My wife and I took a five hour First Aid/CPR/AED class from the Red Cross last weekend on our 21st wedding anniversary. That might seem like a funny day to take a First Aid Class but it makes all then sense in the world. You get to do something together on the day of your anniversary that might be crucial to resuscitate or save your partner if they become ill or are injured AND the class is short enough that you can still grab a romantic dinner afterwards!
This was brought home to me when the instructor explained that most people who call 911 don’t start CPR and assisted breathing after someone goes into cardiac arrest, even when someone explains how to do it on the phone. That’s a shocking revelation, since CPR and assisted breathing are the BEST thing you can do to help someone survive cardiac arrest and ensure they have a meaningful life afterwards.
After 4-8 minutes without oxygen, our instructor explained, a person’s brain and organs start to die. When you figure that urban EMS response times are about 9 minutes, what you do while you are waiting for EMS to show up is far more important than what they do afterwards. If you live in a less urban area or one with slower EMS response times, knowing CPR might be crucial to saving the life of a family member or friend.
What is CPR?
CPR, or Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, takes over for a stopped heart and pushes oxygenated blood through a patient’s body keeping their brain and organs alive until professional help can arrive. Together with assisted breathing, ie. mouth to mouth resuscitation, they help ensure that oxygenated blood keeps flowing to a patients brain and organs even when their heart has stopped beating and they’re not breathing.
When you perform CPR, you alternate between blowing air into a patient’s lungs and pushing down on their chest for 30 seconds. The pushing motion simulates the pumping that’s usually performed by a healthy heart and ensures that blood continues to flow throughout their body.
What’s an AED?
An AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, is a consumer version of the electronic paddles you see doctors and paramedics using to restart peoples hearts on TV shows. It’s basically a talking box, that senses the patient’s vital signs, tells you when to use CPR, and when to stand clear of the patient so it can administer a shock to restart the heart. I’d never seen one before this course and I was amazed. This could really save someone’s life, especially if EMS is slow to arrive. That said, if you don’t have an AED or aren’t trained to use it, don’t. CPR and mouth to mouth will keep your patient alive until help arrives, although taking an AED class is something I highly recommend.
Experiential Learning and Hands On Practice
The Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED Class I took included lecturer instruction, video instruction, and a significant amount of hands-on practice with human partners and CPR practice dummies. For me, the hands on experience is crucial because I retain information better that way and because you need to perform these skills in class in order to perform them in a crisis situation.
On that level, the Red Cross training we took was excellent and I came away feeling that I could use CPR, assisted breathing, and an AED on my wife or another person. I wish I had taken this course years earlier. It can mean so much.
How does a Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class compare with Wilderness First Aid?
The Red Cross Adult First Aid/CPR/AED course (5 hour) trains you to save a person’s lif’e in the first few minutes of a heart attack, cardiac arrest, drowning, stroke, choking incident, diabetic disorder, allergic reaction, heat exhaustion, or massive bleeding where it is assumed that professional EMT or Paramedic help will arrive in 15 minutes or less. Much less emphasis is put on first aid techniques like splinting bones, head/neck injury immobilization, performing a physical exam, recording patient vitals, and rewarming frozen limbs because it’s assumed that the patient will receive medical care for these at a hospital.
This Red Cross class provides three separate First Aid, CPR, and AED training certifications, renewable every 2 years, that meet the training needs of workplace responders, school staffs, healthcare providers and the general public. There is no written exam and class attendance is sufficient to obtain the certification.
A Wilderness First Aid Course (16 hours) focuses much more on assessing and stabilizing a patient for hours or days until rescuers can arrive in the backcountry. The training focuses on patients suffering from sprains, broken bones, head/neck injuries, hypothermia, heat exhaustion and allergic reactions, and includes significant segments on outdoor leadership and group management during a medical emergency. CPR, assisted breathing and AED use is not included in the Wilderness First Aid curriculum.
Wilderness First Aid courses provide a WFA certification, renewable every 2 years, that meet the needs of outdoor trip leaders. There is no written exam and class attendance is sufficient to obtain the certification. More in depth certifications are also available including Wilderness First Responder and Wilderness EMT, which include CPR training and require an passing grade on a written exam.
When I originally signed up to take this Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED class, I did it to fulfill a professional insurance requirement. However, it became clear to me very early on in the class, that taking it represented a much more personal investment that could save the life of my wife, a friend, or someone else in need. Realizing this really hit close to home, especially since my father passed away very recently from a heart attack. As I sat there, the instructor described key heart attack symptoms that I know my father experienced before his death, and which he could have sought aid for if he or my mother had put two and two together. Even more tragic, my dad had been a medical doctor for nearly 70 years: I just can’t help thinking that he could be alive today if he’d recognized what he was experiencing.
Knowing First aid and CPR can help you save the life of a loved one, or even yourself, if you’re aware of what’s happening. I’m glad that my wife and I took this class together last week, but I wish we’d taken it a long time ago.