Cassandra Castro submitted 2020-10-15

When I first entered nursing school, the only thing I knew about CPR was that it was a requirement to my admission. However, what I didn’t know when signing up for my first class of BLS (Basic Life Support), is that the skills I learned in that class would follow me for the rest of my career. No one tells you when you see “proof of BLS completion” on a to-do list for nursing school that it would remain one of the more important classes of your career and your life.

I started my healthcare career as an LPN, quickly advanced to my RN degree, and now am working on my nurse practitioner degree. I have worked on med-surg floors, inpatient psychiatric floors, and public health settings; all environments where the unexpected almost seems regular. Throughout my many roles as an RN, I have learned that the most important thing related to using your life-saving skills (BLS, ACLS, etc.) is to remain calm and remember your training. Seems simple right? But, when a patient’s oxygen levels and blood pressure is suddenly dropping, remembering your training is not so easy in the face of an emergency.

When an emergency like this erupts on my floor, I remember the first thing to do is take a breath. How can you expect your patient to breathe if you cannot? After a very brief moment of breath, I take immediate action with the plan that my ACLS training has taught me. The wonderful part about learning BLS or ACLS is that you don’t have to create a plan alone - you already learned those life saving measures in class. Although it can seem scary to act on what you have learned, always remember that there is an algorithm of how to begin life saving measures, when to change the approach, and how to ask for more assistance. A very important aspect of the algorithm of BLS, ACLS, and PALS teaches, is to be aware of your own body. So what does that actually mean? Well, have you ever noticed that when you are in a stressful situation you tend to speed up? Yes, the teaching of these algorithms emphasizes that we must actually do the opposite that our stress response pushes us to do. We must remain calm and we must slow down our impulses in the face of an emergency. The algorithms of these trainings ask healthcare providers to switch roles and to call for help as soon as possible, therefore reducing the physical strain of providers.

Additionally, it is vital to prepare mentally for patient emergencies. In my own practice this has meant being oriented to the space around me, knowing where my equipment resides, acknowledging the skills of my coworkers, and understanding the physiology of my patients. Through these inquiries about the space I am working in, I always know who to call, how to call them, and what the emergency may be. Although this is very specific to a healthcare setting, this process of scanning the room, knowing my surroundings, and observing the people around me can be used in all parts of my daily life. One does not have to be a professional to use these skills. Imagine you are at the airport; how could you use your BLS skills to be prepared for an emergency? Well, one could locate the nearest security officer to make sure you could call for help. One could look for the emergency telephones to make sure that there are ways to communicate. One could observe the people around them and be aware of their surroundings. If at any time in life one is faced with the unfortunate scene of emergency, one might be prepared with BLS skills and save a life, simply by being aware of themselves and their surroundings.

Lastly, I would emphasize the importance of facing your own fears of using your life saving knowledge. When I first became a nurse I was terrified to try CPR. It may seem odd, but putting your hands on someone and assessing them for illness can be quite intimidating. The question that always comes to mind when I have fear of performing life saving measures is “what will happen if I do not help this person?”. When I ask myself that question during an emergency, it helps me overcome my fear by knowing that if I do nothing, that person will suffer more. If a person is already suffering immensely and I have the tools to help them, then it is a duty to overcome my fear and potentially save their life.