Breathing Easier

CBS/The Early Show
Last Sunday, I took a CPR class at the local Red Cross. I'd been wanting to do this for a long time, but since it was a four-hour class, it was always easy for me to find an excuse not to go. But this time, because of my love of humanity and the absence of any games on TV that I wanted to watch, I went to the class.

There were a few reasons that I wanted to learn CPR. I wanted to have confidence and to be more relaxed in case of an emergency situation. And I admit that when I fantasized about using my CPR and reviving someone, I kind of liked the idea of being a hero.

There were six of us taking the class from our instructor, Sean. Sean was a great teacher who exuded confidence. If I could just always have him with me, I'd be able to handle any emergency. The other five students all had jobs that required them to take the course and be certified. I was the only one there for heroic/neurotic reasons. (Sean wore surgical gloves throughout the class, explaining that he got fewer colds ever since he started doing this. So, maybe I wasn't the only one who hadn't checked his neuroses at the door.)

One of the first things I learned is that I need a new cell phone. I had been proud of the fact that, unlike the other members of my family, I'd resisted getting a new cell phone with all kinds of unnecessary features. I have no intention of ever watching "The A Team" on my phone or taking a picture with it of a shirt I'm thinking about buying. Unfortunately, a cell phone as old as mine is not what is called "GSM ready." In other words, it can't automatically tell the people at 911 exactly where I am like the newer ones can.

Once Sean started talking in more detail about CPR, we all seemed to have the same fear: what if we accidentally kill the person we're trying to help? But Sean quickly put this fear to rest. As he pointed to the plastic dummy, "Bob," he reminded us that the person you're working on, in the worst possible situation, isn't breathing and doesn't have a pulse. He's already dead. Our job is to revive Bob and keep him revived until the professionals arrive. So, you can't kill him. The worst you can do is to not miraculously revive him. (OK, I added the word, "miraculously.")

Bob was a very good patient, who never complained if we accidentally tickled him or pressed too hard on his ribs. On the other hand, Bob never thanked us for bringing him back to life.

We got a short lesson in using an AED, which is an Automated External Defibrillator. We had the thrill of yelling, "Clear!" Unfortunately this also brought on a little anxiety when Sean mentioned if the patient were a woman with a metal underwire in her bra or with metal piercings on her torso, we'd have to remove them. This didn't seem like the kind of action I'd be able to do calmly. But I reminded myself that taking off that woman's bra could save her life. Sounds like a line some teenage boy might use, but in this case it was true.

After taking the class, I felt that everyone should take CPR. You might save someone's life. Isn't that worth a few hours in a classroom?

Knowing that there's a chance that I might save someone's life gave me a new sense of responsibility — and anxiety. I realized that everywhere I go from now on, I might be called upon to respond to an emergency. My first instinct was to just stay home and avoid being around people so my CPR skills won't be tested. But then I realized that even though I might forget a detail or two of what I learned, I'm certainly more qualified to help someone than before I took the class. I'm not so anxious to be a hero as I was before. I'll be happy if I never have to use CPR, but I'll use it if necessary. It's like having a good spare tire in the trunk.

However, there's one set of circumstances about which I have complete confidence. I will spring into action without hesitation if I'm ever with a plastic dummy who has a heart attack.

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for He has written for many heart-stopping television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver