January 2009

Hilton Head Fire & Rescue’s CPR Training and First Aid Class: Learning To Save Lives Was Never So Cheap, So Comfortable and So Easy

Author: Craig Hysell

My dummy wouldn’t breathe. Here I was, kneeling on the ground, hunched over my dummy as he lay prostrate before me. He stared at the ceiling. His eyes blank and lifeless, a plastic bag wrapped over his mouth and stuffed down his throat to keep me from getting cooties… or worse. It was obvious my dummy cared about me. Why? Why couldn’t I get him to breathe? Why was my intendance failing this caring, cootie-protecting piece of plastic, shaped like a human torso? Why! I bent down and puffed twice into the bag again. Nothing.

This was getting serious. If something didn’t happen soon, my dummy would die! My technique was awful. Breathe, damn you. Breathe!

“If you’re having trouble filling your dummy’s lungs with air,” said one of the CPR instructors, “try tilting the head back further. It will open up the airway better.” How kind of the instructor to talk to everybody in the class instead of singling me out as the only inept dummy reviver of the bunch. I did as I was instructed, held my dummy’s nose and pushed two full breaths into my dummy’s lungs. His torso lifted off the ground as his lungs filled with air! Success! I looked up, seeking some recognition, wanting to share my power to give breath, where before there was no breath, with others in the class! They were all busy with their dummies. Oh well…

Now, what do I do next?

The Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue’s CPR Training and First Aid class is both an inexpensive and rewarding way to spend a few hours of your time. Through American Heart Association video instruction, hands-on application and personal instruction from course mediators, you will learn how to perform CPR on adults, children and babies, as well as what steps to take in an emergency situation and what to do if someone is choking. I went the extra mile and took an AED (automated external defibrillator) course. None of these situations or techniques is anything like in the movies. Baywatch was a show of lies!

Once the tension of being in a classroom full of strange people passed and I got used to talking out loud to a dummy shaped like a human being who had no legs, the class actually got exciting. Ten minutes into the course, it became apparent that although this was practice in a comfortable, controlled environment, complete with protective cootie bags and knee pads, I could one day be in a situation where somebody’s life lay in my hands.

I imagined myself on a surf trip with my friends. We were in a secluded spot in a foreign country (which happens frequently on such trips) when one of us got into trouble. I was the only one who knew CPR and, therefore, the only person who had a chance of saving my friend’s life. The class quickly moved from nervous humor for me to full-on attention and engagement.

For no charge* and three to four hours of time, participants learn how to save a human being—a meager investment for a life, especially for a friend or a family member… or your child. Far and away the most terrifying experience of the class (for me) was learning how to give CPR to babies, as well as practicing the technique used to save them from choking. Every time I bent over that little baby dummy in a diaper, I kept seeing my beautiful, baby niece’s face turning blue, eyes wide and unblinking, parents depending on me to bring her back from the dead or keep hope alive until help arrived. I had to push the image from my mind and pay attention to what to do or risk freaking out in class. And I am not a freak out kind of fella.

“How well does all this translate in a real-time situation?” I asked one of the instructors halfway through the class. He looked at me and stated in the gentle, stern, matter-of-fact poise of a veteran rescue worker, “There are times out there when even we get rattled. Doing the best you can do is better than doing nothing at all.” Again, the levity of what we were learning fell over me. Was the instructor being encouraging or merely stating the nuts and bolts of reality? Once more, I felt a long way away from the movies…

“What you get out of this class is so valuable,” says Cinda Seamon, Public Education Officer for the fire department. “We’ve had the public save lives because of CPR. So many people tell me, ‘I feel good about this,’ after the class. There is no better buy!” Especially for the people who get to keep living because of a person’s CPR and first aid knowledge…

When the class ended, I was one of the last people to leave. I looked back for some reason, I have no idea why. I saw all the dummies lying there. I thought of everything I had learned. I watched the instructors—the guys who get called up when the world turns upside down—looking dutiful and confident in their uniforms, begin packing away the gear that may help me one day save a life. My eyes stopped on the baby dummy again. I saw my niece’s face. I stood in the doorway, caught between feelings of empowerment and hopes that I would never have to apply my new skills.

Then I considered something and have gone on with my life happily ever since: Doing something is better than doing nothing at all. In my mind’s eye, my niece finally did what she has ever since she was born. She smiled at me.

Checkout the fire department’s website at hiltonheadislandsc.gov for a list of class times and courses, or call Cinda at (843) 682-5141 with any questions about schedules, fees and courses. She’s always ready to help.

*Four dollars gets you a certification card upon completion of the class, $2 gets you a how-to book, $10 gets you the book and a CD, $14 gets you the whole shebang. But, if you don’t want any of those things, the class is free!

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