Friday, July 6, 2012

Saving a Life

Michael Allen, 1st Lt, CAP
Emergency Services Officer and Incident Commander
Amelia Earhart Senior Squadron 188
California Wing

At the Wing Operational Exercise (WOX), some of the participants decided to have dinner together after the base closed for the night on Saturday. Given how stressful the day's events were, complete with a light fixture sparking and smoking (which forced a brief CAP staff evacuation and response from the Fire Department to give the all-clear), we felt we earned a nice dinner where we could all chat with each other away from a mission base. Our dinner companions included Sq. 188's Noel Luneau, me, the Group 2 Commander, Cal Wing Director of Operations, and many others. A Ground Team joined us at an adjacent booth. It was good to see 15 or so CAP members from bases state-wide, unwinding after a very eventful day.

From where I was I happen to have a clear line of sight to one of our Cadets seated about 15 feet away at the Ground Team's table. About 30 minutes into dinner as we enjoyed beverages and bread, I spotted that Cadet previously mentioned clutching her throat in the classic choking distress manner. It took about 5 seconds to realize that she wasn't joking around with members at her table. As her skin tone changed to a very red hue, I dashed from our table to the Ground Team's booth. After asking her if she's choking all she could muster is a slight nod to answer my question. I pulled her from her booth to stand her up and she was semi-limp. It's safe to assume she had been choking for 15 or more seconds at that point.

I administered 3 quick thrusts in a semi-standing Heimlich maneuver (Abdominal Thrust) position and heard her airway clear. For a moment I believe I actually heard the piece of ice hit the floor and bounce away. She began coughing and breathing again. After assisting her back to her seat and taking a knee next to her in an attempt to keep her calm and to verify we got the entire obstruction clear, I couldn't help but notice a stunned non-CAP couple sitting a few feet away that had just seen everything that happened, in total stunned silence. The Cadet kept her composure as she recovered, and after I confirmed with her that she was ok, let her know she might feel discomfort after the administration of those thrusts to which she replied with a semi-smile and chuckle, "Oh, I'm going to bruise!" I reassured her that she was fine but to let myself or another Senior Member know if she needed anything or felt anything unusual. There's always the potential for injury when you use that maneuver, so it's good to monitor the person for a while if possible. From there it was back to the "base staff" table, where about 3 out of 10 had any idea about what had just happened in the past 2 minutes!

I have to say I was trembling after I sat back down! My hands didn't stop shaking for at least 10 minutes. As news of what had just taken place spread around the table, it got funnier and funnier as I heard, "Wait, WHAT just happened? Are you serious???" The whole incident was that quiet, that quick. I also remember how stunned that Cadet's table was; they felt horrible that no one had seen that she was in distress. Until I pulled her from the booth they happened to be looking to the center of the booth, not looking directly at that Cadet. It was just bad timing, they had no fault, no one did! They wondered how I had seen it from 15 feet away at another table when they were within an arm's reach and didn't notice anything. Maybe I look for trouble or things that are out of the ordinary? I'm leaning toward, "We just got lucky this time."

And I do mean "we". This was a Cadet, a member of our CAP family. We saved one of our own this time but last year it was a fellow Incident Commander and a Cadet that saved a non-CAP member by administering effective CPR. This extremely important training becomes second nature, it kicks in before you know it. You react to the situation, do your job, and then you'll probably feel the effects of that extremely intense event for a day or more. What's strange is that you're completely on auto-pilot at the time. I hardly remember pulling her from the booth, the thrusts, only the coughing and a clicking sound that I thought was ice hitting the ground.

When you have a chance to earn your CPR card, please, do it. We have training coming up at the unit, I believe in July. When we post the date please be ready and willing to serve the community by training on this array of life-saving techniques. My 8 hours of CPR classes and time/few bucks to renew may have just given someone 80 years back or more... A great return on investment, don't you think?

I bet she thinks so, and her parents that don't have to bury their child, too.

Please take the CPR training, as a personal favor I'm asking all of you to jump in the pool and do this.

Thank you all for your service.

PS- The Cadet had the class to come over before dinner broke just to thank me again. The unit she belongs to has a "good egg"! We can teach customs and courtesies, but it takes character at the core to show class. If only all the young men and women today had that trait, the world would be a better place! I look forward to working with this cadet and the rest of her peers and Senior squadron members in the future

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