Done properly and with adequate training, scuba diving is tremendous fun and relatively safe.
Still, functioning in an underwater environment is unnatural and potentially dangerous.
That’s why all divers, regardless of how often they dive, should become competent in life-saving measures.
After all, there aren’t many things more important than learning how to save a life. Unfortunately, too few of us really know what to do if we come across a person in trouble and in need of medical attention.
That was part of my motivation for getting certified on Nov. 12 in first aid, CPR and O2 provider. I hadn’t had a CPR, or cardio pulminary resuscitation, class since I was in Cub Scouts, and I was a little surprised by how much the certification class had changed.
First of all, the speed at which the chest compressions are admininistered is TWICE as fast as I recall. And this change, as recommended by the American Heart Association, has taken place in just the last two years.
Perhaps you remember saying “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand” as the pace to provide the compressions used to restart the heart. In my most-recent class, we were instructed to deliver compressions at the speed of the beat to the Bee Gees tune “Stayin’ Alive.”
Sing it with me now: “Ah, ah, ah, ah, Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive. Ah, ah, ah, ah Stayin’ Alive, Stayin’ Alive.” Apparently disco is back in vogue.
The reason for the increased speed, according to our instructor, BJ Stapp, a firefighter, medic and instruction coordinator for Michigan CPR, is the need to deliver as many beats to the heart as possible in the crucial first five minutes after a person goes into cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association recommends 100 compressions per minute, exactly the beat speed of “Stayin’ Alive.” Going too slowly doesn’t generate enough blood flow, and going too fast doesn’t allow the heart to fill properly between compressions.
For those of you still burning any disco records you can get your hands on, the beat to Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” will also work.
There are several other changes to CPR procedure, (too many to mention here), made as recently as five or six years ago, which is another reason to refresh your certification.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the first five minutes, the first couple of minutes that someone is having a medical emergency, are the most important,” Stapp said. “And that’s usually the time that it takes the medical responders, the professionals to get there. So if people can learn what to do correctly, and learn how to do it with confidence, they can make a big difference.”
Regarding scuba diving, Stapp said it’s not necessarily injuries caused by the dive that require the most medical attention, but rather inherent problems the diver had before he or she undertook the dive that are triggered under the application of the dive.
“What we don’t realize with the pressure changes and some of the activities and things that we are doing, there is a lot of demand on our bodies. And all this demand can cause a lot of problems. They can be as simple as an underlying problem that we already have, like diabetes, or asthma, or something more serious like a diving emergency.”
The most serious diving emergency, according to Stapp, is a heart attack, most often brought about by physical exertion under the water.
“When diving, there is an increased workload on the heart. Because when we go under that pressure it kind of pushes the blood to the core of our body and makes our heart work more. And so when it works more, we have an increased chance for a heart attack,” he said.
Stapp spent about six hours Saturday teaching a small group of students first aid and CPR, and how to use an AED, or automated external defibrillator. We were also taught how to administer oxygen to victims in need. Each of the certifications is good for two years.
Most commonly, divers will need to inhale pure oxygen if they ascend to the surface too quickly. The oxygen helps push out the nitrogen loading caused by the quick ascent and reduces the chances of decompression sickness.
I also discovered breathing pure oxygen can cure my biggest problem: headaches caused by a high number of dives in a short period of time. When I go on a dive vacation, I try to cram as many dives as I can into that short period of time. I usually do a minimum of three dives a day, and sometimes four if I can squeeze in a night dive. All of that diving builds up carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood, and causes my head to feel like a large pumpkin. Stapp said taking deep breaths and long exhales just before asending to complete a dive can help, as well as taking in oxygen after the dive has been completed.
The students were put through a variety of emergency situations and taught how to respond. In addition to the CPR, students were also taught how to help someone who is choking by using both adult and infant manikins. First aid training included what to do for allergic reactions, heart attack, fainting, diabetes and low blood sugar, stroke, seizure and shock. The procedures not only provide aid for the victim, but also provide protection for those administering the aid.
Stapp said first aid and CPR programs are available through the American Heart Association, the Red Cross, fire departments, places that train lifeguards, local universities, and of course Stapp’s program, Michigan CPR, for which more information can be found at www.MichiganCPR.com
This article and video are scuba specific. My general story and video about the CPR and first aid training can be found at macombdaily.com with this link: www.macombdaily.com/articles/2011/11/12/news/doc4ebf350c20aae105287714.txt
Don Gardner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org