While working as a water aerobics instructor for the YMCA, I’m required to be certified in CPR, First Aid and Oxygen. Honestly, did I think I will ever be performing CPR on anyone in the pool, let alone a family member? Actually, never. But, thank God for my training.
A Normal Day
As usual, Friday, September 19, 2014 is just a normal day. Riding in the car, my mother, father and I were driving downtown to City Hall. Afterwards, we’re going shopping to buy bras for my mother. Mom is in the front passenger seat. Dad, who is 89-years-old, is in the back seat behind me. All the while, we are laughing and joking about the expense of bras and how many mom should purchase.
Recognizing an Emergency
Taking the exit ramp to downtown, I ask my father a question. For some reason, he doesn’t answer me right away. Naturally, I look in the rearview mirror. Confused, I see his head fall back as though he’s gone to sleep. Jokingly I ask, “Are you taking a nap on me?” He doesn’t answer. “Dad,” I yell. Still, no response. Louder, I again yell, “Dad.” Suddenly, a haunting sound begins to come out of his mouth. He’s gurgling. Horrified, I recognize what’s happening. He’s going into sudden cardiac arrest. Instantly, my CPR training from work takes over. I didn’t even think to refrain from going into action.
Immediately, I look for the first safe place to pull over. The City Market parking lot is just ahead. Whipping into the lot, I put the car into park and jump out. The car engine continues to run. Quickly opening his door, I assess him for responsiveness, breathing and a pulse. Horrifyingly, his eyes are in a dead stare. He’s not breathing. There is no pulse.
Grabbing my cell phone, I try to call 911. Unfortunately, I learn a very valuable lesson. Two fingers will NOT open a cell phone. Frantically, I look around and see a woman across the street who is talking on her phone. I scream for her to call 911. Hastily, I grab dad with both hands and try to pull him out of the car and onto the ground. However, at this point, I can’t move him. In fact, he’s dead weight. Quickly, I glance around for help.
Looking up, I notice a man walking across the parking lot. He looks directly at me. At the top of my lungs, I yell for him, “Please help me get my father out of the car and onto the ground.” Shockingly, he does nothing but stare at me. Strolling over to his black truck, he places one foot upon the runner. From that position, he stands and watches me. Desperately, I plead again for him to help me. Nevertheless, he does nothing. Frustrated, I scan the surrounding area. Thankfully, a man and woman are walking through the parking lot. Yelling loudly again for help, they come running over to assist me. Together, we pull dad out of the car and onto the ground. Immediately, I begin CPR chest compressions on him.
Fortunately, the top floor of the City Market building is host to the local police training academy. As fate would have it, someone is looking out the window and notices the commotion in the parking lot. Quickly, the CPR trainer is notified that someone is in trouble outside and needs help. Katie, the academy CPR instructor, rushes to help me. Immediately, she instructs me to continue to breathe for my father as she takes over performing compressions.
Meanwhile, my terrified mother is standing near the trunk of the car watching this whole ordeal. With her hand covering her mouth, she stands alone crying. Unfortunately, I cannot help her. My focus is on dad. Within minutes, the EMS team and police both arrive and take over. For the first time, I’m free to go to my mother and comfort her.
Suddenly, people are everywhere. Amazingly, someone has turned off my car engine. The car keys are placed on the dash board. Frightened, and with my arm wrapped around my mother’s shoulder, we watch the EMS team frantically work to revive my father. “No pulse,” I hear one of them say. They place a machine over his chest that looks like a bridge. Automatic, consistent compressions begin. It looks as though the machine is pushing through his chest all the way to the ground. Even more, it feels like it is taking forever before someone finally says, “We have a pulse.” Hearing this, I take a relieving breath.
Filled with hope, we watch dad being put onto a gurney and placed into the ambulance. We’re told they are going to first stabilize him. Afterwards, we are to follow the ambulance to the ER. Surprisingly, I’m calm and collected enough to drive my car. Mom sits in the passenger seat. Anxiously, we wait for them to stabilize dad and pull out of the parking lot. Fifteen minutes pass by. Nothing is happening. Thus, my mind tells me something has gone wrong. In addition, no one is coming over to our car to tell us anything. We’re left to imagine what’s going on inside the ambulance.
