I have likely taken a CPR course three or four times in my life. As a teenager, I spent my summers sporting a perpetual tan while working as a community pool lifeguard. For those of you who find community pools a foreign concept (in California it seems almost everyone has a pool in their backyard), I am from the East Coast, where summer means spending your days lazily hanging out at your neighborhood pool. Every day brought with it your regular “pool rats”, or the kids who came to the pool rain or shine and didn’t leave until it was time to close. Although I made a record six “saves” my first summer on the job– in three years I luckily never had to perform CPR on anyone. My biggest lifesaving story was having to call 911 for a guy who scraped most of the skin off his shins while attempting to go off the diving board backwards–he inevitably got too close to the board, which left him bleeding all over my pool. During our first week of medical school I was required to pass the Basic Lifesaving (BLS) course yet again. This time, the prospect of using those skills became much more real. While on an overnight shift, I recently got my first chance to bring someone back.
When it rains, it pours. The Emergency Department was buzzing with energy as we had multiple critical traumas arriving within minutes of one another. I hung my white coat safely in the hallway (see my old post on how this lesson was learned) and gowned up ready for what was coming through the doors. Our patient’s heart had stopped. Knowing what was coming, I spoke up–can I do it? The next thing I know, I was standing on a foot stool. Given my short, petite frame of 5’3, I needed the additional footing to reach over the patient’s body to begin my compressions. It was strangely easier than those CPR dummies make it seem. “Fast and powerful, full recoil,” I thought to myself as flashbacks of my CPR course raced through my head. 60 seconds had not gone by before my body was covered in sweat. The trauma gowns, which work wonders in keeping your scrubs blood free, also make any physical exertion akin to exercising in a plastic trash bag. Sweat was starting to run down my face, fogging up my glasses. Two minutes seemed like twenty. Pulse check. It’s back! A strong heart beat returned. I stood back unable to mask my excitement. It was a tremendous feeling. The rest of the night was filled with less adrenaline and sweat, yet with just as much excitement. I checked off more milestones in my training. IV placements with no bloody mess. Pelvic exams. Perfecting my history taking and physical exams. I walked out of the hospital that morning just as the sun was rising. A new day.