One of the most recognized actions of medical interventions is cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more commonly known as CPR. It seems to capture the whole of medical care in one process. From evaluation of the patient, to intervention for the patient, to communication with the team, and all the emotional rollercoasters that connect each step to your reaction; all play a role in the experience of saving a life. Knowing how to do this is the most critical.
CPR is taught through courses like Basic Life Support (BLS). When I stepped into my first class of basic life support, I only knew that chest compressions were going to be part of it. I had no idea how complex the process truly was. It is more than pushing hands down somewhere on a person’s chest when they appear to be unconscious. Correct CPR can be what saves that person’s life, and when done incorrectly, it could be fatal. Compressions must be timed perfectly, ambu bags must be used effectively, with a tight seal around the patient’s mouth, and, if in the community, 911 must be called in a timely fashion when possible. I have completed my BLS yearly since 2017, and as I reflect on what I have learned through these courses and my experience working as an LPN in the hospital, I almost chuckle at my naivety, and I have not even performed it on a real person yet.
The reality of the necessity of a yearly BLS course grows with time. The more often I go, the more I realize I need it. If I had only my course from 2017 to rely upon, when the time comes for me to use it, I would be in grave trouble, as would the person I am trying to help. I did my first course with nurses who had been taking the BLS course a long time, one for over ten years. She still welcomed pointers from the BLS instructor as she was astutely aware that things had changed over the course of those years, and she had to stay updated.
The medical field leaves no room for error, so when the time comes for CPR to be required, having an automatic reaction is critical. As part of my morning routine on shift, I check to ensure that my emergency equipment is present and working. The oxygen on the wall runs, the ambu bag is present, oxygen tubing is clean and accessible, and assorted sizes of intubation tubes are present. Then, when the time comes when someone does become unresponsive without a pulse, I can be ready. As the emotions and adrenaline hit, it is essential for my brain go into autopilot so I can focus on communicating with my team and evaluating my patient’s response. Grabbing the ambu bag, hooking up the oxygen tubing, and assessing vitals in a timely fashion allows that focus to continue, to increase the patient’s odds of survival. Every missed second becomes life or death, so I must know my next steps and have confidence in my decisions. This also applies to when I am away from the resources of the hospital and must improvise assistance for someone who is on the street, at the store, at a sporting event, or any other non-medical facility. Having a first aid kit in my vehicle, remaining aware of where my nearest health center is, keeping my phone charged when I go out, with 911 on speed dial are all ways that I can remain fully prepared for when any situation arises.
This height of emotions and intense situations does end, whether it be at shift change, or part way through a shift as things slow down to a manageable level, or even as the ambulance comes. When it does, the crash of adrenaline hits and it is time to cope. Having a plan for how to navigate this crash is another necessity in nursing. Having updated skills, awareness of the situation, resources like a first aid kit, 911 on speed dial, and a constant thread of communication with my team and family allows me to have clarity in my decisions during the adrenaline, but also comfort afterwards in knowing I made the right calls and courses of action.
CPR is an excellent indicator of what the medical field is like. Taking a course on basic life support can show what to expect in this career, and whether it is a good fit or not. I am finding my part in it, but I am confident that as I continue to update my skills, take care of myself and others, I can contribute where needed and fulfill my role on the team. This includes encouraging others, who hope to join the medical field, to take a BLS course to see it is a right fit for them. The ACLS Scholarship for Health Care Providers enables me to communicate this to others and acts as a reference point for those just starting their career path. Through this I can share what I found important in starting my journey, in the hopes to help another starting on the same path.