On Oct. 19, Gail Douglass was attending a burial in Belleville and almost ended up being laid to rest herself. Douglass, a nurse working at the time in the emergency department of Methodist Medical Center, was preparing to leave the funeral of her friend’s husband when she felt dizzy and blacked out.
On Oct. 19, Gail Douglass was attending a burial in Belleville and almost ended up being laid to rest herself.
Douglass, a nurse working at the time in the emergency department of Methodist Medical Center, was preparing to leave the funeral of her friend’s husband when she felt dizzy and blacked out. The next thing she remembers is coming to in the ambulance, wearing an oxygen mask on her face and an IV stuck in her arm.
Emergency workers said she collapsed in a seizure and suffered a cardiac arrest at the cemetery but was revived on the spot by CPR. And giving her mouth-to-mouth was Patricia Penny — the friend who just minutes earlier finished burying her husband.
"Somebody with a sense of humor said it was my husband’s way of saying get back to work," Penny recalled Thursday morning. "So right then and there I was back to work doing CPR on one of my best friends."
Both a colleague and a friend of Douglass, Penny said she never thought twice about administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, telling herself she wasn’t about to let Douglass die. After seeing her lying on the ground with blue lips and no pulse, Penny began directing others to call 911 and asking for help with CPR. Two other women helped with chest compressions before Douglass came to and tried, amid protest from Penny and others, to sit up and walk to the waiting gurney.
"She kept saying I’m not going to bury my husband and lose my best friend all in the same day," Douglass said.
More than 300,000 Americans die annually of cardiac arrest, the vast majority of them before they reach a hospital. A recent survey by the American Heart Association found nearly 90 percent of respondents said they were willing and able to help if they witnessed a medical emergency but only 21 percent were confident they could perform CPR. Just 15 percent thought they could use an automated external defibrillator.
Health professionals say the two women’s story and the survey results illustrate the importance of CPR and the need for adequate training. Simply pushing hard and fast continuously on the chest, they say, can mean the difference between life and death.
"It’s a life skill for anybody in any situation, whether it’s a child or an adult," said Denise Poland, clinical education specialist for Methodist who teaches courses on the procedure. Poland said besides the lack of confidence, a fear of infection or doing harm can hold bystanders back. She estimated about 30 percent of people in the Peoria area are certified in CPR.
"Just don’t be afraid to do CPR on somebody. Even if you think ‘I don’t know it,’ something is better than nothing," said Penny, adding she would advocate training as a prerequisite to obtaining a driver’s license.
Douglass said she considers herself blessed for not only getting CPR but for living to thank those who did it. As a nurse, she’s seen patients undergo CPR but not be resuscitated.
"I think about it every day and how do you say thank you to someone for saving your life?" said Douglass, who had pacemaker installed after her cardiac arrest. "In the hospital we do CPR and I never thought I would be on the receiving end of such a gift. And it’s a gift."
Frank Radosevich II can be reached at (309) 686-3142 or firstname.lastname@example.org.