Dan Szczesny wonders how he would respond in a real emergency.
Fortunately, the infant whose little chest I am pumping with quick, two-fingered compressions is not real. This little guy is our manikin infant and we are taking a Child and Infant CPR and Safety Course. We call our baby manikin Henry.
The instructor, a kind but hardened volunteer, is using a video to help us get the rhythm of the compressions correct: 30 pushes, then two breaths, 30 pushes, then two breaths, on and on.
In the video, a man from the American Heart Association dressed in a blue jumpsuit is in a bare room working on his own baby manikin. The actors in the video walk us through the whole process, first for toddlers, then for infants.
Make sure the area is safe. Even in the classroom, the instructor makes us look left and right as though Henry is laying on a busy highway.
Tap the baby or gently shake him. I wasn’t sure about this part. I suppose you have to make sure you don’t start giving CPR to a toddler at the playground who just happens to be asleep.
Check to see if they’re breathing. In the video the man spends ten seconds looking up and down the baby. Our instructor says that maybe we can cut that to five seconds.
Yell for help. Call 911. Have somebody get an AED. Wait a minute! An AED, by the way, is an Automated External Defibrillator. You see them in malls, schools and a lot of other public places. I ask the instructor what I’d do if I have no cell phone reception and there is no AED available.
She gives me a hard look, like she’s not sure if I’m just being difficult. But the fact is, I plan on spending a lot of time with my daughter outside, on the trails, in the mountains. When I was working on my book, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, with my foster daughter, Janelle, we spent many wonderful hours solo hiking in back country far from any cell signal or AED. We learned some basic first aid and survival skills, of course, because at a minimum I wanted her to be able to get out of there on her own if she had to.
But with a little one, the whole equation changes. I explain this to the instructor, who gives it a long moment of thought.
“Well,” she finally says, “you’d have to keep yelling for help, hope someone comes along, and just continue CPR as long as possible.”
The instructors in the video point out that chest compressions, even on a toddler, are not easy and it takes concentration. You get tired quickly. But even just thinking about how or why we might need these skills is enough to make me hyperventilate. I’m certain in the field, in a real emergency, there would be enough adrenaline roaring through my veins that I’d be able to keep things going for a while.
The instructor tells us stories about first responders who work on people so long that their palms develop blisters. She also tells us that broken ribs, especially in kids and babies are common.
“But better to have broken ribs and be alive,” she says. I can’t argue with that, but watching the actors in the video calmly follow all the proper steps and bring their infant back from the brink with perfectly practiced CPR techniques does make me wonder if I could do that. Or would it be a total melt-down freak-out?
There are more classes coming up, labor classes and car-seat inspections, feeding and even baby massage. But I doubt there will be anything more uncomfortable than putting your lips over the nose and mouth of a tiny baby manikin and silently praying that this is one skill I will never, ever have to use.