Last night I spent four hours up in Pittsburg, New Hampshire, helping teach CPR at a PAD (public access defibrillation) class. There’s a program nationwide for putting AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillators) into public places. These AEDs are being provided free, through the state, and up to ten people at each location are getting free CPR/AED training. We had folks from a truck stop, from the local Rite-Aid drugstore, from the Bridge Street Gym, and others present. The state has written legislation taking liability on itself for these AEDs, relieving businesses of the worry of getting themselves sued for any use of this equipment that they’ve got. There’s more legislation saying that anyone at all can use one.
The specific AED that we were handing out was a Zoll AED+Plus . These normally go for $1,500, but the state got ‘em as a group purchase for $750. The local ambulance squad put together little kits to put in the carrying case with each AED: One pair trauma shears, two pairs gloves (one pair nitrile, one pair vinyl), one CPR mask, one disposable razor, one washcloth, two alcohol wipes, all in a zip-lock Baggie.
(Formerly — way back in the 1970s — external defibrillation was done by physicians only. Then it became a paramedic-level intervention. Then it moved to specially-trained EMTs, the EMT-D. Then any EMT. Now any Joe or Jane on the street can do it. A big part of that is the advance in computer tech, so that the machine reads the heart rhythm rather than a skilled human operator.)
Around 250,000 people in the United States die of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) every year. That’s the guy walking down the street who just keels over. An AED right there on scene is a great thing, because at that moment you have 4-6 minutes to get that heart going again. CPR will extend that time, but it’s just putting the patient into a holding pattern. The electricity is what’s going to fix things.
But, SCA isn’t all, or even most, heart attacks.
Dearly beloved, let us pause to consider ataque del corazón.
To be exact, attacks of the heart that we middle-aged folks should beware of.
If you, or anyone around you, has any of the following signs and symptoms:
This can be anything from tightness, fullness, weight, or squeezing to Oh-Ghod-It-Hurts major pain. Often sub-sternal, but anywhere in the upper body counts. Especially if it radiates to an arm, to the jaw, or to the back.
Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
Turning pale, blue, grey, or mottled counts.
Chest discomfort that starts with exercise and gets better with rest
Especially if the discomfort lasts longer than five minutes.
Big ol’ beads of moisture when it isn’t hot out.
When beer wasn’t even involved.
Dizziness. Like it says.
Feeling of Doom
You’ll know it when you have it.
Chest pain all by itself, or two or more of the others … dude, you could be having the Big One.
What to do
Sit down, chew four baby aspirin, and call 9-1-1. If it isn’t really a heart attack — the EMTs don’t mind false alarms. Really. (Concerning that aspirin: The only contraindication for aspirin is a documented allergy of the “I blow up like a balloon, turn blue, and die” variety. “Funny tummy” isn’t a good enough reason to avoid it. A diagnosed ulcer isn’t a good enough reason to avoid it. Just do it. And, for that matter, taking an 81 mg aspirin every day as a preventative measure isn’t a bad idea.)
Who’s at risk?
Middle-age or over males, females past menopause, and everyone else. Particularly folks who smoke, don’t get enough exercise, are overweight, or use cocaine.
Is learning CPR a good idea?
Yes. If nothing else it gives you something to do while you’re waiting for the ambulance. Actually, that’s unfair. I’ve seen CPR save lives. It isn’t 100%, but what in this world is? CPR buys you time. Time for an AED to get there. Time for people with really good drugs and specialized training to get there.
Play a game.
Copyright © 2005 by James D. Macdonald
I am not a physician. I can neither diagnose nor prescribe. This post is presented for entertainment purposes only. Nothing here is meant to be advice for your particular condition or situation.
Affairs of the Heart by James D. Macdonald is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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