Staying Alive


Attending an intermediate life-support training day yesterday made me feel somewhat better that I was no longer ‘basic’, although it made me hanker for ‘advanced’. Yet to achieve this upper level I would have to spend two days attempting to resuscitate plastic dolls. Not only an excessive time input, but rather depressing, as I’ve discovered that you can never revive the dummies, however hard you work on them.

Way back, what we practised on were much more sophisticated pieces of kit:  living human beings, or at least recently living. We read the how to books on resus; the practical learning came when anyone was unfortunate enough to throw themselves onto our mercy; or rather more accurately, collapse onto our mercy. Years later, we moved on to very basic plastic dummies, such as the ones being used when I used to examine for the British Red Cross. These ones didn’t have a pulse, decent throat to puff oxygen down nor changeable rhythms, like the bodies beforehand or the sophisticated dummies available now. They simply had a mouth at the front for you to blow into and holes at the back to let the air out. Some of the people I was examining felt that these dummies were very realistic. I asked one candidate what they’d do at a real arrest if they tried to inflate the chest but blowing in the mouth produced no rise of the chest. He replied that he’d turn the body over and blow in the little air holes in the neck. Another described the circulation as going out of the heart, down one leg, then back up the other. Even in a Harry Potter world this would be tricky.

The CPR rhythm is the same as Staying Alive by the Bee Gees and Nellie the Elephant – but you need to stop after counting 30, so you can get your two rescue breaths in. If, while singing and pummelling, you go past ‘trump, trump, trump’ and have launched into ‘The head of the tribe was calling…’  your patient will become an unfortunate shade of navy. Oddly enough, frowned on.

One of the ladies of the course had an interesting little dancelike wiggle as she commanded the proceedings from the defibrillator box. Add this to my singing Nellie the Elephant, tap time on the oxygen cylinder and we’d have a fantastic rhythm going that we’d use about once every five years; more only if we were really unlucky.

Our ILS trainer had clearly attended a lot of arrests, including one on a plane when the man next to him arrested. Unfortunate for him, but distinctly lucky for the other bloke, who survived. The moral of the story is to choose your aerial companions carefully. Only ever sit next to someone who’s humming Staying Alive.

They train us in teams so that we’ll work well together. As luck would have it, I was trained with x-ray, which is three buildings away in the basement. If one my patients arrests, I’ll have to manhandle their carcase onto a trolley, run across a road and two car parks, down a corridor, shove the trolley into a lift, whistle round a corner to find the rest of my team. Pressing the emergency buzzer instead might avoid my trolley-flight induced cardiac arrest half-way across the second car park. Probably fatal, as no-one would understand me as I croaked out with my final self-initiated breath that I needed Nellie the Elephant.

Perhaps I will consider the next level of resus. I’m hoping for useful advanced skills like trolley sprinting, three part harmony or how to roll patients over to get to the three little holes.

Alison Gardiner 2013


About alisongardiner1

Writer of YA series of books. Broadcaster/podcaster Litopia After Dark.
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