By BETH ALTENA
Rockford Ambulance paramedic Chuck Premer isn’t shy about his chances of saving a victim of cardiac arrest. If those closest to the victim can improve the chances of survival by performing chest compressions until medical staff arrives, Premer said his ability to bring a person back is greatly improved.
He visited Rockford City Hall on Wednesday, November 14 to train City staff in performing chest compressions, part of a comprehensive new plan to improve the survival rates of cardiac arrest victims in the City of Rockford. (See related story, page 1.)
The American Heart Association, American Red Cross and other organizations in the health field are now touting Hands Only CPR (HO CPR) as the best course of action for those nearby a cardiac arrest victim. Premer explained the new strategy and noted those in the industry of saving lives recognize that most people are reluctant to do mouth to mouth on a stranger and will opt to take no course of action after calling 911. If people are made aware that simply performing chest compressions will make a huge difference in the victim’s chances of survival, they may be more willing to help.
Premer said a person who stops breathing will still have air in their bloodstream, and performing chest compressions helps circulate that oxygen, improving the chance for the brain, liver and kidneys to survive (along with their owner). Pushing the chest down one-third of the body’s depth is the correct amount of pressure to apply, Premer noted, and said the timing of compressions match the BeeGee’s song “Staying Alive.”
Rockford Treasurer Kim McKay was the bravest of those at the meeting and obliged Premer by singing the “Ah, ah, ah, ah, staying alive,” to demonstrate the rhythm. Premer outlined the correct steps to take if someone in your presence appears to stop breathing or is breathing in a “fish out of water” or ineffectual gasping breathing.
First, he said, call 911. “If they are laying there, something is wrong and you need to call us,” he said, referring to medical first responders. He said if those nearby a victim are uncertain of signs of life, that is clear indication of an emergency of some sort. Premer advised the next step after calling for help is to touch the victim and attempt to communicate with them.
If a person is non-responsive, don’t monkey around trying to find a pulse, because even trained nurses and doctors are unlikely to be able to discover a pulse just by touch. Instead, Premer said, remove clothing from the chest area, either by pushing shirts or blouses up or down or tearing them off.
“Yes, you will be exposing the person, but believe me, they won’t care,” he said. Removing the clothing is important for identifying the center of the chest where compression should take place, and because fabric is slippery and will impede a rescuer’s ability to perform compressions.
Premer said chest compression should be performed on any age person, and that anyone who is unresponsive and possibly not breathing is a candidate for the action. “When do you not do it? If they look at you and tell you to stop,” he explained. Should a person revive, however, and then relapse into unresponsiveness, then the chest compressions should be continued, he said.
It is not easy to perform chest compressions, Premer warned, and said it is recommended to switch out between others present after two minutes. He said even the most fit rescuers will find themselves exhausted and drenched in sweat after the two minute time period.
He also warned that the action is not pleasant, and those performing the action may very well break ribs, disconnect bones and otherwise hurt the person they are performing compressions upon. He said in the long run, survival is more important than being delicate.
“Especially if the person is older, you are going to hear some crunching,” he warned. “That’s the calcification of bones breaking up and it’s going to happen. Keep going.”
Premer said there are also psychological impacts of performing life-saving attempts. “You very likely will never know if they made it or not,” he stated. “You will also second guess yourself and wonder if you did the right thing, if you acted quickly enough, if you did enough.”
He said such anxieties are normal, and it is very important to talk your feelings through with someone. “Talk to clergy if you want, or you can call the city and talk with a police officer. You can call me at Rockford Ambulance and I will be happy to talk with you,” he said.
Finally, for those who would like to learn CPR and HO CPR, Rockford Ambulance teaches classes in Rockford and the surrounding communities, and the cost is very reasonable, just $35 for the Heartsaver CPR course.