BREATH REHEARSAL

By Emily Grover

The day I gave my daughter CPR will be forever in my mind.

It was like I was outside of myself watching, calmer than I think would be possible in that situation for anyone who hasn’t been on the other end of a 9-1-1 call. I knew her breathing was agonal the second I saw and heard it. I’d been watching her breathing religiously for months, and there was very obviously no air moving. Her 20-second apnea alarm had never gone off that there was still oxygen in her blood. That meant I had to act because there were minutes left, and the paramedics would be too late if I didn’t do something. I started with compressions first. I remember thinking how she seemed so much like one of those plastic dolls I’ve practiced on over the years, just as limp but heavier.

I told my mother to call 9-1-1 and put it on speaker, double verifying my address and phone number, stating “baby not breathing,” answering the EMD questions, and telling the calltaker to go to MPDS Protocol 9: Cardiac or Respiratory Arrest/Death and Pre-Arrival Instruction A: Airway/Arrest/Choking (Unconscious)-Infant < 1 yr.

I was careful to speak slowly and clearly despite the urgency of the situation. The calltaker was a bit startled, but recovered quickly and coached me through the rest and converted to ventilations and compressions. I was grateful she was there for me, and promised myself if we made it through this I would thank her personally and introduce her to my daughter.

I made sure my daughter’s head was tilted back, covered her mouth and nose with my mouth, and blew the two puffs of air in and saw her chest rise and deflate. I made sure I didn’t waste time switching back and forth between compressions and ventilations. I made sure to press down far enough and come all the way up between pumps. I told the calltaker to use the compressions monitor, but I was already singing the “Staying Alive” song in my head so I already knew I was going fast enough.

I knew even in the moment that I was doing everything right, but I also knew that in 12 years I’ve never had a documented life save that we knew of because so often CPR is not enough. I remember having the “it’s not working!” reaction, but continued CPR telling myself, “this is helping her even if I don’t see a response.”

The truth is, I really thought it was the end. Five to seven minutes into the call, paramedics arrived and laid her on the bed; she had a pulse of 120. She had a chance after all. The first few hours looked grim, but then the most talented doctor I’ve ever met threw a Hail Mary treatment at her and it began to work. For the week after that, she clung to life on a ventilator in one of the best NICU’s in the country.

I thought we could lose her any day. Three months later, she had recovered. Within a year, health problems related to her premature birth leading to her cardiac arrest resolved completely.

The calltaker answering that call has no idea that my daughter survived, just like Jenn Schifelbein may have saved a guy having his second heart attack in a week a little while before that. There is another piece of that story that they’ll never know, so we all just move on and will never realize the true impact we have each had on so many lives.

The one time I’ve had a known life save … it’s my own daughter. It’s like every 9-1-1 call I’ve ever taken was a rehearsal for the most important and terrifying moment of my life. The paramedics played a critical role, as did the responding officers and of course, all the hospital staff. But 9-1-1 is the true first responder that all the rest of them depend on.

This job is like no other. What we do is important and changes and saves lives. It is interesting, scary, fun, exciting, boring, and annoying all at the same time. But I’m only going to leave you one bit of advice.

Nothing we do is more life critical than being an Emergency Medical Dispatcher. So even if you don’t always like that part of your job, keep your skills up and be a damn good one.

I hope to never be a stranger. You can always find me on Facebook or on my blog www.10MilesUphillintheSnow.blogspot.com.

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