CPR: Why You Should Jump on a Stranger’s Chest

We’ve all seen spectacular examples of CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), especially on TV, where it leads to equally spectacular results: the previously pulseless patient sits up and tucks into pizza while vowing undying love for his family.

CPR ventilating with bag

In real life, the story is different. Outside Casualty, Grey’s Anatomy, and other small screen dramas, CPR is far less successful. Cardiac arrest in hospital has a survival rate of around 35%. Out in the big wide world, survival is more like 8%. This UK figure is especially dismal when compared with other western countries.

I learned all this and more at a CPR refresher course this week, courtesy of the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in North London. Tutor Philip Howarth is a brilliant mimic as well as a gifted teacher, and he was assisted by his fellow resuscitation officer Christilene Kiewiets. I can’t actually think of a more worthwhile way to spend a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

CPR manequin

We went through various scenarios of increasing complexity, but the principles are simple and they’re things everyone should know.

In a cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping. This deprives the body of vital oxygen.

After five minutes without treatment, this damages the most important organ in the body (that’s the brain, in case you wondered).

CPR buys time. After a cardiac arrest, it can keep life going for up to 20 minutes (possibly even longer). That means time for paramedics to get there.

But CPR needs to start as soon as possible, ideally within two minutes.

Classic CPR uses chest compression and rescue breaths (in a ratio of 30:2 for adults). But hands-only CPR is a useful alternative. (Chest compressions make the lungs move, so they deliver some ‘breaths’. And people are more likely to give CPR to strangers if they can avoid mouth-to-mouth.)

Chest compressions should be fast and deep. A rate of 100-120 compressions a minute (two per second) is better than the old advice to keep time with the BeeGees’ Stayin’ Alive. ‘Deep’ usually means to a third of the depth of the chest. It’s tiring, and it can be noisy. The sound of ribs cracking is par for the course.


Defibrillators can make all the difference to the outcome. In the UK there’s an increasing number of public-access defibrillators in airports, stations, and the like. The best bit is that these automated defibrillators are very easy to use, with voice prompts that are simpler and far more reliable than sat nav.

The most important thing of all?

Have a go. If someone has a cardiac arrest and you stand idly by, that person is dead. So there’s nothing to lose.

If you’re wondering about the best place to cash in your chips, a Las Vegas casino is probably the safest location of all in which to suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Security guards trained in CPR and the prompt use of defibrillators can achieve impressive results.

FreeImages.com/Bob Townsend

Photo credit Bob Townsend


The free app Lifesaver is a live-action movie you play like a game. It’s a great way to learn how to save someone’s life.

The British Heart Foundation runs HeartStart training courses around the UK.

First aid courses for the public offered by other charities such as the British Red Cross also include CPR.

Some ambulance instructors also teach the public. Get in touch with the Community Defibrillator Officer or the ambulance training school nearest you for more details.

The latest Resuscitation Council UK guidelines can be found here.

Here’s an easy tweet:

CPR: Why You Should Jump on a Stranger’s Chest http://wp.me/p3uiuG-1qC via @DrCarolCooper #CPR #cardiacarrest 


Being on TV is the ultimate in glamour, as the late David Frost knew so well.  That’s pretty much how it is for me too.  Polish TVFirst off, I get chauffeured to the studio.  This driver collects vintage sweet wrappers, judging by his floor.  I can see them even though it’s 5am and still dark.  On our way, he relates all the symptoms he and his family have ever had.  I hope we arrive before he gets around to his Farmers.

Getting inside the studio is the next hurdle.  I’ve been to this one many times, yet each time the security guard peers at me as if I might be wearing a suicide vest.  On my way out, he may be asking for my autograph, but getting in means a ritual interrogation.

The Green Room (which is blue rather than green – whose idea was that?) is swarming with guests ranging from newspaper reviewers to a family with 7 children who live on E numbers.  In a corner two politicians from opposing parties are swapping dirty jokes.   In here they’re like bosom buddies, though on air they’ll be punching the verbal daylights out of each other.

The newspaper reviewers have covered every surface with newspapers.  The kids have eaten all but one of the biscuits in the box on the table, and I saw the youngest lick that one.

A runner asks if I’d like tea or coffee.  In hindsight, I should choose water.  It’s more likely to arrive before I go on air.

In make-up, the artists are busy working on presenters and guests while chatting about boyfriends and clothes.   Two artists become free at the same time.  I’m standing in the doorway as they eyeball each other.  “OK, I’ll do her” says one of them finally.  “I like a challenge.”

Foundation goes on ¼” thick.  It gives me an orange glow, as if I’ve been on holiday.  In a Doritos factory.  “Ever considered permanent makeup?” asks the artist who is now applying thick ribbons of black eyeliner.

My tip: ask to look like the artist who’s doing your panel-beating and respray.  Everyone likes a compliment, and it saves time because they’ve always got that look down to a fine art.

My artist sighs as she inspects my hair and asks how I’d like it.  With about twice as much volume is my answer, but that’s not possible. What I get is a headful of Velcro rollers followed by a vicious backcombing that threatens to yank my earrings off.

Sometimes there’s no time for hair and makeup, and I have to go on camera without it.  The message is more important than the messenger.

Presenters are invariably charming and can conduct three conversations at once: with the co-presenter, the guest, and, via an earpiece, the producer in the gallery. The interviewee only has to manage one dialogue.

It’s over quickly, but I always know that lots of people are watching, in other words the producer and my mother (actually my mother doesn’t bother so much these days).  On the plus side, I manage to get across most of my points on MRSA.  And someone finally hands me that coffee when I get out.

My driver is the same one.  On our way back he merrily clips the wing mirror of a parked BMW, and deposits me 100 yards from my home.  He can’t get any further because a refuse cart is blocking the road.

refuse cart crop

“Thanks” I say as I get out, feeling a bit rubbish.