By Joe Woodman
How many of us have seen this phrase online or heard it pitched on television? The most amazing (insert here)!
Sorry. This is not about that. That hype is designed to make you look or to make you click. I am going to get you to think and to feel.
I am talking about how it feels to help save a life. How it really feels. I’d venture to guess no one has explained it to you the way I will. It’s the highest of highs and a chance to truly give the gift of life.
Allow me to present this to you in stages, because potential life-ending events happen that way.
The first feeling you get is a gradual awareness that something is wrong. Perhaps suspicion that the man across the restaurant from you suddenly looks panicked and may be choking. Or the awareness might hit you like a ton of bricks as you see a car drift off the road ahead of you and crash into some trees.
After the awareness hits, fear and uncertainty climb all over you. Should I do something? Can I do anything? Am I good enough? Somebody else will step up. I’m scared! Your adrenalin spikes, your heart rate jumps, and your brain kicks into high gear, and you suddenly find yourself rising to act.
What happens next is going to involve a mix of chance, luck, training, knowledge, determination, and courage. It would be a terrible thing to discover at this moment, as you come face to face with someone who needs you more than anyone has needed you before, that you have nothing to offer. It would be a tragedy to be right there with the opportunity to do something but instead just stand there.
You will experience all this if you find yourself in this position. Don’t you want to be ready? What if it is not a stranger but instead it is your child or spouse or a friend? What if YOU are the only option?
How the next stage feels is really up to you. If you are ready and you are trained and knowledgeable, you will find yourself shifting from fear and uncertainty into purposeful intention and action. Time compresses as you concentrate all your awareness and abilities and rise to the occasion. Your hands know what to do. Your actions make a difference. Your control and influence on the scene make it safer as you act, delegate, instruct, and think about what to do next.
If you are not ready things will be drastically different. Instead of time speeding up, time will slow. Help may eventually come but it seems to take forever. Your initial fear has shifted into a realization of helplessness and an inability to contribute. You want to help but you just can’t. You’ve got nothing.
The final stage is the resolution of the event. Again, in a life and death situation, the resolution may depend greatly on what actions you took. Maybe the Heimlich Maneuver worked, and the diner can breathe again so everybody goes back to what they were doing. Maybe your quick actions to stop and help the accident victim kept them safe and alive until emergency responders arrived. Maybe the fact that you stepped up and started high quality CPR right away when the elderly woman in line in front of you at the pharmacy collapsed gave her heart a chance to restart so she can see her family again.
Or perhaps you didn’t or couldn’t act and you had to watch and do nothing. In all fairness, there are times NOT to act, and it is true that not everyone is able or willing to be the one that does something in these situations. But right now, I am talking to you; the one who wants to be ready. The one who wants to be prepared and able to choose whether to act when presented with the opportunity.
As a retired paramedic, I’ve experienced this spectrum of feelings many times. The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But to get the opportunity to help others when they needed it most gave me the best career ever. I know what I did made a difference, sometimes even saving a life.
I don’t consider myself a hero. I can’t fly, I am not bullet proof, and I don’t think I have ever saved a life single-handedly. I was always part of a team. That team included all the folks who provided training, radio communication, call-takers on 911, law enforcement, firefighters, hospital staff, and even bystanders and family members. I am proud to say that by my retirement, the Cardiac Arrest Save award I wore on my uniform had the number 7 on it. That means, since 2011, I worked on 7 people who were in cardiac arrest, actually dead, who were resuscitated and who survived to be discharged from the hospital and returned home due to our efforts.
What made it possible for those people to survive? Training, a systems approach to handling emergencies, coordination, and a whole lot of hard work. The bottom line though is it took people stepping up to act and to do their part in the system. That’s what makes it work.
The most amazing thing ever encompasses a lot of things. In this case, it means shaking the hand of a man who tearfully looks into your eyes and says, “Thank you for saving my life. I want to introduce you to my wife and daughter.” It means waving to the family as they leave the restaurant after the choking incident, laughing as they cross the parking lot headed to their car. It means watching the ambulance pull away and seeing the patient through the back window as he talks to the medics knowing that you are the reason he is talking right now.
Please take the time to put yourself into the position to see and experience the most amazing thing ever. First aid, AED, CPR training is available everywhere and is very affordable, in some cases free. Set yourself up to be the one who knows what to do. The one that can act and make a difference far sooner than any ambulance or fire truck can arrive. Almost all of the cardiac arrest saves I participated in involved early CPR by a family member or trained civilian. I have even seen children and teens doing excellent CPR on my arrival.
But more importantly, set yourself up to be The Most Amazing Thing for someone in distress. There are few things that can top that.