So you’re sitting at home watching “Grey’s Anatomy” or “Code Black” or “Chicago Med,” or maybe you’re lucky enough to catch an old episode of “ER” on a triple-digit channel somewhere. A patient “codes” — goes unresponsive — and the actors jump into action and begin to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
What’s the first thing they do? Well, at least in my memory, someone yells “we have to give mouth-to-mouth!” They put their mouth on the patient’s mouth and start giving long, dramatic breaths to the dying patient. Chest compressions — pushing on the chest — often play second fiddle in pop culture representations of CPR.
The American Heart Association has something to say about that: chest compressions are the single most important part of CPR. Especially in adults, “mouth-to-mouth” is secondary. Mouth-to-mouth ventilations carry with them the stigma of potential transmission of a communicable disease and, for a lot of people, a major “yuck factor.” In fact, lay rescuers often hesitate to start CPR because they are debating with themselves over whether to put their mouth on a stranger’s mouth. The AHA’s response to this: go straight to the chest.
Since 2008, the AHA has been recommending “hands-only CPR” for lay rescuers who find themselves in a situation where CPR is required. Studies have shown this type of CPR (without mouth-to-mouth) to be almost as, if not just as, effective as doing chest compressions combined with mouth-to-mouth ventilations. The procedure is simple: call 911 and begin pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest.
In fact, in most jurisdictions around the country, when you call 911 in the case of an unresponsive individual, you will be instructed to do compressions only. The process can be taught in seconds: kneeling next to the individual, place the heel of one hand on the center of the chest, being careful not to press on the fragile tip of the breastbone. Next, place your other hand on top of your first hand and interlace your fingers. Lock your elbows and use your upper body weight to press to a depth of at least 2 inches at the rate of between 100-120 compressions per minute (as we all have probably heard by now, to the beat of the Bee Gees’ classic disco song “Staying Alive.”
Incidentally, if you’re not a fan of disco, there are countless other songs that have the correct beat for CPR. For a list of songs, go to https://play.spotify.com/user/americanheartassociation/playlist/.
Remember, CPR is not a guaranteed lifesaver, but it can drastically increase a person’s chances of survival. Taking action early, as soon as the individual becomes unresponsive (and without agonizing over whether you should go mouth-to-mouth), could be the difference between life and death.
For more information on hands-only CPR, including videos and survivor stories, go to www.heart.org/handsonlycpr.
Matt Lotti is the lead CPR instructor at Wilson Medical Center.