Stayin’ alive

Anyone from my generation who believed in the supernatural powers of saving lives did so because of two reasons—Peter Parker and C. J. Parker. The first was the character of the Amazing Spiderman and the second, of course, was Pamela Anderson’s character in the popular hit series Baywatch.

As little children, Spiderman taught us, “With great power comes great responsibility.” However, only later on in life did I realise that with great power comes an even greater electricity bill. On the other hand, Pamela Anderson teaching us about chest compressions and first aid in her role as the curvaceous lifeguard on the glistening beaches of California is why most youngsters took to a career in medicine.  


Coincidentally, as St. John Ambulance celebrates its centenary, Anderson also got some press coverage right after her birth as the country’s ‘Centennial Baby’; she was the first baby born on July 1, 1967, the 100th anniversary of Canada’s official founding via the Constitution Act, 1867. So, it’s only right for Pamela to be the brand ambassador of the St. John Ambulance’s first aid awareness campaign—if not on paper then at least in our minds.


Though I entered the medical profession in my late teens, I have had experiences with first-aid right from early childhood. As a little boy, I remember travelling in a popular-at-one-time airline when I noticed a big stainless steel box placed precariously as cabin baggage above the seat in front of me. I could almost predict its fate, as in the next few minutes it fell straight on the head of a frail lady supposedly getting ready for a pleasant flight, grievously injuring her head and shoulder. Ironically, the box happened to be a first-aid kit.


The poor lady was bleeding profusely and one nervous cabin crewmember told another to apply pressure. So, with a fake authoritativeness he told her that if she didn’t stop bleeding, she’d die right away!


As young boy scouts, we had a great time learning about first aid. We knew how to tie fractured hands into slings, make stretchers with bamboos, tie complex knots with kaathi ropes, and transport our pseudo-injured colleagues, who occasionally fell through the stretcher and actually broke something else instead. We mastered the art of treating burn victims, and laal davaa was our grannies’ solution to any injury. We learnt the technically sound way to deliver cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and proudly adorned a first-aid badge on our sleeves.


Just like everything else in science, even the concept of first aid has evolved. A recent article in the New York Times states that according to researchers, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ offers almost the perfect pace for performing chest compressions on people who have had heart attacks: “Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive…” According to the American Heart Association guidelines, emergency workers performing CPR are advised to press down on the chest 100 times a minute. ‘Stayin’ Alive’ has 103 beats a minute, and doing it right can triple the patient’s survival rate. They don’t advocate turning on the song in the middle of the resuscitation, but if it helps people to sing to it out loud, I guess that’s okay!


India is the road traffic accident capital of the world. If you’re a Parsi trading in the stock market, time is money, but if you’re an accident victim, time is brain. There are two reasons behind urging a trauma victim to remain conscious. First, remaining conscious by volition allows the increased release of body chemicals that help blood pressure to remain elevated, preventing organ failure or even death. Second, it protects a victim’s airway and prevents aspiration, or breathing fluids or foreign bodies into the lungs—another potential cause of death. So, when we hear paramedics in movies or in medical dramas asking patients to ‘stay with them’, it’s not that they are longing for affection.


Time is also spine. While the A-B-C for emergency care stands for Airway-Breathing-Circulation, the ‘C’ also refers to the cervical spine. We often forget that head injuries can be associated with injuries of the cervical spine that may leave patients quadriplegic if not handled appropriately. So, if you want to do your ‘service to mankind’, immobilize (restrict movements) of the spine if you happen to be at a trauma site.


In the horrendous Mumbai traffic and the inevitable potholes that follow the monsoons, most ambulances arrive only after all the action is over (much like the police)—except if it’s St. John Ambulance! That’s because the ambulance services are themselves in a state of emergency. There aren’t enough well-trained, full-time paramedics to deal with the crisis of misadventures. The authorities should ensure that the frontline is made up of men and women who feel a calling and take pride in saving lives. St. John Ambulance is doing what it can to run courses and train people, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Investment in infrastructure, air ambulances, correct equipment, modern technology, telemedicine, and smart phone applications will all help to improve the outcome of emergency healthcare. NGOs alone cannot accomplish this—this requires national-level involvement and budgets.


The cheapest part of first aid is prevention. As my friend Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” We need to equip the homes of the elderly to ensure that they don’t fall. Our baugs need to figure out evacuation measures for when natural disasters strike. If we are not mindful, adversity will strike. A new bumper sticker on my car is going to read, “Honk if you love khodaiji, text and drive if you want to meet him. Drink and drive if you want your loved ones to join in as well. Death by LoL.” Don’t expect life to be fair this Christmas, because as they say, “Even Santa comes with a Clause!”


You don’t have to be a doctor to save lives. Learn first aid and CPR; it might be your only excuse to knock down someone you love and give him/her mouth-to-mouth. ‘Stayin’ Alive’, by the way, is not the only song found to be helpful for performing CPR. ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen (aapri Rani) may also work; obviously, ‘Stayin’ Alive’ is a little more appropriate for the situation.


I salute St. John Ambulance for their daunting task of spreading awareness of their first aid campaign. Laughter Therapy, too, is a class act for administrating emergency care—especially if you’re heartbroken. Enjoy the show!