Over the past two weeks, I’ve attended classes to become certified in First Aid and CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation). As a co-leader of an Evanston Girl Scout troop, it’s required that at least one adult member of the troop is up-to-date on certification.
I’ll admit, I was hesitant to attend the classes. While the girls in our troop are absolutely worth the time and effort of the training, the idea of sitting through outdated videos depicting hypothetical emergency “scenarios” sounded as painfully depressing as a cold March in Illinois.
But then I learned about the AED device.
According to our instructor, Scott (a trained EMT and member of the Chicago Fire Department), the survival rate of “the average, everyday unconscious victim who receives only CPR” is 5 percent* at best. That same “average, everyday unconscious victim” whose situation is enhanced by an AED (automated external defibrillator) has a chance of survival beyond 70 percent**.
I’d heard of AED’s before. I’d seen them – occasionally – in airports and public areas. I’d never seen one used and I’ll admit I was terrified to be near one. After all, it shoots electrical currents through a victim’s body. Who am I to operate a device like that? I can’t even balance a checkbook.
As Scott made abundantly clear to our group, the AED’s we see in public are essentially idiot proof. They’re filled with detailed instructions (printed and audio), and, best of all, they’re designed to work only when the victim needs a jolt of electrical stimulation to the heart. In other words, if I mistakenly hook up the device to an individual who’s unconscious due to heat exhaustion (rather than a heart attack), an AED is designed to recognize the difference. According to Scott, the AED will only work when a victim’s heart is in a state of emergency. If someone's unconscious due to something like low-blood sugar levels, a fainting spell, or a head injury, an applied AED will recognize the victim's heart rhythm and automatically "deny" sending electrical currents.
I left the CPR course with my freshly signed certification card in my wallet and stopped by the Jewel-Osco on Chicago Avenue, where I needed to pick up a prescription. While I was waiting, I looked around the store for an AED. I couldn’t find one. What I did find were things like a do-it-yourself blood-pressure cuff (the one my kids beg to use whenever we’re there). I found the woman behind the Customer Service counter, who, when asked if there was an AED in the store, said, “You should check with the Osco folks about that. I’m not sure.” I found out that the woman who supervises the self-service checkout kiosks has an uncanny ability to check her smartphone and talk to customers. When I asked if the store has an AED, she said, “Sorry, we don’t sell anything like that here.”
I left my prescription behind the counter at Osco and went across the street to Whole Foods. When I asked the guy behind the Customer Service desk if there were any AED devices in the store, he mentioned three, then led me to the store’s manager, Bryan, who brought me over to the AED near the produce section. Bryan told me that managers at both of Evanston's Whole Foods locations are trained to use the AEDs, but agreed with me that the devices are designed to be used by anyone in an emergency.
As much as I wasn’t looking forward to my First Aid and CPR training, I’ll admit. I learned a lot more than I expected, and not just about what to do in an emergency situation.
*I checked a few sources to confirm these numbers, and this article in Science Daily seems to agree: click here. It states, "Currently, nearly 300,000 Americans suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year, and overall survival rates average only 5 percent." The article also speaks to a new method of CPR which is just being implemented: In the new method, one device (ResQPump) consists of a suction cup that attaches to the patient's chest. It includes a handle to manually lift the chest after each compression, stimulating blood flow. A second device (ResQPOD) connects to the patient's airway with a facemask or breathing tube and prevents air from rushing into the lungs while the first device raises the chest. Combined, the two create a greater vacuum in the chest, pumping blood to the heart and brain more effectively.