Automated External Defibrillators Talk To You

You can’t do anything wrong. The defibrillator’s voice is loud and clear and gives the group of students listening step by steps instructions what to do. The students hesitate but when the intructor reassures them, one of students presses the flashing orange button of the training model. If this had been a real defibrillator, approximately 4000 Volts would have gone through the person receiving the shock and might have saved that person’s life. Immediately after the shock, the defibrillator tells the students to continue the CPR, which they had been performing until the voice had told them to stop. “You cannot do anything wrong,” Luitgard, the instructor, reassures the students, “just listen to what it says.”

This scene from one of last week’s First Aid courses for the Swiss Driver’s License is typical. Many participants know defibrillators from movies and television. Hollywood uses defibrillators in a clinical environment and sadly, lots of what you see on television is not correct.

So, what do defibrillators do?

The term AED stands for automated external defibrillator. These devices are built for lay people and are able to give a shock automatically or upon the pressing of the shock button. AEDs give shocks of up to 4000 volt and this voltage goes through the casualty for between 3 and 40 milliseconds. There are many different brands and models available but the principle of AEDs is always the same: after pressing the start button, the AED gives step-by-step instructions to resuscitate a person in cardiac arrest. Two adhesive electrodes must be placed on the bare skin. Then the defibrillator assesses the heart rhythm to decide whether a shock is necessary. Only once the AED has done this assessment, the shock button will light up and the defibrillator will advise the first aider to press the button to give the shock. When a shock is advised, all first aiders must move away from the casualty as no one is allowed to touch the casualty while the shock is given. Once the shock is given, a defibrillator can give instructions on how to perform further life saving measures such as chest compressions and ventilation (breathing into the casualty).

Once the students have experienced the safety and simplicity of a defibrillator, they no longer hesitate integrating them into the different scenarios that they train their life saving skills on during the course. With every new scenario, they feel more confident and they get a routine to split up responsibilities during such a situation: one person ensures safety, another person assesses the casualty and starts life saving CPR, yet another one calls the ambulance and searches for a defibrillator.

Every year approx. 10 000 people die of “Sudden Cardiac Arrest” in Switzerland alone. That translates into 27 people a day and one person per hour. Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), or Sudden Cardiac Death, is the number one killer on the western world. Bystanders will see a person collapse without any prior warning. SCA is defined as a sudden, unexpected death with a cardiac cause within one hour of a feeling of not being well. Without warning the heart stops beating or goes into “ventricular fibrillation”. In more than 90% of all cases, patients do not survive this event. With every minute ventricular fibrillation lasts, the survival chances decrease by approximately 10%. That is why an AED should be used as quickly as possible. An AED can increase the survival chance of a person with sudden cardiac arrest by up to 75% – IF the AED is used the first time within 3 minutes.

It is estimated that in Switzerland only 1-2% of the adult population are trained in life saving skills every year. Don’t be one of them, learn how to save a person’s life today!

Posted on February 29, 2016 by Luitgard Holzleg

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