Eventually, the ambulance slowly begins to move. To my shock, there are no flashing red lights, nor have they turned on the siren. As terror ensues, my mind begins to race about what has happened. Trying frantically to remain calm, I call my husband on the cell phone and tell him I think my father has died. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they be flashing the red lights and blowing the siren. Looking at my mother, I wonder how I’m going to tell her dad is gone.
Arriving at the ER, we see dad being rushed into a trauma room. Quickly, mom and I follow behind. He’s lying on the gurney, hooked up to all kinds of equipment. Furthermore, he’s not breathing on his own. There’s a tube in his mouth. Subsequently, his chest is rising up and down but not by his own breath. Intently, I watch him for any signs of life, but he makes no sounds nor movement. Like bees to a hive, nurses and doctors surround his bed. I’m scared that I’m literally watching my father die.
Ever so gently, a man approaches and places his hand on my mother’s shoulder. “I’m Pastor John” he says, “I’ll be staying by your side.” Feeling his peaceful nature, she grabs his hand. During all the commotion, the paramedics need to ask some questions. Thus, I leave mom and go into another room. Immediately, I’m informed that dad has suffered a massive cardiac arrest and is in grave condition. Unfortunately, they are not sure he will survive. As a result, I’m instructed by the head paramedic to call all the family members I need to contact. And so, I call my brother who lives 14 hours away in Alabama. Dropping everything, he tells me he is on his way.
Touch and Go
Agonizing hours pass while dad is in the trauma unit. Finally, he is stabilized and transported to the intensive care unit. Three exhausting days pass. However, dad is still stable and fighting for his life. Even so, the decision now is whether or not he can breathe on his own. The ICU doctor decides it’s time to remove the breathing tube. At this point, dad will either breathe on his own or not. As the medical team steps into the room, we step out and wait.
What probably is a matter of minutes, feels like an eternity. Finally, the doctor approaches us with good news. Dad is breathing on his own. Unfortunately, though, he’s extremely weak. However, he’s vitals are stable. We’re informed a heart specialist, Dr. Sacket, has been called to assist on dad’s case.
After performing a thorough examination, Dr. Sacket concludes dad’s heart ejection factor is down to 25%, which is dangerously low. A pacemaker/defibrillator implant can improve his heart function up to 60%. Unfortunately, Dr. Sacket has never implanted one in an 89-year-old before. However, with dad’s vital signs being so strong, he feels he has a good chance for survival. The question now, is whether or not dad can withstand the operation.
It’s the next day, Saturday morning. Dr. Sacket has come in on his day off to do the procedure. An hour and a half pass. Finally, the doctor enters the waiting room and tells us dad is very weak but he came through the operation okay. His vital signs are stable but it’s going to be a long recovery for him. More importantly, the pacemaker/defibrillator is working fine and keeping his heart in rhythm.
While in rehabilitation, weeks pass as dad continues to daily improve. Coupled with immediate CPR, dad’s psychological function has remained remarkably intact. He’s communicating with us very well. However, he doesn’t remember anything beyond Friday while sitting and laughing in the back seat of my car. He is completely unaware he has suffered a cardiac arrest.
Studies show, in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, a victim’s chance of survival falls 7 to 10 % for every minute CPR is delayed until that person receives defibrillation. What’s most important, CPR buys the person “time” allowing the professionally trained personnel to arrive and do their job.
Interestingly enough, anyone can learn the basic CPR steps which are 1. Recognize an emergency, 2. Check surroundings for safety, 3. Assess for responsiveness, breathing and pulse, 4. Call 911 and 5. begin CPR. Contact your local American Red Cross or YMCA for CPR classes offered.
In conclusion, immediate CPR gave my father the gift of enjoying three more Christmas holidays, three more birthdays and three more wedding anniversary celebrations before his body finally wore out at age 93. Honestly, I believe every person, both young and old need to learn how to perform CPR. The life you save might be someone very close to you.