CPR on a stranger


…The weirdest thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago.  I had to give CPR to a stranger.

I was at my daughter’s gymnastics class, and all of a sudden, in the periphery of my selective hearing, I became aware of a woman’s crying voice: “Somebody please call 911!”

I looked over, and saw a woman laying another woman down on the ground.  And the other woman was cyanotic, which is another word for blue.

I was holding my phone in my hand, and I thought, I can call 911 easily right now, but then, a shot went off in my head, and a voice clearly screamed: there is a blue lady right next to you!  And I then I thought, I can do better than calling 911, can’t I?  So, I sort of fell off the bleacher I was sitting on, pulling a muscle in the process, and made my way over.  Her daughter, I could tell, was becoming hysterical, but she did cry out, “She has a big cardiac history!”

“I’m a doctor!” I said, “What happened?”

A voice in my head said, You sound like an asshole.

Why do I always feel like such as asshole when I say “I’m a doctor?”  Isn’t it what I am?

It was only a couple of steps to the lady who was now lying on the floor, and before I knew it, I was kneeling next to her.

Even when I was falling off the bleacher, the voice was saying, Remember to check the pulse! That’s always the first thing.

So I did; I put two fingers on the lady’s large neck.  She was greasy or maybe diaphoretic, I couldn’t tell, but that wasn’t important, because I couldn’t feel a pulse.  Could I not feel a pulse because she had a big neck and I had numb fingertips?  Or does she not have a pulse for real? The voice in my head didn’t answer. I reached for her wrist, but then the voice said, If she doesn’t have a carotid pulse, she won’t have a radial, so don’t waste your time.

Blue patient.

No pulse.

“She’s done this before!” cried her daughter…  “She went into severe heart failure!”

I looked up and saw that there was a small crowd of people gathered around me, moms with toddlers on their hips, all holding their phones out.

“Oh good,” I thought, “So, someone is calling 911.”

Then I said, “No pulse!”

This is when you do CPR, the voice in my head said.

I guess I should do CPR? I thought.

So I did.  I rolled her on her back, folded my hands, put them on her sternum, and compressed with locked elbows and all my weight.  The first compression wasn’t effective, I could tell, b/c I didn’t feel anything.  The next few I could feel her ribs bow under my hands.

That was a good one!

Then a lady said behind me, “Wait wait, she’s coming around…”

The voice in my head said, you’re doing CPR on a conscious patient?!  and the real me looked at the lady, and saw that she was pink now, and that her eyes were rolling a little bit, and starting to come into focus.  See, she probably had a carotid pulse, and your fingers missed it. 

Then the patient threw up.

The voice said, Imagine if you had to do mouth to mouth? Thank god for compression only CPR.

I told it to shut the eff up, how inappropriate.

The lady behind me said, “She breathing now.”

I turned around.  “I’m a psychiatrist,” she said.  “this is way out of my wheelhouse.”

“Out of mine too!” I answered, registering that my hands were shaking.

Thank god there was another doctor here, said the voice. You’re an asshole for pushing your way to the front.

“I felt her wrist,” said the psychiatrist. “I felt nothing at all.”

See? I told the voice in my head.  I was right.  There was no pulse. And now there is.

Another mom said, “Are you a nurse?”

I answered, “A doctor.”

The voice said, you sound like a total asshole.

Ambulance arrived.  Patient was throwing up and tearful, but awake and answering questions.

They brought up the little girl the two women were watching who was doing gymnastics downstairs, and she was hysterical when she saw her grandmother on the floor.

“She’s going to be ok,” I told her, “These nice people are here to take her to the hospital, see?” and I rubbed her back a little.  But every time her mother turned around to give information to the medics, the little girl shook and screamed and grabbed her mother’s neck.

“This physician was here, and she did chest compressions,” said the psychiatrist, whose toddler was also starting to freak out.

“Good thing you were here!” said the medic.

The voice in my head said, Yeah, but she woke up really fast, though.  Doubt the CPR did it.

I made a mental note to check on Uptodate if chest compressions lead to spontaneous return of circulation.

They loaded the patient on a gurney and took her outside, and I hugged her daughter and said to her, “She’s going to be ok now.  She’s going to be fine, you’re fine.”

The daughter said, “Thank you!” about 15 times.

“What else was there to do?” I answered.

I went back to the bleacher where I was sitting before.  My daughter was still doing gymnastics.  Her class is only 45 minutes long.  How long did this all take, anyway?  Seconds!  I texted my husband: “A lady passed out, and I did chest compressions, and now I think I’m going to pass out.”  He wrote back, “Why? It’s what you do!”

Soon, my daughter would be coming up, and I’d have to change her really quickly, and we’d rush to my son’s Karate graduation….

PLEASE learn the steps to CPR.  It could mean the difference between life or death.


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