Preparedness is not a part-time endeavor.
Whether it’s in the home, at work, at play or in transit, some level of preparedness for the catastrophic can save a life. The American Heart Association reports that approximately 325,000 sudden cardiac arrests occur each year, affecting both 18-year-old student athletes and 65-year-old retired school teachers shoveling their driveways. With just over 10% surviving cardiac events and only one in ten leaving the hospital with full neurological functioning, more needs to be done to empower the family members, coworkers and friends who will have the greatest impact on the ultimate outcome for a victim of cardiac arrest.
The following scenario is based on my own experience.
When I was off duty a few years ago, I came upon a car that was stopped awkwardly at a stop sign in a rural part of my county. It was clear that something was not right. A quick investigation revealed an unconscious father in the passenger seat and a distraught and bewildered teenage son wandering around the car. The care that I provided was the same as what’s described below: I pulled the man from the vehicle, got him on his back on the ground and assessed his airway and pulse. Alone and on the side of the road, I was forced to ask the son to help me, and quickly taught him to perform chest compressions while I managed the airway with some basic medical supplies I always have in the car. (Preparedness is not a part time endeavor).
It’s my hope that by reading this scenario - you will be prepared if you ever find yourself in a similar circumstance.
The Scenario - The Road Trip Home from a Music Festival
The road trip had been epic up to this point. As if going to the music festival of your dreams wasn’t good enough, taking the 3-day road trip with your best friends was the icing on the cake. Three days of old stories, hypotheses about the future, and the radio serving a steady supply of tunes while junk food wrappers pile up in the wheel wells. Life is good.
As the gas tank slowly empties, you check Google Maps for the nearest gas station. You haven’t seen a rest stop for miles, just occasional gas stations, truck stops and convenience stores off distant exits with nothing but low density, rural housing communities for miles in every direction. As you take the barely marked exit, the bright sign for the gas station can be seen on what must be sixty foot tall stanchions extending high above the pine trees for easy visibility from the highway.
Not surprisingly, there is no traffic and no sign of civilization other than the tiny gas station up ahead. You can see the bathrooms are on the outside of the building, not your favorite situation, but when you have to go, you have to go! You race inside to get the key from the attendant. Your friends yell something as you cut around the corner towards the restroom, but all you hear is their accumulated laughter, not the actual comment. The door opens with a shove and the bathroom is as expected.
When all is said and done you are pleasantly surprised to find warm water working at the sink. With no paper towels in sight, you dry your hands on your jeans and saunter back around the building.
As you turn the corner, you realize that the scene you left moments before has changed dramatically. A pickup truck has parked at an odd angle across the parking lot behind your car. Your friends stand near the open passenger door staring in horror at something inside the cab. Your attention is diverted to the door to the gas station as a teenager, maybe 16 or 17 years old, runs from the tiny convenience store towards the truck. You hear him announce that the attendant is on the phone with 911, but he knows that the closest help is a good 30 minute drive away.
The Accident - Cardiac Arrest While Driving
You approach your friends and find them face to face with a middle aged man in jeans and a flannel shirt. His beard and collar are covered in vomit and his color is pale, almost blue. The teenager starts screaming that they were on the highway when his dad said his stomach was upset. They switched drivers a few miles down the road on the shoulder. As soon as they got back on the road, his father started vomiting uncontrollably and then went unconscious. He pulled off the first exit and ended up here.
What Would You Do?
The attendant poked his head out the door and screamed that help is on the way, but they won’t give him an ETA. You look at your friends as they stare back at you. You turn to see the boy has crouched down near the rear passenger wheel and is sobbing into his hands. What happens next is clearly up to you.
The Priorities - What Should You Do?
From the teenager’s account, his father has been unconscious for a few minutes at most. We know that early CPR has huge impacts on survival rates. The man needs an airway assessment and maybe chest compressions, but none of that can happen while he’s sitting in the truck. He needs to be moved to the ground, flat on his back so his airway can be assessed and CPR can be initiated if need be.
High quality CPR for this victim will include chest compressions at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute. Compressions need to be at least 2 inches in depth and allow for complete recoil so blood can flow into left ventricle before being sent back out into circulation. Once started, CPR will need to continue until help arrives or the victim shows signs of life. In this case, help is at least 10-15 minutes away and will likely arrive in the form of a Police Officer, hopefully with an AED in their patrol car. While the officer should be familiar with CPR, everyone at the scene will still be waiting for the ambulance.
Takeaways - Using the Past to Shape the Future
In my scenario, I never found out what the ultimate outcome or even the root cause of the cardiac arrest had been. What I do know is that no care was being delivered for precious minutes before I happened upon that scene. Maybe if the airway had been opened earlier, the victim never would have gone into cardiac arrest… I’ll never know. In a case like the one offered above, the patient will eventually be whisked away in an ambulance and you’ll be left at the gas station with more questions than answers. One question, capable of eating away at you inside that I hope no one ever has to live with is, "Did I do everything possible?”
I remember the look of bewilderment on the face of the teenager on the side of the road. He understood that something was wrong, but hadn’t realized how serious things had gotten. When I asked him if he could help me with CPR, I never knew if he understood that I was asking him avery complicated question: there was the question regarding the physical act of performing CPR, but also a very emotional question about his ability to do such a thing for his father. In retrospect, he, like so many other people out there, probably wasn’t prepared for the second piece, and really just nodded "yes” in response to the more literal version of the question. I sometimes wonder if performing CPR on his father helped him process the eventual outcome, whatever it may have been. Hopefully he can take solace in the fact that, despite a delay, we did everything possible given the circumstances.
The Mobilize Rescue Systems app was developed with not only the victim, but the rescuer in mind. Users of the app can have the confidence that they are offering any possible life-saving intervention that can be safely delivered by a lay rescuer. It was designed from the ground up to give hope to both the victim and the caregiver.
Learn how to manage the medical emergencies included in this scenario:
How to see if someone is breathing: Airway Assessment
How to Provide Chest Compressions: CPR
Mobilize Rescue System was created to provide all the knowledge you need, right on your phone and will never need cellular connection or WiFi to work. The Compact Mobilize Rescue System is perfect for any road trip you might take.
Have you ever encountered a similar medical emergency? We’d love to hear your story!