Dr Max Pemberton: I saved a life on a night out …and you can too!

Dr Max Pemberton: I saved a life on a night out …and you can too!

There’s a phrase every doctor dreads hearing when they are off duty: ‘Is there a doctor here?’ Even though we spend our lives dealing with emergency situations, and have been taught what to do when someone is in extremis, being put on the spot is always a tense experience.

After all, doctors are only human and it can be a frightening moment. However, when your training kicks in you realise that even a little knowledge can make all the difference and you do your very best to help. But if it’s nerve-racking for doctors, it must be overwhelming for members of the public.

Reality TV star Mark Wright has spoken about how important it is that everyone learns basic CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), recalling a failed attempt to revive a stranger who’d had a cardiac arrest.

He explained how he and his wife, actress Michelle Keegan, had just arrived at a hotel in Tenerife for a holiday when a woman approached them ‘in a tizz’ about her husband, who had collapsed.

Reality TV star Mark Wright has spoken about how important it is that everyone learns basic CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Stock image used

Reality TV star Mark Wright has spoken about how important it is that everyone learns basic CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Stock image used

Mark performed CPR on him until the ambulance arrived. Although sadly the man didn’t survive, his daughter posted on social media to thank Mark for his help, and explained that without his input her mother wouldn’t have had the chance to say her goodbyes.

So the fact that Mark didn’t freeze in the moment, and had tried to help, brought some comfort to the grieving family.

Many of those who have a cardiac arrest — when their heart stops or isn’t beating properly — outside of hospital don’t survive. According to the British Heart Foundation, in the UK there are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests a year where emergency medical services attempt to resuscitate the victim. However, the survival rate is low: just one in ten.

Yet, early CPR and defibrillation (using a machine to give electric shocks to the heart) can double the chances of survival.

The Government announced last week that it is rolling out defibrillators across schools in England. By the end of the academic year, 20,000 will be given out — but this will only make a difference if people know how to use them.

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) shares the importance of learning Basic Life Support (BLS) in helping emergency situations

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) shares the importance of learning Basic Life Support (BLS) in helping emergency situations

NHS doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, fire staff and anyone trained in CPR can download an app called Goodsam, which is linked to most UK ambulance services. When a 999 call likely to be a cardiac arrest comes in, the app alerts nearby responders, whether they are on duty or not.

Over the course of my career, I’ve performed CPR outside the hospital environment a surprising number of times. Quite often someone isn’t actually in cardiac arrest but they are in a life-threatening situation, such as not breathing properly. I’d encourage everyone to learn the basics. It takes just a few hours and could save someone’s life.

Learning Basic Life Support (BLS) means you can manage most emergencies in a way that buys time until help arrives.

I remember a road accident I came across where everyone was fixated on the leg bone poking through the man’s flesh and trying to stop the bleeding, but they failed to realise that his tongue was obscuring his airway. He could have died in minutes.

Mark explained how he and his wife, actress Michelle Keegan (both pictured), had just arrived at a hotel in Tenerife for a holiday when a woman approached them 'in a tizz' about her husband, who had collapsed

Mark explained how he and his wife, actress Michelle Keegan (both pictured), had just arrived at a hotel in Tenerife for a holiday when a woman approached them ‘in a tizz’ about her husband, who had collapsed

This is what learning BLS teaches you to be aware of. Knowing how to assess a situation, how to keep a cool head and what to do if someone isn’t breathing or their heart isn’t beating is far more straightforward than you’d think.

Another time, I was sitting in the front row of a Royal Shakespeare Company production of King Lear when I heard a strange whining noise coming from the row behind me. I ignored it. But then it came again.

I turned round and could see that a woman behind me was quite restless in her seat. Then there was a loud thud as she collapsed into the footwell.

One of the actors hesitated, clearly unsure if he should continue. Then, to my horror, I heard the unmistakeable sound of someone choking and climbed over the back of my chair.

‘Help me lift her!’ I shouted to the man in the seat next to her, and we carried her out. Once out of the stalls, we assessed her airway and put her in the recovery position. She started breathing again.

What a tragedy it would have been if someone had choked to death simply because no one had known how to save her.

So do, please, learn BLS. St John Ambulance and the Red Cross do courses, as do many councils. You can learn the basics of CPR on the British Heart Foundation website for free. Trust me, you never know when you might need it.

  • An interesting benefit of HRT might be that it helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A study has found HRT is linked with better memory and cognition in women with a genetic risk of developing the disease. I found this fascinating. For too long doctors have focused on the negatives of HRT and down-played the benefits.

UK’s most shocking statistic

Our lack of knowledge about basic anatomy has been uncovered by a poll of 2,000 adults published last week. More than a third weren’t completely confident they knew where their brain was!

I think doctors often over-estimate the knowledge of the public, and use medical jargon that many patients just don’t understand.

I remember one patient who said she’d been told she was dying, but I could see she had been discharged from a kidney clinic. After much digging, I discovered she had been diagnosed with an acute renal injury — temporary damage to her kidney. I spoke to her again and told her the diagnosis. Yes, she replied — she didn’t understand what renal meant, but knew it was terminal, because that’s what acute means.

You can imagine her relief when I explained the situation. But it made me pause: how often had I used words assuming my patients knew what they meant? Now, I always check that they’ve understood by asking them to relay back the information I’ve given them. I also write to them afterwards so they have a record of it.

Online self-harm images are a huge problem. Unless you have a child or work with children, it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate the scale of the issue. But imagine if I started giving tips on how to avoid detection when you have anorexia, or encouraged people to cut themselves? There would be an outcry. Yet social-media giants have precisely this kind of content on their sites. It’s madness.

Samaritans has now intervened in the Government’s proposed Online Safety Bill, saying it doesn’t go far enough. Come on, what are we doing? We owe it to young people to ensure we have robust laws to protect them.

DR MAX PRESCRIBES…

A SLICE OF OFFICE CAKE 

Bringing cake to work is like passive smoking, according to Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency. Stock image used

Bringing cake to work is like passive smoking, according to Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency. Stock image used

Bringing cake to work is like passive smoking, according to Professor Susan Jebb, chair of the Food Standards Agency. It’s not though, is it? There’s no harm in the odd sweet treat as part of a sensible, healthy eating regime. Statements like Susan Jebb’s just make people feel that health professionals are out of touch and killjoys. Have your cake and eat it, I say. Just do it in moderation. 

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