Saving lives

i have a niece who is a nurse. Recently she was involved with a team of persons who administered CPR to a patient and succeeded in saving his life. Their training kicked in and they performed the procedure correctly and were able to stabilize the patient and get him the treatment that he needed. I heard the story second hand - told by her mother, but the excitement and joy were still present in the story. It is one of those moments that serves as a reminder of why she went into nursing in the first place. She has a deep concern for people and wants to help them when they have needs. When the patient had been handed off to the emergency department and the cardiologist had been brought in to consult and the team of first responders were allowed to debrief and calm themselves from the initial adrenaline rush there was a sense of satisfaction about a job well done and the joy of a life saved.

My niece is young and fairly new to the profession of nursing. Chances are very good that she will have multiple experiences in her career when CPR doesn’t result in saving the life of the patient. The outcome will be different and the feelings she experiences will be different. I read a New York Times article that claimed that only about 40 percent of patients who receive CPR after experiencing cardiac arrest in a hospital survive. That means that the majority of cases where CPR is administered in the best of circumstances result in death. And less than 20 percent of those who experience cardiac arrest in a hospital survive long enough to be discharged. Cardiac arrest is a very serious and life-threatening condition and often the result is the death of the patient. According to the American Heart Association, about 90% of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die. Most of the time CPR is not successful in saving the life of the victim.

Of course any first responder is willing to engage in CPR even if only a small percentage of people are saved. Just knowing that there is a possibility, no matter how slim, that the procedure will be life-saving is enough to motivate careful and prompt attention. A 10% chance of saving a life is worth taking.

Over the weekend I spent a little time with some professionals who had just been involved in one of the cases where CPR did not succeed in saving the life of the victim. It happened that this case occurred in a place where there were security cameras in place and the team spent quite a bit of time going over the video recordings in search of some clue as to what happened. What the videos show is that the team responded appropriately and that the chest compressions were well-administered, in a good rhythm at a good pace and that the efforts of the team were according to the training that they had received. They did things correctly and the patient still died. No one was saying that there was anything different that could have been done. There was no take away from the situation that would result in a different outcome next time. The reality of the death simply hung in the room as the team reviewed what had occurred. A supervisor who was watching the recordings commented on how well the team had responded and commended them for their work.

I’m sure that they went home with a different feeling than my niece on the day when CPR worked and the patient survived.

The practice of medicine does not change the simple fact that all living beings die. It is an inescapable reality. There are amazing stories of the miracles of modern medicine and it is clear that quality health care can result in alienating a huge amount of human suffering. There re procedures that can restore a high quality of life and others that can reduce or even eliminate pain. There are many success stories that come from modern medicine. But no medical intervention is capable of making a person live forever.

All of us who work with other people come face to face with the reality that none of us will live forever. Mortality is true not only of the people we serve, but of us as well. This reality, however, doesn’t stop us from trying to find out the best ways to treat illnesses, relieve pain and suffering and extend meaningful life.

Of course, I don’t work as a health care professional. I have been trained in CPR, but I have only been involved in administering the treatment once. And in that case the victim died, although the ambulance crew was able to sustain life until he was transported to the hospital. It is likely that I never will be called upon to directly administer CPR again. Still, it seems meaningful to keep up with my training. We made the decision to purchase an AED for our church and there are several people in the church who are trained in its use. We hope that it will stay safe in its case for a long time and that we will never need to use it, but we feel that it is best to be prepared just in case it might be used to save a life. We know the statistics, but we still want to be prepared for that one in ten chance that prompt intervention might make a big difference.

Extending life isn’t the goal of the church. We are prepared to deal with the reality of death and we are not afraid of working with people who are grieving. Our mission is to care for the living and to teach the spiritual resources that enable people to face the end of their lives without fear or undue anxiety. We celebrate life but are not afraid of death. Salvation, ultimately, is not avoiding death, but understanding that life is bigger than death.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!