I have a lot on my mind today, and honestly it is a mix of topics that may end up being related, but I'm not sure. I'm just going to start writing and see where it goes.
Last week, I updated my CPR certification. I go every two years and it is a great class. I believe everyone should take it, because the knowledge is so empowering. And the two fire-fighter brothers who lead it are kind of OK, too.
I remember clearly the first time I ever heard of CPR. I was in 8th grade, and it was about a month after my 49-year-old father died "of a heart attack". I know now that he didn't die of a heart attack, he had a heart attack that lasted for hours (as he paced around the living room complaining of indigestion), which eventually caused him to go into cardiac arrest.
At the time, all I heard my teacher saying was here are the steps you take to administer CPR and save a life. I desperately wanted to ask my teacher what you are supposed to do if the person is still conscious, but I was terrified so I didn't ask. So, I left middle school that day feeling like I should have done SOMETHING.
Click Here for a great description of the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.
That day in middle school, I came into agreement with a powerful lie. I was somehow responsible for the death of my father. I could have done something.
I know now that the only thing one can do if someone is having a heart attack, is get them to a medical professional who has an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), in case they go into cardiac arrest. That's the shock-machine. It is impossible for CPR to revive an unconscious person in cardiac arrest. What CPR does is manually circulate blood, so oxygen is still being delivered to vital organs, while the heart cannot beat on its own. CPR keeps the person alive. The AED shocks the heart back into a beating rhythm.
Very few people or businesses have an AED. That means the closest AED is in the ambulance. Every moment that there is even a remote chance that someone is having a heart attack (or stroke) is a minute wasted that the squad isn't there yet. If that heart attack or stroke leads to cardiac arrest, every minute between cardiac arrest and using the AED decreases the chance of survival by a lot.
I've been a certified personal trainer now for 14 years. That means I've taken CPR certification class seven times. I learn something important each time that not only makes me a better trainer, but heals my old wounds and false beliefs about the death of my dad and my perceived role in it. I used to HATE the people who drove the ambulance that took him to the hospital. He was conscious when he left the house, talking as they wheeled him out the front door on the gurney. We were told later that he died on the way to the hospital. Why the hell couldn't they have saved him? People pop back to life all the time on TV. Well, I found out in CPR training last week that ambulances in 1979 were basically transport vehicles only. They weren't mobile hospitals like they are now, and they didn't start carrying AEDs until the late eighties.
None of us knew the signs of a heart attack, including my dad. None of us understood that a heart attack could cause cardiac arrest and death.
I don't get to know my alternate universe, where the moment he felt discomfort in his chest (maybe still at work, or on the drive home?) he recognized the risk, got to the hospital, and was there when he went into cardiac arrest instead of in the ambulance. I can go over the timing again and again. It doesn't change anything and I've done a lot of work to make peace with that. I had a dad for almost 14 years. I lost him due to a sudden heart attack that caused him to go into cardiac arrest, and there was no AED present. That's the reality.
Fast forward to January, 2017. I have called the paramedics three times in the last month at the studio. Two possible heart attacks and one possible stroke.
Years ago, I had two clients that were friends. Both nurses. They would meet up a little early on the treadmills and chat away before their workout. One day, they were both doing their strength workout when one of the women was slightly disoriented. She just couldn't remember what she was supposed to be doing. A few weeks earlier, the Dispatch had run an article on the signs of stroke. I asked her to smile to check for face droop. That was fine. I asked her to raise both arms. No problem. I asked her to repeat a word and there was no slurred speech. But something told me she was off, even though she kept arguing that she was fine. I asked her to take a break and she sat down, but she kept reiterating that she was fine. She was fine. She was fine.
Finally, my intuition took over and I called the squad. In the six minutes it took them to get there, she never developed the classic stroke symptoms, but she got more and more disoriented. She looked around, then at me and asked, "What is this place?" That's when my heart started racing. When the squad arrived, they asked her questions like where was she, what day is it, what year was she born, and what her name and social security number were. She didn't know any of that. I found out later that she had had a stroke, and was probably having it when she arrived. (Her friend told me later that when they were chatting on the treadmill, she said some things that didn't make sense.)
Emergency room personnel administered the clot-busting drug in time and she survived without disability. When we talked later, she said she didn't even remember arriving at the studio, but was so grateful I did something because she had planned to leave the studio, pick up her 4-year-old granddaughter and drive to Michigan to visit family. She was clearly shaken that she might have put her granddaughter in harms way.
At the time, however, she fought me on calling the paramedics. Everyone does. There is this awful feeling of being a bother, disrupting others' plans, etc. that keeps us from calling for help immediately. Do you know that your people want you to live? No matter what, they want you to live.
About ten years ago, I was cleaning the house and bent over to open a night table drawer. My back went out completely and I went down to the floor. I could not move, stand or anything and I was on the 2nd floor. My cell phone was on the 1st floor and I don't have a home phone. I laid there for about two hours before I was finally able to crawl down the steps, find my phone and call 911. I'll never forget because I had a tank top on, no bra, and these horrible shorts. It was summer and I was cleaning! But all I could think of was my butt cheeks hanging out of my shorts. When the squad got there, they were so helpful and professional. They always are.
I'm lucky that it wasn't a life-threatening situation. But it could be someday. I am here alone. If I hesitate, even though my instinct is telling me I might be having a heart issue or a stroke, it could mean my life. I want to have the strength and courage to call and ask for help, even if I am wrong and it's actually heart burn, gas, or anxiety.
Why is it so difficult to ask for help? Why do we tend to wait until it is too late? Why is our mantra, "I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm fine." Even when we're not. Even when it puts our life at risk?
Is it pride? Denial? According to my research, the main reason people do not ask for help right away is fear of looking silly. It is called Treatment-Seeking Delay and it is terribly common. The study I read stated that the average person in mid-heart attack will wait four hours before getting help, and even then may be too embarrassed to call. IN MID-HEART ATTACK. (Turns out my dad was normal.)
Here's the deal. If you work out at Clear Rock Fitness, or are anywhere in my realm, I will call the squad the moment I see anything out of whack. ANYTHING. And you might be embarrassed, and pissed off at me. You might feel silly. That's fine. Argue all you want. Fight me on it all you want. As long as you are here to laugh with me about it later.
I expect the same of you. If I don't seem right, call the squad! I want my life saved if it's possible. The absolute last thing I ever want my loved ones to have to live with is, "If only we had called for help sooner." I've lived with that sentence stuck in the middle of my head for most of my life. I am finally free from that burden of responsibility and guilt, but it took a long time and a lot of work.
This is rock solid empowerment. Asking for help isn't weakness, or being silly, it's being wise and honoring your life! Take radical responsibility. Ask for help the moment you need it. Teach the women (and men) around you to do the same. Break the cycle of shame and embarrassment and allow for truth and vulnerability in all circumstances. Life is precious and messy and imperfect and incredible. YOU are precious and messy and imperfect and incredible. Don't let anything stand in the way of the life you were meant to live.