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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Devices, Calls Make Difference Between Life, Death

Devices, Calls Make Difference Between Life, Death

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sun, Jun. 13, 2004
By Joseph Barger, M.D.

Your elderly aunt collapses for no apparent reason while watching TV. Your grandmother complains of trouble breathing, then faints. A parent at your child's baseball game starts cheering, then grabs his chest and collapses.

Do you know what to do in these emergencies? When a person suddenly becomes unresponsive or unconscious, the best answer is to call 911 immediately.

How does 911 work? Local police handle city calls, the sheriff handles calls from unincorporated areas, and the CHP answers cell phone calls. The dispatcher who answers will determine if the emergency requires a police, fire or medical response. Local medical emergencies are transferred to an emergency medical dispatcher in one of three centers in Contra Costa County.

The 911 calls from a cell phone take longer than from regular wired phones. So if you have a choice, use a landline phone.

The dispatcher will verify your location, and ask questions about breathing and consciousness. Depending on the answers, the dispatcher may summon help immediately to the scene. The fire department is usually closest, so the firefighters generally arrive first. They bring a defibrillator to restore a patient's normal heart rhythm, if that's the problem.

In the few minutes before the rescuers' arrival, the dispatcher can give you brief instructions in performing CPR, or Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. CPR consists of blowing air into the lungs and pushing on the chest so the stricken person's vital organs receive some blood and oxygen until professional help arrives.

Telephone CPR instructions are usually less effective than taking a class and learning CPR for yourself, but they are better than nothing. Performing CPR doubles the chance of a person's survival from cardiac arrest, so it's worth learning.

CPR concentrates your efforts on the ABCs of lifesaving, which stands for Airway, Breathing and Circulation (of blood). CPR classes teach you how to know if a patient needs CPR, and how to do it. CPR is easy to learn and do, and it saves lives. Call 800-GIVE-CPR to find out about CPR classes.

Besides calling 911 and performing CPR, what else can you do until rescuers arrive? You might look around for or ask about an AED, or Automated External Defibrillator. This machine, a recent advance in emergency care, usually comes in a brightly colored plastic box about the size of a lunchbox. It can provide a life-saving electrical shock to the heart of a person in cardiac arrest. Many businesses and facilities keep AEDs available in case of emergency.

AEDs have pictures and recorded sound messages that tell you exactly what to do. The AED will sense the patient's heart rhythm, and decide if an electric shock is needed. If so, it will tell you to press the button to help restart the person's heart.

Even without training, most persons can use an AED successfully. But, like CPR, it helps to be familiar in advance. Many CPR classes now include AED training. For more information on AEDs, call Contra Costa EMS Agency at 925-646-4690.

So when a person collapses, call 911, give CPR, and use an AED if available. To prepare, take a CPR class and know where the AED is at your work. Performing these simple steps can save the lives of your friends, neighbors and family.

Dr. Barger is an emergency physician at the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and medical director of the Contra Costa County Emergency Medical Services.

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