Several years ago, a nurse friend was with her boyfriend at a concert hall when he collapsed with no heartbeat or breathing. She called for 911, started CPR and asked for an AED (automatic external defibrillator) , which is located in most offices and public buildings. An AED is a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use (even for a lay person with training), medical device that can analyze the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock, or defibrillation, to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.
However, the concert staff didn’t know where it’s AED was.
My friend continued to deliver mouth to mouth an chest compressions while a crowd gathered, some of whom were physicians who told her to stop because it was hopeless.
Finally, an ambulance arrived and took the boyfriend to a local hospital. He not only survived but was discharged 3 days later in good condition and determined to start a healthier lifestyle.
So I was stunned to read an April 21, 202 New York Post article “NY issues do-not-resuscitate guideline for cardiac patients amid coronavirus” (Covid 19) that said New York state had just issued “a drastic new guideline urging emergency services workers not to bother trying to revive anyone without a pulse when they get to a scene, amid an overload of coronavirus patients.” (Emphasis added)
While paramedics were previously told to spend up to 20 minutes trying to resuscitate a person in cardiac arrest, the new guideline was deemed “necessary during the COVID-19 response to protect the health and safety of EMS providers by limiting their exposure, conserve resources, and ensure optimal use of equipment to save the greatest number of lives.’’
First responders were outraged and their union leader said “Our job is to bring patients back to life. This guideline takes that away from us.”
Earlier this month, the Regional Emergency Services Council of New York had issued a new guideline that said cardiac arrest patients whose hearts can’t be restarted at the scene should no longer be taken to the hospital for further life-saving attempts because the city hospitals had been “inundated with dying coronavirus patients to the point where there are frequently no ICU beds.”
One paramedic acknowledged that only a small percentage of people in cardiac arrest-3 or 4 out of 100-are brought back to life through CPR and other aggressive interventions such as drugs and hospitalization but insisted that “for those three or four people, it’s a big deal.”
On April 22 and just hours after the initial New York Post article was published, the new guidelines were rescinded. New York City’s Fire Department and first responders never adopted the no-revival directive from the state and kept using the traditional 20-minute policy.
WOULD YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO IF SOMEONE COLLAPSES WITH NO HEARTBEAT OR BREATHING?
When I started as a nurse in many decades ago, we were trained in CPR and taught how to use AMBU bags (mask, valve and self-inflating bag) to breathe for patients in arrest or distress in place of mouth to mouth resuscitation. AMBU bags are now standard equipment on ambulances and other rescue services.
Over the years, techniques for CPR changed especially in 2008 when the American Heart Association released new recommendations that bystanders can skip mouth to mouth resuscitation and use “Hands-Only CPR” to help an adult who suddenly collapses:
“In Hands-Only CPR, bystanders dial 9-1-1 and provide high-quality chest compressions by pushing hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest.”
Now, the Covid 19 pandemic has changed CPR guidelines.
As the April 16, 2020 Notre Dame Fire Department concisely explains on pandemic-modified CPR guidelines for bystanders:
“Bystander CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) improves the likelihood of an individual’s survival from cardiac arrest occurring outside of the hospital. However, coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. If a rescuer breathes into a cardiac arrest individual’s mouth, there will likely be an exchange of respiratory droplets. Household members who have been exposed to the individual at home should not hesitate to attempt life-saving rescue measures.
A non-household bystander who attempts to rescue a cardiac arrest individual should wear a face mask or cloth over his/her mouth and nose and place a face mask or cloth over the mouth and nose of the individual to reduce the risk of transmission.
In the case of an adult in cardiac arrest, lay rescuers should perform at least hands-only CPR. For children, lay rescuers should perform chest compressions and consider mouth-to-mouth ventilation, if willing and able, given the higher incidence of respiratory arrest in children.
To perform Hands-Only CPR, you place your hands in the center of the chest and pump hard and fast at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
If an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, please proceed with opening the AED and following the automated prompts to initiate life-saving intervention. Defibrillation is not expected to be a highly aerosolizing procedure. If an AED is not available, please proceed with Hands-Only CPR.
For all cardiac related emergencies, EMS (911) should be called…For more information, refer to the American Heart Association’s interim CPR guidance.
As a nurse, I have participated in many instances of cardiac or respiratory arrest and it’s always stressful. However, the joy of participating in saving someone’s life is indescribable. And even when we were unsuccessful, we had the consolation of knowing that we did everything we could for that person.
I encourage everyone to take a course to learn CPR. To find such a course, you can contact your local hospital or go to the American Heart Association’s Find A Course or to the Red Cross website.
And I personally thank the courageous New York Fire Department and first responders for upholding the standards of care for all their patients.