone is not moving and doesn’t appear to be cognizant of their surroundings, do something to get their attention. Ask them if they are ok? Smile at them. Get them to respond.
  3. If they do not respond, take action. If you do not know what to do, find someone who does. Ask for help.

My next action will be to get my re-certification in CPR. Meanwhile, I’m praying for Joe’s full recovery.

~Temerity Dowell

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