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Saving lives is hard work when one’s out of shape

A layman’s guide to administering first aid to heart attack victims

Gulf News

My colleagues and I trained last week in giving first-aid and realised that saving a life is hard work if one is out of shape.

Everything went off fine during the theory classes as we learnt how essential it was for everyone to learn basic first-aid, until the time came when we had to get down on our knees for the practical lessons.

Our instructor had placed dummy rubber torsos on the floor and we were asked to imagine that they were people lying on the ground and we had to resuscitate their hearts.

The dummy torsos had monitors installed within them and a green light would come on if the pressure applied to the heart was of the correct level.

To begin with, many in our group thought that the heart was located to the left side of the body.

“That misconception is because of the movies in which a heart attack victim is usually shown clutching the left side of his chest,” our instructor said.

The movie industry should have a medical expert on board to avoid giving wrong information, he said.

The heart is actually located in the middle of your chest with its lower tip slightly tilted to the left. It lies five centimetres inside the chest and is the size of a fist.

We were told to first check if the person was breathing or if he or she seemed to have difficulty breathing and then to immediately start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The purpose of CPR is to keep the heart pumping and getting the oxygenated blood flowing to the brain.

The way to keep the heart pumping is to steadily give 100 compressions a minute with your palms. After a few seconds of keeping my elbows straight and pumping, my breathing became strained and my shoulders ached.

I could see my colleagues were also struggling trying to revive their dummies.

Then it got even tougher. We were told to keep one hand behind our back, imagine the dummy was a child and then perform CPR. “If you put the same amount of pressure on the heart as for an adult, you will kill the child,” our instructor said.

From here onwards it felt like I was in a military bootcamp and doing pushups on the beach sand. The tiny light on the side of the dummy was blinking red all the while, showing that the heart wasn’t being pumped properly.

Then came the part when we had to shout to a bystander to call the emergency number 999, and bring an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Every organisation or mall is supposed to keep an AED, a portable device that detects if the heart rhythms are normal and which gives a shock to the heart to get it pumping normally again.

(I hope every workplace has this device. It is a necessary piece of equipment as a large section of the population suffers from lifestyle diseases that impact on the heart).

When my turn came to fix the wired patches on the dummy’s chest, I fixed them on the wrong side and would have nearly electrocuted my colleague had the situation been happening in real-time.

It got even more complicated when we were given dolls that squeaked when pressed on the chest and told to resuscitate the ‘child’ as he had swallowed something and could not breathe. I nearly dropped the ‘baby’ on its head and my colleague in a hurry pulled out the ‘baby’s’ windpipe.

We were also told that even after we become certified first-aid providers we should not rush to give CPR. Apparently, there are protocols to be followed and permission has first to be taken if the victim can speak to you — if he or she would wish to be helped.