I received an email from a true rescuer who attempted to revive their neighbor by administering CPR. The neighbor did not survive and now the rescuer is feeling as though the may not have done enough to help. This is a very normal feeling for many rescuers. I’d like to share my thoughts and I hope it helps bring closure, confidence and peace.
THE FOLLOWING IS MY RESPONSE:
It sounds like you’ve had a rough couple of days. First, because a neighbor and potentially their friends and family members are experiencing a living nightmare right now and secondly, because you may be feeling like you did not do enough, or do it well enough.
These feelings are very normal and not because you did anything wrong. It’s just normal to feel sad that the situation did not turn out the way we would have wanted it to. The fact that you did any CPR at all means that you gave this gentleman a chance at survival. Please remember, CPR is not designed to save lives directly. It’s purpose is to slow the process of moving from clinical death to biological death down a little in order to possibly intervene with advanced life support and buy more time to get the person to the hospital. CPR can sometimes help the body respond to the medications and electrical therapy but it does not take away the reason the person went into cardiac arrest in the first place in most cases. There can be so many reasons why a patient goes into cardiac arrest and why the seemingly don’t respond. It’s important to remember that your neighbor was already clinically dead when you arrived by their side. You gave them and their family members a wonderful gift. You moved out of your comfort zone and gave this person a second chance at survival. Something they wouldn’t have had if you wouldn’t have tried. The fact that your neighbor did not survive cardiac arrest does not take anything away from your efforts and your compassion.
You acted bravely and selflessly. That is not the norm in our culture. You are the exception and I say well done! Please, be at peace knowing that the most experienced and effective rescuers don’t always achieve the outcome that others wish would happen. True rescuers try their best to make a possibility for a tomorrow, regardless of the outcome and make the world a more loving place and show the world compassion by doing so.
Be at peace knowing that you did a wonderful act of love and compassion.
I received yet another loving email from a person who’s father died in the front of their automobile while they were driving them to the hospital. Due to things outside her control, she was unable to move her dad to the ground so she improvised and did CPR while he was reclined in the car the best she could. She has struggled for some time with this and found some relief from my episode on “Did I Do CPR Wrong?”.
I just replied back to her and I have to believe there may be others who have tried to save a life with CPR and felt it was not successful. So I’m going to include my reply to her in this blog entry and for those of you who are suffering, I hope it helps.
This person said in her last paragraph of her email: “I have struggled with this in so many ways, yet feel comfort in being with him when he left. I have struggled to find any material that related to my experience. I have felt isolated in not being able to share how I lost my dad, This story, the words you have written, have helped me process and understand my own experience. Thank you.”
This was my response:
I’m so very sorry for the loss of your Father. I’m sure this must have been most traumatic for both you and your mother. I want to re-ensure you that what you did for your dad that day, was the most brave and loving gift you could have given both your dad and your mum. Every thing you did sounds perfect in order to give your dad the best chance of survival possible under the circumstances. The fact that he did not survive the event does not have anything to do with your efforts. Remember, CPR is only a time buyer in case the person is going to respond to medications and advanced medicine. It’s not a guarantee. The fact that you had the courage to try and the compassion to help is amazing. Please let your mother know that her reaction to the situation is also very normal. She lost the love of her life. Her soul mate and her husband. It’s a nightmare that is happening for real, right before her eyes and it’s not wrong for her to be so overwhelmed with grief and fear that she could not help. That’s why paramedics are not called to their own homes for emergencies. It’s too emotional. So please, let your mother know that she is not at fault for her reactions either.
I hope and pray that you will receive peace during this time of healing. But please know that everyone has a day to die and it’s never easy to experience it. CPR just keeps the window of opportunity to survive open a little longer. You gave that to your dad. As a father myself, I can only imagine how I’d feel to know that my daughter loved me so much that she would give me CPR while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. What love.
