You’re casually shopping at your favorite clothing store when the unthinkable happens. Someone collapses in the aisle next to you and doesn’t get up. You suspect a cardiac arrest, but instead of running to assist, you freeze as the adrenaline pumps through your body. You know they need CPR. But you’re afraid of being the one to initiate CPR. If this sounds like you, know you’re not alone. A cardiac event is a scary thing. But know that CPR can save a life, so fears of CPR are worth overcoming. To help you do that, we’ve compiled the top 12 fears of CPR and how you can overcome them.
1. Lack of Confidence
Practice builds confidence. But few people get to perform CPR more than a few times in their life. So many fears of CPR exist simply because they’ve never actually done it before. Will they “do it right”? This is a normal fear. People are often afraid of new things. But giving CPR is a very straightforward set of steps. You can learn to do it by taking an online CPR course and even get an online CPR certificate to prove you know how to give CPR. When you complete the course, you’ll be confident you know everything you need to know to safely and competently save a life.
2. You Might Hurt/Kill Someone
Let’s get the big fear of CPR out of the way. A lot of people are scared about this, so they freeze during an event.
Fact: A person experiencing a cardiac event is more likely to survive if someone starts CPR as soon as possible. Hurting someone isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. In fact, if you’re doing CPR correctly, you will probably break the victim’s rib. According to Science Direct, 86% of men and 91% of women will have a fracture to the sternum (chest bone) or ribs after CPR.
Trying is always better than doing nothing. A person can survive a rib or sternum fracture. But they would not survive cardiac arrest without CPR.
What about killing someone? If CPR is needed, the person’s heart has already stopped, so you’re not killing them. You’re giving them a chance to survive and to have a better quality of life after the event. When you start CPR before paramedics arrives, you can keep blood and oxygen flowing to the brain. This reduces the risk and extent of brain damage.
3. Believing Only Doctors, Nurses, EMT, etc. Should Do CPR…
In an ideal world, a doctor would always respond when someone cries out, “Is there a doctor onboard?” But the truth is, a medical professional won’t always be there. Waiting for a medical professional loses precious seconds. The longer a person waits to get CPR, the less likely it is to help them survive and have a good quality life.
Every Minute Counts
For every one minute a person goes without CPR, their chance of surviving decreases by 10%. That means you only have about 10 minutes before there is no chance of survival. According to NIH.Gov, it takes an ambulance on average 15-30 minutes to arrive. This is why everyone should learn CPR. According to medlineplus.gov, brain damage begins at four minutes of oxygen deprivation even if the person does survive.
So yes, daycare workers, teachers, grocery clerks, receptionists, bank tellers, construction workers, police officers, parents — almost anyone from early teens through adulthood can initiate CPR and should continue CPR until help arrives. Overcoming fears of CPR is a worthy goal.
Bystander CPR Matters
According to health.harvard.edu, the chances of survival double when a bystander starts CPR rather than waiting for an emergency response.
4. Getting Sued
Every state has laws in place to prevent people from suffering any legal consequences for trying to save someone’s life. Even if you were to be sued, a judge would probably dismiss it. As a society, we want brave people to face their fears of CPR and step up and help strangers when they’re at their most vulnerable. These heroes should be rewarded, not punished. This is how the legal system treats rescuers.
What About DNRs?
Even if a person has a signed legal document such as a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate Order) or an Advanced Directive that says “no CPR”, you have no way of knowing that at the time. And there is no time to find out. The legal system will support your decision to provide lifesaving treatment if you don’t know. It’s always better to err on the side of caution here.
As long as you’re acting reasonably based on the information you have and the situation, you’re generally protected. However, if you know with certainty that a person has signed a document stating that they don’t want CPR or they’ve communicated this to you clearly, you should honor their wishes.
5. Being Accused of Not Getting Consent / Inappropriate Touching
You are a responsible adult. You understand the rules of consent, and you know that “no means no”. But you also know that touching without consent can be misunderstood. Sadly, a study done at the University of Pennsylvania showed that women (39%) are less likely to receive CPR from a bystander than men (45%) because of this worry. As a result, men are 23% more likely to survive cardiac arrest than women.
