Tragedy hits. What do you do? Freeze or take action?
I tend to jump in, wanting to help. More than most anything else, I thrive on feeling useful; it gives meaning to my life. A gimme-the-reins kind of person, I prioritize well, delegate easily, and know to apply direct pressure when the blood starts to spurt ( a scary story I’ll save for another time). However, I’m not really trained in the finer points of crisis management; in many life-threatening emergencies, apart from dialing 9-1-1, I am often helpless.
Once when my nephew was very small, he had something in his mouth and I feared he might be choking. I was nearly paralyzed, except to run to my sister, whose pragmatic nature would surely take over. He was fine, she was fine, it was me who panicked. I just couldn’t think my way through the fear, because he is so beloved to me. What I needed was a skill set to fall back on, a clear set of steps to follow so that I could accurately assess and manage a traumatic situation, and keep those pesky emotions at bay. I needed emergency training.
A friend who lived in New York City on 9/11 metabolized that disaster in a similar manner. She didn’t just want to be of general service, donating money or time, she targeted a specific goal and became EMS-trained. No small response, it was an honorable and inspired action. Her commitment to civic duty surfaced in my memory this past autumn when I saw a man dying in Central Park. (Read about it here.) Afterwards, I vowed to learn first aid and CPR, so being a mere bystander wouldn’t be an option anymore. While my instincts to jump in are strong, I needed competency to be effective.
This discovery of duty, of harboring a strong sense of social responsiblity surprised me. Duty had never surfaced before; in fact, besides the military and medical fields, duty seems to rub up against the rugged individualism of the United States psyche. Where does it otherwise reside in such modern democracy? To each their own, problems and all, right? Well, my evolution from dependent child to (sometimes too) independent adult has been bumpy, and I’m happily embracing a new relationship with my inner citizen. So, this past weekend I followed through, turning my vow into action and became CPR/AED-certified, the first of many steps to lead a more politically engaged and community-minded life. Oh, how many others have gone before.
Now, I can approach someone in distress and offer trained help. I am capable of opening someone’s blocked airway, breathing for someone when they can’t, keeping a heart pumping and if necessary, even use a defibrillator. When someone chokes, suffers a stroke or heart attack, or just needs comfort until the medical professionals arrive and do the real work, I am prepared. I just hope it never comes to that.