I did a lot of lifesaving when I was at high school.
All the rescuing was done in a swimming pool with a calm “patient” who was able to swim and the CPR was done as best we could without actually touching our partners who acted as the bodies.
I did lots of practice and passed all the tests but it always worried me that although I knew what to do in theory, I’d panic and get it wrong or not do it at all if I had to put it into practice.
The knowledge and training gave me the responsibility to use it if called on and I didn’t know if I would.
What I learned at school has been reinforced by CPR lessons given after each baby was born and more recent first aid classes. But again I wondered what I’d do if put to the test?
I found out with our first son who stopped breathing when he was 20 weeks old.
He was on an apnoea mattress which alarmed in the middle of the night.
False alarms weren’t unknown but I leapt out of bed, glanced at him, re-set the mattress, then remembered what the nurse who’d taught us CPR had said: that technology has its place but it doesn’t replace your eyes and ears.
As I looked at Tom more closely the alarm went again and I realised this was for real.
I lifted him from his cradle, put him on the floor and started doing CPR but his chest wouldn’t move. My farmer grabbed the Plunket book, read out the instructions one by one and I realised I had tilted Tom’s head too far back. I moved it forward a little, blew, softly into his nose and mouth and saw his chest move.
My farmer phoned the ambulance. In those days the call went to the local hospital, it was answered by someone who used to shear for us. He said he’d give the ambulance directions and clear the line so my farmer could ring our GP and his nurse who lived a couple of kilometres away.
The nurse came up straight away and took over the CPR until our GP then the ambulance arrived.
Doing CPR on my own clean, uninjured baby, with my farmer there to help wasn’t too difficult. But I’ve often wondered since if I’d be able to do it as well on someone else, especially if they were covered in blood or vomit, and how I’d cope with other injuries or serious acute illness.
I go over in my head what I’ve learned from first aid classes but no amount of theory can tell us how we’d react in practice until we have to.
The reports on the captain of the Costa Concordia who abandoned ship made me think of this again.
He’s the object of a Tui billboard, his conversation with the Coast Guard has provided slogans for t-shirts and a friend emailed me this:
The current plight of the Costa Concordia reminds me of a comment made by Churchill.
After his retirement he was cruising the Mediterranean on an Italian cruise liner and some Italian journalists asked why an ex British Prime Minister should choose an Italian ship.
“There are three things I like about being on an Italian cruise ship” said Churchill.
“First their cuisine is unsurpassed. Second their service is superb. And then, in time of emergency, there is none of this nonsense about women and children first”.
It’s all very amusing but Theodore Dalrymple asks who’s to say how we’d behave in a similar situation?
Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even when the penalties for courage were negligible?
If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves? When we read of the seemingly lamentable conduct of the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, who left his passengers to their fate, do we say, “There but for the grace of God go I”?
Of course, leadership entails an obligation to be courageous – morally, physically or both. It is the price of leadership; it is why leaders are more highly regarded and rewarded than the rest of us . . .
The captain was paid to take care of the ship, its crew and passengers and he failed.
We all hope, maybe even think, that if we were in a situation like that which required us to act with courage we’d do so but none of us know how brave we’ll be until have to be.
Life and literature are full of ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
There are also many real and fictional examples of people who do the wrong thing and no matter how well trained we are none of us will know how we’ll react until we’re really tested.
UPDATE: Macdoctor has a very good post on this in Sinking Feeling.