Empowered Bystanders Save Lives

I love paramedics.

I fell in love with first responders during my freshman year of high school. I had a heart complication during school. The nurse called 911 and in came EMS to stabilize me and take me to the emergency room. Then again during college. After a traumatic car accident, bystanders stopped on the freeway and called 911 and again paramedics came to my rescue. One of the paramedics took a picture of my car, said he has never seen such a wreck with no fatalities or injuries, and told me I was very lucky. After seeing the wreck, I asked the policeman, “how did I survive that?” he simply said, “seatbelt.”

When you are in a vulnerable situation, people taking care of you are saviors. I remember thinking, “Wow, these guys are such heroes.” I couldn’t stop thanking them. In my adrenaline rush, I was so happy to be alive. And ever grateful for the team that helped stabilize me.

Last night, I saw someone lose their life in front of me. I was at a baseball game, and during the 7th inning, a man collapsed in the middle of the aisle. A fellow bystander immediately started CPR. The entire section eventually became quiet, as more people started to figure out what was going on. I looked around, all eyes were fixed toward the aisle where the man collapsed. No one in the section was watching the game. Someone said he had a heart attack. Everyone was in shock. People were complaining that paramedics were taking too long. People were complaining that the game continued. People were praying. People started congregating. A few took photos and videos. Event staff were calling for help on their radios. Everyone was worried for him.

No one seemed to know what to do except that bystander doing CPR. He gave it his all. I was secretly glad that I didn’t have to be the one doing CPR. It is a big responsibility. I was glad someone knew what to do. It took 10 minutes for event management to get the stretcher and defibrillator. The stretcher was missing a strap. Someone asked for a belt. And everyone within earshot instantly took off their belts and handed it over. They started making a strap from the belts. Eventually, someone found the strap. After 15 minutes, the paramedics came with the oxygen mask. It took 5 minutes for them to strap the man on the stretcher, put on the oxygen mask, and take him away. They did their best and handled it well. Everyone clapped as they left.

As someone who works in public health, questions were running through my mind. This is a baseball stadium with thousands of people, was the staff adequately trained on emergencies? Why was the strap on the stretcher missing? We were right next to the first aid room, why didn’t they have an oxygen mask on site?  Are they required to have an oxygen mask on site? Why were people allowed to congregate on the stairs? What happens when there are simultaneous emergencies, or a bigger emergency like a fire or bomb threat where they have to evacuate people? What are the rules and requirements for that? Weren’t the paramedics on site? Why did it take 20 minutes for them to come? Were they called immediately?

The staff person I talked to before I left said the man lost his breath, was revived through CPR, then lost it, and again was revived.

Everyone was praying for the man, hoping he was okay. I realize that 20 minutes without oxygen is pretty bad. And he will most likely be in coma until his family decides to pull the plug. But hope is a human instinct, and sometimes, all you can do is project positive thoughts into the universe. I hope I am wrong, and his family will not have to make that decision. But, to the earth we belong, and to the earth we shall return. Death happens. Sometimes on the news, sometimes in your community, and sometimes right in front of you.

During my last week in Thailand, there was a fatal motorbike accident in my community. The driver passed away. The passenger lived. There was a bystander who happened to witness the accident, and happened to know CPR. But there were two people and he could only do CPR on one person at a time. He chose the passenger and saved her life. The woman was in a coma for a week, but is now recovering well.

I love paramedics. But I love good-hearted bystanders more.

First responders are not always the first responders. Every second counts. In many cases, the difference between life and death during emergencies depend on the bystanders.

If you have never taken a CPR/ First Aid class, please do. I hope you never have to use it, but it may be helpful one day. Perhaps advocate for your work place to do a training. The Red Cross organizes First Aid workshops for offices. And ask your work place about its emergency protocol. Make sure you know what to do in the case of different types of emergencies. You never know. Being prepared can reduce risk.



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