Aging · Caregiving · CPR · Death · Elderly · End of Life Decisions

Decompression

I’ve been trained in First Aid/CPR for over 20 years but never had to use it in an emergency. On a warm Tuesday afternoon, a precious lady beside me suddenly passed out. She was sitting in a tall seat and instantly needed to be supported to avert a fall. Thankfully, there were 3 other people to help me hold her up and manage the salvo of bodily fluids.

When she didn’t come to after a reasonable amount of time I called 911. Her blood pressure was dropping rapidly and her breathing was erratic. The dispatcher had us get her on the floor and start compressions.  I stopped whenever she came to but she’d quickly slip out of consciousness – my cue to resume.

I’m grateful that administering breaths isn’t required any more. Position the heel of one hand partway between the breasts and the  sternum, place the heel of the other hand atop the first, and push straight down to the rhythm of “Staying Alive.” I felt strangely comfortable with the procedure, having practiced it numerous times before.

It was a painful process for her. She winced and jolted whenever I started, but went limp when I stopped.

An officer arrived on the scene first, followed within a minute by a quartet of fire fighters. My work was done and I could sit down and hold her dear hand. She opened her eyes and looked around as though she had just awoken from a nap. “I’ve never really looked at this ceiling,” she quipped.

They ran numerous tests and poked her hand with an enormous needle to start an IV. “Do you hurt?” one of the paramedics asked.

“Yes,” she gasped.

“What hurts?”

“You!” She said emphatically.

She was transported to the emergency department and my cronies and I held each other and debriefed. We’d worked like a well oiled machine in the crisis and were now ready to decompress. I was so grateful they were there to help me with that arduous yet necessary job. The physical and emotional effects of the stress of it lasted a few days for me. It also transported me to my mother’s dying bed. I wasn’t there for that occurence. I’m saddened that she went that way instead of slipping away silently. It’s hard to picture her in this commotion.

It’s been a week and her chest is still hurting terribly whenever she moves. Yesterday she had the hiccups all day. It hurt to watch her, as we tried remedy after remedy.

I’ve since sat with her family and debriefed the situation. They are very grateful she is alive despite sore ribs. Would we do it again in the future? No. It was a great opportunity to discuss end of life issues with her doctor and update her resuscitation orders from 2 years ago.

While she is young at heart and a jovial person, she is at peace with death and would prefer to be allowed to slip away instead of “being punched in the gut repeatedly” as she describes it. We performed CPR for about 8 minutes. My mother had CPR done for 40 minutes. She died anyway. That’s unconscionable. The hospital bill for the code team alone was atrocious.

Share your wishes with loved ones and put them in writing. Keep having the conversations as they serve the purpose of helping your friends and family establish what your values are. These can be more beneficial than a signed piece of paperwork. Discuss various scenarios and what you’d like. It may be difficult to have these conversations but they save a lot of heartache and headache in the long term. Enlist the help of a healthcare professional if some parties are resistant.

Finally, take a first aid/CPR class. In my experience, fire departments offer them for the lowest price and it’s great to get them from people who are constantly using those skills. Hospitals and other agencies offer them as well. A crisis that calls for these skills is incredibly stressful and it’s a tremendous help to have had the necessary training.

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