Be at Peace,
P.S. I’ve included the video that explains this message in detail. I recorded it so long ago, it’s hard to find so I’m going to bring it back to the top. Share it with anyone you may know who may benefit from it.
This response was written after receiving an email from a person, who has a cousin that is a trained CPR provider and attempted to save their own father’s life with CPR but their father remained dead despite their efforts. This person felt badly and didn’t know what to say to their cousin to help them not feel guilty or that their father’s death was in some way the rescuer’s fault. I responded to them, and afterward, felt that my response may be helpful to others who have suffered or are suffering or asking themselves the question, “Was there more I could have done?”. I hope that this response will be of help to anyone who may have feelings of failure or guilt as a result of their cpr efforts not ending in the survival of the patient.
Student’s Email Question:
(Paraphrased to protect students identity)
“My cousin has recently lost his dad and he is a trained CPR provider. He tried CPR on him but it didn’t work. I was wondering if you had a way you deal with death if you could not save them. I just don’t know what to say to him or how to help him. I’m the only one he is talking to and trusts. So not knowing how to help him bothers me. If you would email me back that would be great.”
One of the most important things to remember when providing CPR to anyone let alone a loved one, is that people who need CPR are already in a state of death. When the person is not breathing and they don’t have a pulse strong enough to detect with obvious signs of life, they are clinically dead. From the point of clinical death, they are only a short distance from biological death, which is permanent.
One way of looking at the success of CPR, regardless of the outcome, helps me and I believe helps my students to be much more at peace with themselves. The fact that your cousin’s Dad did not survive cardiac arrest has very little to do with the CPR given to him. It’s important to remember that CPR, in and of itself does not save anyone’s life directly. CPR is designed to “Buy Time”. CPR only provides about 25% of the oxygen circulation that is required for someone to stay alive biologically. CPR was never designed to be life support viewed as a way to keep people alive indefinitely, but rather to slow down the process of clinical death to biological death. This is to provide a chance to intercept the patient with electrical therapy, advanced therapy and medications combined with CPR and time to fix the underlying problem which caused the person to die in the first place.
In my opinion what your cousin did, is give his Dad the best chance of survival possible if he was indeed going to survive. Let’s look at clinical death as a heavy iron gate that is slowly dropping to the ground, and once closed the person is biologically or permanently dead. CPR is like arms holding the heavy gate of possible survival open a bit longer. Again, not stopping the progression of clinical death to biological death, but slowing it down so that if there is a chance of survival, they would have the greatest opportunity of slipping back through the gate available. Eventually, the gate is going to close even if CPR is perfect. As I said earlier, CPR in and of itself is not enough to keep the human body alive. But if the person is going to survive and the person needs more time, CPR buys the precious time required to make this a reality.
Now, it’s important to remember a simple but powerful truth. Everyone dies. I have had patients that had everything go right in order for them to survive a cardiac arrest and they still remained dead despite our rescue efforts. That day was their day to die and nothing that the cpr providers, paramedics, nurses or doctors did changed the outcome. The CPR helped keep them viable long enough for the rescue and medical team to try and fix the underlying problem but the person remained dead. I had to realize that as a professional rescuer and paramedic, everyone has a day to die. It’s not my job to save everyone but it is my job to give everyone the best chance of survival possible. When I provided care to cardiac arrest patients, I provided care to them as if they were suppose to survive and didn’t give up hope unless they proved to me otherwise by not surviving. It may be frustrating but we just cannot know what day is the day a person is going to live or die until the outcome is evident.
I’m quite sure that no matter what I say, your cousin is really missing his Dad. I don’t think there is any amount of explanation of science, death, dying and CPR that’s going to change that. One thing I do know about what your cousin did the day he provided CPR for his Dad though, he showed others and his Dad how much he loved him. How much he really cared. Your cousin gave his Dad his own strength when his Dad didn’t have any of his own. In my opionion, that’s one of the most loving and unselfish ways to tell a daddy goodbye.
May God bless your cousin and all hurting friends and family during these difficult times.