The way I prepare mentally before performing a life-saving technique on patients starts with getting enough rest before going into work, making sure I keep up to date on my CPR and other lifesaving techniques, and saying a quick prayer before I start lifesaving efforts. Sometimes I even pray my way through them as I am attempting to save a patient’s life. I also remind myself that although saving the patient’s life would be the desired outcome, there is a possibility that even with my efforts and the efforts of others, the patient still may pass. And that even if it happens, it is not my fault. I gave saving their life everything I could and left it all on the floor.
This is a lesson I learned early in life. At the age of 15, I was walking with my mom and her boyfriend to the grocery store when we crossed through a park. We smelled smoke, but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, so we just thought maybe we were imagining things. We were almost across the park when I turned back one last time to see a house we’d literally just passed engulfed in smoke and flames. And I took off running. To this day, I couldn’t tell you which door I went into, I just remembered paint bubbling on the walls and the heat. Hearing little pops everywhere, being scared, and not being able to see beyond the thick smoke suffocating me. I remember someone touching me as I brushed past them and pulling them out. It wasn’t until we got outside that I realized it wasn’t just one person, it was several. An older woman attached to 4 other smaller people. A grandmother and her grandbabies. One of which was in the older woman’s arms, and she was lifeless. The grandma started CPR, but she wasn’t holding the little girls nose, so I took over. I performed CPR until paramedics arrived.
That little girl was 5 years old, and despite my efforts, she did not live. I didn’t understand why after all of my effort I had failed her and her family, and I blamed myself for a long time. I was honored by radio stations and the Oakland A’s at the time for my bravery. News crews came up to my school to interview me, and I was even given a plaque by the Oakland A’s, but I felt like I didn’t deserve it. I’d failed her. It took a long time, maturing, and becoming an adult for me to realize that I hadn’t failed her. That in fact, I’d kept her alive long enough for paramedics to get there. But this taught me my first lesson in life, in regard to life. And that despite my efforts, I can’t save everyone. Yet, I can still remember the remnants of top ramen I tasted on her mouth while I gave her mouth to mouth, and the half-hooded gaze of her lifeless eyes, as they stared back at me. Long after the image of what she actually looks like faded from my memory, I have always remembered those two things.
Physically, I prepare for performing lifesaving techniques by getting lots of rest and going to the gym with my 15 year old to build my endurance. As an NA, I am often on my feet, so I am used to that now and can be on my feet 12 hours a day. It also taught me to wear comfortable shoes that support my bones, joints, posture, and weight. The lifting procedures, while taught in hospitals, are not enough though. Hospitals need to be staffed appropriately because the hospital I worked at was not, and I had to help an RN shift a patient 6 times in one night so that we could readjust her in bed and give her enemas. After the sixth time, I began having back pain. Partially, I feel because the RN I was helping is under five feet, and I’m five feet eight inches. And even though she helped me, the brunt of the weight fell on me. So, in this instance, even though we had two people, one was significantly smaller than the other, which created a bad situation for me, and I ended up getting hurt even though we followed protocol.
Later on, the RN apologized to me when I finally came back to work after five months of being injured. Partially because I got injured helping her, and partially because she felt responsible. She told me she didn’t want to risk getting injured, so she purposely let me do all of the heavy lifting and didn’t really put her all into it because she couldn’t afford to go on disability. Basically in her eyes, I was expendable, and she was not. She had a family to support, and even though I did too, her own well-being was her top priority. I don’t blame her for that, because I went through the disability process and there is nothing more demoralizing and eye-opening than realizing the people you work for and injured yourself for, could care less and will replace you in a heartbeat. That all they care about is whether you can do your job or not, and if you can’t you no longer matter to them.
Now, I know better. I will help someone, but if I feel like I am taking on the brunt of the weight, I will stop, ask them politely to pull their weight, and I will request someone similar to my size to help me adjust a patient so the ratios aren’t skewed.