JENNIFER O'LEARY COLUMN
IT was a life-changing experience, one nobody ever wants to go through but which you have to ready to deal with when it happens.
Cardiac arrest is, by definition, something which happens unexpectedly, necessitating a fast and composed response. As a physical education teacher in a secondary school and a coach of various sports within it, the responsibility I feel for my students’ safety can often be overwhelming and alarming, especially when I take them away from the confines and safety of their school for games or competitions. I have always been aware of the trust people place in me as a teacher when I take ownership over these athletes.
The first-aid bag is always my trusted sidekick, I constantly remind asthmatics to take their inhalers and looking after those who are injured is a top priority for me.
However, my whole attitude towards student/player wellbeing under my care in the PE or sporting setting was completely over shadowed a few weeks ago when I found myself performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a woman who had fallen ill very suddenly and had gone into sudden cardiac arrest.
An eye-opener it certainly was, but more than that it was a major realisation of how easily instances like this can happen within a school, a club, a community, in fact anywhere and more alarming was the fact that it can happen to young children as well as healthy adults.
I found myself questioning how equipped I really was for dealing with life-threatening situations.
While I have dealt with blood injuries, breaks and concussions in the past, nothing could have prepared me for administering life saving resuscitation to a real person. No amount of training or refresher courses can fully prepare you for the real thing.
For me it was all a blur and an action I performed with the help of others almost as an out-of-body experience. Working on adrenaline, panic and fear it’s amazing what you can do if someone’s life depends upon it.
I began to work on autopilot, thankful for all the decisions and actions that were taken so rapidly before I got on the scene – the life-saving support.
And while the rest of the week that followed still remains a daze and a series of seven days that seemed to last a lifetime, it is uplifting to report that the woman is alive and recovering well. It certainly makes you feel so good, despite the taxing influence it had on you at the time.
Following this serious experience, it has definitely intensified my awareness of how important my role is as a PE teacher and coach is. But, it’s also a responsibility that many people should be willing and able to cope with no matter what profession they pursue in life. Who knows when something like this can happen?
Sometimes there are no warning signs. It highlighted for me how important it is for coaches, parents, for anyone to know basic CPR, to be trained in using an automated external defibrillator (AED) if available and having the awareness to act if you are ever in a situation like I found myself in with many others a few weeks ago.
Are you a coach? Do you work with young people? Are you part of a workforce? Do you play a sport? Now, are you aware of and are you trained in how to administer CPR?
It is no secret that cardiac arrest exists as a problematic and unexpected scenario in sport. You can be the fittest and healthiest individual, but without any warning a day you thought would never happen, happens.
Sudden cardiac arrest can creep up on you without showing any symptoms beforehand. Quite recently, former Newcastle United player David Ginola went into cardiac arrest at the age of 49.
We have all heard of the sad circumstances that surrounded the death of talented Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen and there have been many cases of very young football and camogie players who have died suddenly from an arrest such as Wexford teen Ciara Ryan earlier this year. It’s vital that those in close proximity are in a position to deal with it when it occurs.
Since administering CPR, I’ve found myself constantly Googling reasons why or how this could possibly happen. Searching for answers, but also refreshing my knowledge on how I should act. It’s frightening to know that survival rates decline by 7-10 per cent for every minute defibrillation is delayed. Every second and minute is crucial. Acting fast, calling for help, checking for signs of breathing and a pulse and starting CPR if an AED is not available are basic steps in helping to save a life. Being as prepared as possible is key.
We all have a responsibility when it comes to saving a life. It’s important to be brave and act fast. Attempting to help is better than waiting for someone else to take the lead if no-one qualified is present. Someone’s chance of survival could one day be in your hands, how equipped are you?
It’s a scary reality but a message I feel is so important to highlight. It’s a shame how we sometimes need a life-changing experience to take notice of actions we should all be confident and aware of in our every-day lives.
Ask someone you know today, do you know CPR, are you trained in using life saving equipment such as an AED, Google it or WikiHow the topic, show an interest. I’ve learned that you should always expect the unexpected.
For more information on this topic visit the Irish Red Cross website on www.redcross.ie