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I watched a man die; why CPR is so important

Back when I was about 14 years old, some friends and I rode our bikes up to the neighborhood bowling alley for a Saturday afternoon of fun.

At some point I happened to notice a man lying face down on the bowling approach a few lanes to my right. He was starting to turn a purplish-blue color. Having learned CPR years earlier as a cub scout, I knew what to do. But as a 14-year-old, I wasn’t assertive enough to just walk over there. So I went to the bowling alley manager and asked for permission to help the man. He strictly forbid me from going anywhere near him; I guess he was afraid of a lawsuit if I tried to help and the man died (nowadays, the law protects good Samaritans who, in good faith, are trying to help a person). Or maybe he didn’t think that a 14-year-old kid who probably looked like he was 11 or 12 was even capable of saving the man’s life, and would just get in the way.

I wanted to at least go over there and roll the man onto his back and open his airway by tilting his head back. Nobody was doing anything -- he was just lying there face down on the bowling approach. But I did as instructed and stayed back and watched as the EMS crew arrived and rushed him to the hospital. On their way out, I was able to ask one of the medics what hospital they were taking him to, and he told me.

The next day, I called the hospital’s emergency department and, fortunately, happened to get on the phone with one of the nurses who treated the man when he was brought in. She gave me the sad news that he had died. I asked her if it would have made a difference had I been allowed to perform CPR, and she told me that just rolling him on his back and opening his airway might have saved him.

This has haunted me my entire life. I knew what to do, but wasn’t confident enough to just go over there and start CPR. I watched a man die. And I could have saved his life. I cannot emphasize how important it is to know CPR, and have the confidence to use it if the need arises. My advice is to not assume anything.

If you are in a position to save somebody’s life, do it.


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