DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I do not hold a current medical license or certification (I let them lapse because I no longer work in the medical field and don’t intend to ever again). What I do have is an extensive medical background in various fields. Everything you read here is the result of either education, training, research and interpretation, or personal experience. The information in this post is not to be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice or examination. Seriously, if you’re having an immediate medical problem and you’re reading this blog for help, get off the damned computer and call an ambulance!
Today we’re going to talk about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. You may know it as CPR. Now, this post isn’t going to be as in-depth as these Dr. Dina posts usually are, because this is mostly bitching about specifics and technique than actually explaining them. Seriously. Read up on CPR for yourself, or better yet, take a class and LEARN HOW TO DO IT, so you too can bitch at the screen when you see it done horribly.
Normally I wouldn’t bother bringing this up, because CPR is really something you see more on the screen than written in fiction, and screenwriters really don’t have any control over how the actors portray CPR being given. That being said, it ANNOYS THE EVER-LOVING FUCK OUT OF ME when I see CPR on the big or small screen being performed utterly and totally incorrectly, therefore you all must bear the brunt of my displeasure. Hopefully you’ll learn something.
Just recently I was watching a show on Netflix and one of the characters was performing CPR on a woman he’d pulled from a lake (which we talked about a little in the last Dr. Dina post). In true TV fashion, he sweats and screams and pushes mightily on her front, gives her two breaths (without pinching her nose closed or positioning her head) from his own mouth, then goes back to bouncing his fists off her collarbone until she sputters and coughs.
Okay, let’s deconstruct this, shall we?
First of all, CPR is hard. I mean really difficult. Most of the time it doesn’t even work for professionals, let alone someone who doesn’t do it properly (Warning – link heavy on the Fancy Medical Speak. Here’s one that’s less techy.).
If that weren’t enough, it’s physically demanding – chest compressions require a specific position and amount of force (more than you’d think) to perform. Ribs break from CPR.
Read that again. RIBS BREAK FROM CPR. Not all the time, but the majority. Sometimes the sternum (breastbone) does, too. It’s a hazard of the technique, but better broken ribs than death, right?*
As I said, it’s physically demanding. This is why EMTs and other first responders are usually in awesome shape – the work they do is tough. It requires heavy lifting (YOU try lifting an unconscious person. Even one of average height and build is going to be unwieldy.) and better-than-average upper-body strength, not to mention stamina and speed. But I digress.
Let’s go back to that “specific position to do proper CPR” thing. Now, as I said above, you as a writer have no control over how your story is portrayed on-screen, but you DO have control over how you write it. That being said, please do not have your heroic character doing chest compressions on the poor victim’s throat. (Seriously, this show I watched, the character was compressing the woman’s collarbone. Um…yeah…WAY WRONG PLACE THERE, dude. I understand this was likely because the actor didn’t want to [or couldn’t] put his hands between her actual breasts on network TV, but COME ON.) Also, lock your arms, for fuck’s sake. Compressions don’t work if you’ve got spaghetti arms.
Also, please do not have Heroic Character perform rescue breathing on someone without holding the victim’s nose closed or adjusting their head to the proper position to ensure air gets into their lungs. Now I’m not saying you should include a play-by-play of the steps involved in CPR when you write your death-cheating scene, but please don’t have your Heroic Character trying to breathe into someone’s mouth when they’re face down with their head turned to the side (don’t ask).
And for the love of all that’s unholy, DON’T have someone do chest compressions on the victim’s throat. They’re called CHEST COMPRESSIONS for a reason. You compress the chest. That big bone right in the middle of it between the breasts (male or female)? Yeah, that’s the place.
No go forth and portray your live-saving correctly, lest you annoy me.
*If you’re interested, here’s another link to another study on the effectiveness of in-hospital CPR, which is done if you code while already a patient. Also heavy on the Fancy Medical Speak.
Questions about medical issues with your writing? Leave them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. (THESE MUST APPLY TO FICTIONAL SITUATIONS ONLY. I AM NOT YOUR DOCTOR, NOR A SUBSTITUTE FOR ONE.)