I’ve had a couple of opportunities in the last week to practice CPR. One was expected. That would be today’s card renewal, and, no offense to the instructors or the AHA, it was boring – a definite non-event. That’s how it should be. You really don’t want too much excitement at a routine renewal course.  After all, you’re working with dummies, and the idea is to practice and perfect technique.

The other opportunity was an event with lots of excitement. I was working, and we had a new patient come in. Things happened fast, without warning. The patient was fine – the patient was not, and we’re suddenly involved in resuscitation efforts. I mean, the patient had literally been up walking and talking 15 – 30 minutes prior. Things seemed well in hand. I’d left the room and gone down the hall to help other patients only to have to turn around and run back thinking, “Oh, no! What happened?”

It was a well attended event, with representatives from multiple departments and disciplines. I bet at least 40 people showed up to help. Lots of people were in the room. More waited outside. The noise inside was incredible at points, people shouting over the clamor as we fought to get ourselves organized and accomplish our tasks. I was part of the chest compression team, which was an energetic assignment. Unfortunately, resuscitation was not successful. We had to stop, let the patient go, and help care for the patient’s spouse. The spouse, right before leaving, said, “You guys sure tried hard.” We did. We tried very hard.

As I stood in line waiting to do chest compressions, I couldn’t help but think about the renewal class I had today. I’ve done the renewal many times. I knew it would feel very different from the focused chaos that occurs at a real event, and I started to compare and contrast. Renewals are boring. You’re just working with dummies, inanimate lumps of plastic and rubber. Far as I know, dummies don’t have relationships. They don’t have loved ones sitting behind watching you try really hard. Dummies never drew breath, and there’s something faintly ridiculous (and sometimes frustrating) about trying to give them rescue breaths. Dummies never had or have heart beats. You can lay your head down on their chests and listen for as long as you like, and you’ll never hear one. They don’t miss it. You won’t, either. At the most, for a renewal, you’ll have 3 people participating in a resuscitation practice. It’ll be something like an instructor and 2 people working on a dummy for the practice. It’s pretty calm and controlled. In fact, it’s difficult to get people to take it very seriously. There tends to be a lot of dummy jokes! Dummies are also forgettable. You don’t bump into people later and discuss how CPR on the dummy went. Well, maybe if you heard a REALLY good dummy/CPR joke, you might, but otherwise, no.

And then you have people, the real event and why you go to BLS (Basic Life Support) renewal classes. Someone had breath and now does not. Someone’s heart is not beating. Help is needed! The need is emergent, the call goes out, and staff drops what they’re doing to run to help. I did. I ran. My body started putting out adrenaline, and my feet flew quick and sure as I responded. I’ve heard some people say that they love that adrenaline rush, and that’s part of what keeps them working where traumas and resuscitation efforts are more common. I thought about that, too, while I stood there waiting. I thought it over and rejected it as my motivation. That rush is a good feeling, but it’s not enough. There’s something more there. I thought about it and thought about in the last couple of days, until I realized how privileged I felt to be there. “Privileged!” Yes, that is the word I was wanted.

Despite the hardship involved (and it is hard, make no mistake – it can be very physically and emotionally wearing), it is a privilege. Think about it. If someone is in need of CPR, it is probably one of the most significant moments of their experience. They are in profound need of assistance, and relative strangers show up to help them. How is not a privilege to be able to show up and try to help someone in desperate and immediate need? It is a burden and part of my job, ’tis true, but it is also a privilege. What makes it even more amazing is that it’s a group of people. It’s not just me, overcoming my fear and weakness and selfishness to respond. It’s a bunch of people, leaving stuff behind to gather around one person’s bed and work as a team to preserve that one person’s life. Should efforts fail, the group tends to mourn the loss as well. Curiously enough, one of the people in my renewal class today was present at the real event earlier this week. He remembered the patient and talked about it. The patient – that person – was not forgettable. That patient’s presence and absence was felt. We couldn’t help, and now someone’s family will never again hear that person’s voice or heartbeat. It’s worth grieving for them all. Again, how is this not a privilege?

Perhaps the most important difference between practice and people is that in real life, there aren’t any dummy jokes. People are too busy demonstrating that they care about other people, and that they are there for that person who is in need. To be a part of that… to get to respond… to say yes… to sacrifice and show up is most certainly a privilege.