An email came in from a true rescuer who got involved with a man who was in cardiac arrest over the holiday while they were enjoying themselves. They cared enough to get involved and try and save this person’s life but the man stayed dead despite their attempts. This rescuer is struggling with feelings of guilt and that she didn’t do enough. In this episode, I have a very real and honest discussion with understanding living, dying and rescue.
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.