The title is not clickbait. On Saturday, January 6, 2024, someone who was trained in CPR saved my life. I’ve said in the past that CPR is at least as important the TCCC-style, tourniquet-based training, and I’m now even more adamant about it. Though no one performed CPR on me, someone trained in CPR saved my life.
Throughout the weekend of 5 – 7 January, I attended the first of a three-part alpine search & rescue technician series. The training was tough. It was very cold, and we started out Saturday morning with a very cold rain. It was, without a doubt, Type II fun. We finished Saturday cold, wet, tired, and hungry.
At the end of the day the class met up, en masse, at a Mexican restaurant. I ordered a big Modelo Negra and started tucking in to the chips and salsa. We ordered and after a long, tiring, mentally-taxing day I was laying in the chips as I waited on the food to arrive. Lost in conversation, I picked up one chip too many. I loaded it with thin, watery salsa and raised it to my mouth. A corner of the chip hit my tooth, broke off, and hurtled into my throat.
I felt it land in the worst possible spot. I lowered my head to the table, contemplating my predicament, fully understanding the danger; I could barely move air. Instead of being able to cough, I sputtered. After attempting to swallow I took one more breath…and it pulled the chip down, sealing my epiglottis. A little explanation is in order here.
The epiglottis is a small flap of tissue that diligently guards your trachea (aka your “windpipe”). The epiglottis is very good at its job. Have you ever inhaled a drink of water and had a coughing fit? This is the epiglottis at work; it is very sensitive and provokes that coughing fit to keep you from aspirating liquid and foreign bodies.
Someone Trained in CPR Saved My Life
So here I am, unable to breath. Fortunately I’m surrounded by a group of people who are willing to spend their weekend getting rained and snowed on to learn to rescue others in these terrible conditions. There was a high level medical training and experience in the group. My girlfriend, a cop and paramedic, was seated right beside me. Another, really phenomenal paramedic was across the table from me. But none of that was going through my mind at the moment.
Even though I had just filled my lungs with air, panic threatened to take over. I stood up. I made the international gesture for “choking,” not on purpose but out of instinct, reflex. And I started walking. I don’t know where I was going, but I needed to get out from behind the table. As soon as I rounded the edge of the table an off-duty firefighter grabbed me. He put his arms around my belly. With a quick, decisive jerk the offending chip popped off my epiglottis and onto the back of my tongue.
So, What Does This Have to Do With CPR?
You may be wondering what this has to do with CPR. CPR saved my life only indirectly, but CPR training did save my life. Clearing the airway of a choking victim is taught in both Red Cross CPR/First Aid and the American Heart Association’s Basic Life Support (BLS) courses. These courses also teach a bunch of other life-saving skills including how to care for a heart attack victim, how to perform high-quality CPR, and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
As a society we need more people walking around in public with these lifesaving skills! When my choking emergency happened I was surrounded by EMTs, paramedics, cops, and firemen. I shudder to think what would have happened had I been in a restaurant by myself. Or at a table full of tourniquet-carrying, tactical gun guys after a shooting class. For lack of trained personnel, I easily could have died before anyone took action and cleared my airway. The whole event was over in about 10 seconds, but I have spent hours contemplating it.
And that gets to the point of this whole article: I have done CPR on dozens of patients. I’ve seen bystander CPR performed multiple times prior to my arrival as a paramedic. Before being a paramedic I have performed bystander CPR on my next-door neighbor. I’ve responded to calls where a bystander has cleared an airway obstruction and restored breathing.
Guess how many times I have used a tourniquet or Quik Clot? Despite almost four years as a full-time, 911 EMT and paramedic, responding to auto accidents, ATV mishaps, shootings, stabbings, wilderness carry-outs and more, I’ve used each exactly one time. I know that’s a short stint in EMS, but it’s also about a thousand times more exposure to sickness and injury than the average person will encounter in ten lifetimes.
So…Tourniquet Training is Bad?
At this point I can see that it would be easy to misconstrue my words. It would be easy to imagine that I’m anti-TCCC-type training for Citizens, or that I’m anti-tourniquet. That’s not what I’m saying at all – TCCC training is outstanding and I’m glad more Americans are becoming interested in it. However, much of this interest seems to have come at the expense of much more commonly-needed skills.
What I am saying is that no one, single skill or intervention is the end-all, be-all. What I’m saying is that you need a well-rounded set of medical skills, not just cool-guy trauma skills. Learning how to use a tourniquet and carrying one is great, but it’s not going to do shit for you when someone is choking. You need to be prepared for a variety of common medical emergencies including heart attacks, cardiac arrest, and choking, as well as bleeding.
Hope is not a viable course of action. Don’t hope a well-trained stranger is nearby when you, your wife, or your kid chokes. Be an asset to your community and be prepared to take care of you and yours. Because as we love to say in the gun world, no one is coming to save you. It makes little sense to invest in hundreds of hours of training to survive a gunfight, complete with magazine changes and malfunction clearances…but remain untrained on how to save the lives of your family members in the event of a simple choking.
Closing Thoughts on CPR Saved My Life
This experience may influence some of my upcoming articles. This was the motivation I needed to follow Paul T. Martin’s advice and create an In-Case of Death (ICOD) file. I’ve known I need to do this for some time. John Hearne has explained in his lecture that having your “affairs in order” is a factor in prevailing during combat. I definitely walked away from that night with the dinstinct feeling that I wanted to make sure people knew my final wishes and how to dispose of my assets. I may share my experience putting one together with you.
Obviously this was an impactful experience for me. Don’t worry, though – some things didn’t happen. I didn’t get some big bolt of clarity about my life. My whole life didn’t flash before my eyes. I am not going to bring this up over and over again, and I’m not going to get into writing a bunch of spiritual-type articles. I mean…frankly, in light of all the crazy stuff I’ve survived it’s a little embarrassing to have almost been taken out by a tortilla chip.
I’ll just offer this final tidbit: you could die at any time. You need to come to terms with that. All you are guaranteed is the second you are living right now. Get as much out of each day as you can, but also don’t fail to prepare for a long future on this Earth. As with all things in life, balance is required. And please, take a damn CPR class, would ya?
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