Practice safe CPR in the Age of COVID

Oct 5, 2021 by Keith Murray

When someone on board collapses in cardiac arrest, you know you should quickly start CPR — but how do you protect yourself from airborne pathogens like the coronavirus? If you don’t have a proper CPR barrier mask, performing compression-only CPR is the best way to help while avoiding Covid-19.

Many people think CPR is what brings the patient back, but cardiac arrest is an electrical problem in the body and requires an electric shock from the AED to return the heart to a normal rhythm. CPR compressions squeeze the heart, which moves the blood, carrying  oxygen to the brain and preventing brain damage. CPR buys you time; it’s AED that saves the patient’s life.

Follow the usual steps: Make sure the scene is safe, shake the patient and ask, “Are you OK?” If the person is not responsive and not breathing, or not breathing normally, have someone call 911 (at sea, radio for help) and get the AED (automated external defibrillator). Watch the patient’s chest for seven seconds to see if it’s moving — if not, the patient is not breathing and you must immediately begin CPR — in this case, what some people call the “new CPR,” or hands-only, no mouth-to-mouth.

Begin compressions at the center of the chest and do not stop! Push hard, fast and deep — at least 2 inches —  at the rate of at least 120 compressions per minute, faster than once per second. The disco song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees is 120 beats per minute — so push to that beat. Ironically, the Queen song “Another One Bites The Dust” is also the correct pace.

Breaking the victim’s ribs is somewhat common during CPR; if you hear or feel ribs breaking, don’t stop! You are trying to save a life and must continue pushing until:

  • paramedics or other trained personnel arrive;
  • the AED arrives and you are instructed by the AED to stand clear;
  • or the patient can breathe on his or her own.

The key to surviving sudden cardiac arrest is fast CPR, fast defibrillation and fast transport to a hospital. Statistically, the odds of surviving are low: less than 8%. The odds of surviving cardiac arrest drop about 10% per minute until an AED can be used to shock the patient back to life. The faster you apply the AED the better. And don’t worry, the AED will only shock the patient if he or she is in cardiac arrest.

Keith Murray, a former EMT, provides onboard CPR, AED and First Aid training for yacht crew.