Earlier this week I took a first aid/CPR course offered through the Red Cross, because, as I bizarrely and inadequately explained to the instructor in front of the entire class, “Zombies.” It’s clearly something I should have done a long time ago, as it turns out I was woefully uneducated about the basics. For instance, I would have sworn that hitting someone on the back was an outdated, wives-tale method of helping a choking victim — you know, sort of like slathering butter on a burn. Wrong! You’re supposed to hit them! (Well, technically you’re supposed to bend them forward, use the heel of your hand to deliver five forceful back-blows between the shoulder blades, then switch to five abdominal thrusts, but maybe you can also smack them around a little if you don’t like them very much.) I also learned that my first instinct when presented with a roll of gauze is to instantly drop it on the floor and make a weird Chewbacca moan when it unravels like toilet paper tracked out of a restroom, which doesn’t seem super helpful in terms of helping someone who’s geysering blood all over the place unless the victim is at least mildly entertained by my antics in their final moments.

The part of the class that made the biggest impact on me (aside maybe from when the instructor demonstrated how if someone has something awful protruding out of their eyeball you’re supposed to cover the other eye too so the mutilated eye isn’t tempted to move around and make the injury worse and the whole time he had a pair of scissors pointing at his eye and I was like AHHHH BE CAREFUL I’M NOT GOOD WITH GAUZE) was the CPR section, because I had no idea how hard it is. I knew about the chest compressions, but I had never actually practiced them before. A CPR manikin lets you get a sense of how much physical pressure it takes to push the required two inches deep and no shit, it’s straight-up exhausting, especially since you’re supposed to do 30 of them at a rate of 100 per minute before switching to the two rescue breaths, which is like stopping a high-intensity cardio workout in order to blow up a balloon. Oh, and the instructor informed us that in real life, the compressions would likely get easier as you go on account of the rib and sternum cartilage breaking (“You’ll hear it go!” he said, cheerily) and maybe some bones to boot, but you’re not supposed to worry about that since being dead probably sucks more than having a sore chest. We did several rounds of attempting to resuscitate our vaguely porny-looking plastic torsos and afterwards I gasped “Wow, this isn’t how it looks in the movies at ALL!” which … really, brain? The zombies thing wasn’t stupid enough?

Anyway, it was all obviously very useful stuff and if you haven’t refreshed your training lately I thought the Red Cross did a great job (the course I took was called Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED, but they also have an online version that’s CPR/AED only). I suppose this is the first class I’ve ever taken where I fervently hope I am never called upon to demonstrate anything I learned, including the trainer directive to avoid reassuring a victim of any outcome you can’t know. In other words, you’re not supposed to say “You’re going to be okay.” I don’t know, I think if someone was terrified I would tell them that. They probably wouldn’t believe me, what with my gauze-fumbling and nervous Walking Dead chatter (“I am virtually certain that you, like a certain main character portrayed two weeks ago, are totally going to survive this season, despite how things look at the moment!”) and all, but I’d say it.


23 Responses to “Stayin’ alive”

  1. Amy on November 5th, 2015 10:35 am

    I was a lifeguard in high school and college — back in the 90s and I’m sure a lot has changed in terms of the techniques. So I should retake the courses — this post is a good reminder, thank you! I only had to put the skills to work once when a lady at a neighboring table in a restaurant was choking. Scariest thing ever — at first it looked like she and her friend were fighting because they were both standing up and the choking lady was kind of waving her arms around. But nope, choking. And I felt kind of like a doofus afterward, but in the moment, you just jump up and act on the training, which I think they tell you in the courses, at least they used to. Anyway, good for you for taking the classes.

  2. Ginger on November 5th, 2015 10:42 am

    I took a first aid/CPR training years ago as a job requirement. The hard surface floor did such a job on my knees that I thought I might need first aid in order to stand up again. I don’t remember all the instructions now, and many have changed, but I know that I could do something which is usually better than doing nothing.

  3. Kristen on November 5th, 2015 10:47 am

    I laughed out loud at your first paragraph! I love you and I can’t tell you how excited I get to see a post from you. I’m glad you’re back. :)

  4. JudithNYC on November 5th, 2015 11:18 am

    I learned CPR decades ago and I too was surprised by how hard it was. I have never had to use it and now that I am old I know that I will never try. This will sound selfish but after recently reading how this young woman in NJ tore an artery (and died) when trying to resuscitate someone I would be too scared to try. Plus I don’t think I would be effective. Lucky for me and those around me,in this city I bet there would be a bunch of people more capable than me at any given situation and 911 paramedics have an awfully quick response, at least in my experience.

