Would you like to be able to save a life? You actually can. CPR (CardioPulmonary Resuscitation) can literally mean the difference between life and death.

The heart can stop beating in an organized, effective way for all sorts of reasons. Young people can drop dead if they are hit by a baseball in the chest; hockey players can collapse on the bench or the ice during a game or practice; someone can fall out of a boat and drown… What these and so many other cases all have in common is that the heart has stopped pushing blood forward and the person is dead unless you do something.

You need to call 911 at once. Seconds do count. With every minute delay the chance we can bring someone back from a cardiac arrest drops by 10 per cent. You can do the math. By 10 minutes down, the chances are really dismal.

What can you do to improve those odds? Chest compressions while you’re waiting for help to arrive. Don’t worry about doing them perfectly. If someone lets you compress their chest, they really need it.

Not doing chest compressions means death. Even doing bad compressions means a chance for them to survive, so go for it. We all have broken someone’s ribs while doing CPR. It just means that they’ll be sore for a while but they won’t be dead. I think the trade off is a reasonable one, don’t you?

You place your hands on the breast bone in the middle of the chest between the nipples and press down. Try to push down at least 2 cm in a regular adult. Do it as fast as you can. We aim for about 100 compressions per minute but even if you can’t get that rate, you’re still making a difference. You can hum the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive to keep you on track as the beat is close enough.

Don’t stop until the person wakes up or help arrives.

You don’t need to do mouth to mouth. You can consider it in a child or someone who has drowned but doing the chest compression alone will draw air into the chest and can make a difference.

Learn CPR! Go on line! Take a course! Teach your kids CPR! They could even save your life should something happen to you. There’s no excuse not to learn when doing it can make such a huge difference and it’s so easy to learn how to do.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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