    PS I think my contribution would be “Everything is going to be OK.” on and on and on. :(

  5. Julie on November 5th, 2015 1:59 pm

    Good for you, I work in an emergency room and the patients we get who get bystander CPR, before the paramedics, PD, or FD get there seem to do better. So it’s great you would be able to help. Enjoying your blogging, thanks!

  6. Alison on November 5th, 2015 3:54 pm

    Yay! New recommendations too. I loved Station Eleven. I’ll put Eeny Meany on my list. I’ll second the Anastasia Brow wiz plug. It’s my favorite so far. Also, I have a similar speaker. I’m not sure if your version has this feature, but mine “talks” to me – pairing, low battery, etc. I left it on in the kitchen one night while my husband was out of town and woke up to the sound of a man talking somewhere in the house. Instant panic. And then I realized it was just the speaker saying “low battery” at one minute intervals. I’m a moron obviously, but fair warning.

  7. Alex on November 5th, 2015 11:11 pm


  8. Kim on November 6th, 2015 4:15 am

    You were among the five or so people I thought of as TWD episode ended two weeks ago. That fuckery.

  9. A. on November 6th, 2015 6:53 am

    So, you think You Know Who is still alive, too? And how do you feel about that? (I’m 90 percent sure and I sure hope it’s true because that person DID NOT get a good enough send off to die and leave us! Fingers crossed!)

  10. Sarah on November 6th, 2015 7:16 am

    Awesome post – it made me laugh out loud.

  11. Shawna on November 6th, 2015 7:53 am

    I’m a First Aid attendant at my office (and am SO GLAD I’ve never had to use it there, though I have been a first aider at minor accidents), plus I need to refresh my CPR for my fitness instructor job at the gym.

    My biggest fail is the gloves: it is so hard to remember to put on the gloves when someone is bleeding and in need of help.

    Also, (WARNING GORY – STOP READING IF YOU’RE SQUEAMISH.) I’m fairly up on the theory of what to do, but the examples in class tend to be very clear cut – single, obvious wounds, sometimes with something big sticking out of them, etc. I was on scene at an accident where a victim had multiple tiny cuts with eensy bits of glass sticking out of them. I was at kind of a loss how to treat her other than reassure her and get her to lie down while we waited for the first responders.

  12. Mary Clare on November 6th, 2015 9:34 am

    Zombies, heh! I think of the world in terms of a zombie apocalypse, thanks to WD. I daydream about things like how I could fortify my house to survive the zombies. Could I kill the zombies or would I be one of the weak ones picked off early in the apocalypse?

  13. Danielle on November 6th, 2015 11:05 am

    I just had to say thank you. You’re a gifted story teller – a very entertaining recounting.

  14. sooboo on November 9th, 2015 12:00 pm

    Thank you so much for writing about this. Yesterday, my husband choked on a piece of hard cheese and since I had just read this I knew exactly what to do. It has been years and years since I’ve had any first aid training. I would have probably panicked otherwise as one might do when your spouse is making a weird squeaking noise trying to draw in air and changing color rapidly. It was really scary but a few punches between the shoulder blades and he was as good as new. I’m signing us both up for CPR classes. Thank you!!

  15. Katharine on November 9th, 2015 7:51 pm

    I’m with you on the chest compressions thing. It is incredibly tiring. We switched off every 30 compressions or whatever in my class, so we didn’t all die of short-windedness.

    Did you have a baby mannequin? We did an infant CPR section, and trying to do chest compressions on a baby mannequin with two fingers was both irritatingly hard and extremely hilarious. It would NEVER be funny to have to do chest compressions on an actual baby, but on this baby mannequin it was just silly. With your fingers? I felt like an idiot.

  16. Jill on November 10th, 2015 3:29 pm

    My friend’s husband saved his coworker’s life when he had a heart attack at work. He found him passed out and started chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, and apparently DID, in fact, break the man’s rib cage but also saved his life. And then promptly walked outside and puked once the ambulance left because holy shit feeling someone’s ribs break.

  17. Lisa Belt on November 16th, 2015 5:06 pm

    Once again I find myself laughing harder than I have in days at one of your stories. You have probably ruined me for life when confronted with a roll of gauze.

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  19. Anne on November 19th, 2015 2:28 pm

    Late to reading/responding to this post, but the thing about not reassuring the victim has me stumped. Like, if it’s not ok they’re really going to turn to you as they wheeze their last breath to say “But…you said…lies, naught but lies…I die.”

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