The Law Is On Your Side
A cardiac arrest isn’t the time to worry about touching someone’s chest even if you believe they have strong religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. Refusing to perform CPR because you don’t want to touch a lady’s breasts could have serious consequences. Modesty shouldn’t be part of the equation in an emergency.
Nothing can stop a person from making claims about you. But the law is on your side if you perform CPR, abdominal thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver), first aid, or other lifesaving treatments.
What About Social Media?
A lot of people are also afraid of what people will say about them on social media. Public opinion will generally also be on your side, and even if some social media trolls say bad things, others will come to your defense.
Most people are smart enough to know that a person having a cardiac arrest can’t consent and should not have to. If they did, no one would ever get CPR. That would mean more lost lives.
6. Contracting a Disease
It’s human to try to avoid fluids like spit, especially if you don’t know this person. The instinct to feel like spit is gross keeps us safe from disease. But the truth is that the chances of catching something that would actually cause you significant harm is very, very unlikely. Even if you did catch something, your immune system could handle most of it, and modern medicine can handle the rest. So it’s not impossible, but chances are very low.
What About HIV and COVID?
HIV isn’t passed through saliva. It’s passed through the blood. HIV is still a very scary disease for a good reason. But HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence like it was in the ’80s and ’90s. People can live long, successful lives and prevent the spread of the disease to others with proper medical treatment.
Covid is also scary right now. It can be passed through breath and saliva. But here are the facts.
According to Boston Globe, 50% of adults in the US are now fully vaccinated. Another 15-25% may have some (but not complete) natural immunity because they had COVID, so you also have a much lower risk of catching COVID this way than you did in 2020.
You’ll also find there is specific CPR algorithm for COVID to follow specifically for when someone may possibly have COVID-19.
Do I Have to Give Mouth-to-Mouth to Give Good CPR?
If you feel unsafe giving rescue breath to a stranger, know that mouth-to-mouth safety masks exist. And if you don’t have one, hands-only CPR without breaths can still save lives.
On the flip side of this, you might be worried about giving someone a disease that you have. If you have a dangerous disease, that’s definitely something to be aware of. Hand-only CPR is a good alternative for you.
7. Not Having the Right Equipment
CPR equipment typically includes:
- A telephone to call for help
- An automatic external defibrillator (AED)
- A CPR mask
- A tool (such as a card or app) to remind you of the CPR steps if you don’t have them memorized
But by far, the most important CPR equipment you have is your own hands. Not having other equipment doesn’t have to stop you from starting CPR. If you don’t have a phone, you can yell for help and start CPR.
8. Not Keeping Rhythm
The beats of these popular songs can help you keep rhythm when doing CPR:
- Eye of the Tiger (Survivor)
- Stronger (Britney Spears)
- Set Fire to the Rain (Adele)
- Everybody (Backstreet Boys)
- Hollaback Girl (Gwen Stefani)
- Work It (Missy Elliot)
- Sweet Home Alabama (Lynard Skynard)
- Uptown Funk (Mark Ronson, Bruno Mars)
- California Dreamin’ (Bobby Womack)
- Let’s Get it Started (Black-Eyed Peas)
If none of these songs sound familiar, you can find hundreds more online.
9. Scene Unsafe
An unsafe scene may include:
- Active fire
- Unstable building
- A person collapsing in the middle of a busy street
- Broken glass, sharp objects, or slippery surfaces
- Downed power lines
- Rapidly rising floodwaters
If there is a risk to you or the victim, you should take steps to secure the situation before starting CPR. If you’re in the middle of the Interstate, you should not try to give CPR if you could get run over by a car. If you feel the need to go into an unsafe environment to give CPR, always make sure someone else knows you’re going in there or wait for help.
10. Thinking It’s Already Too Late
When you find someone whose heart has stopped, you may not know how long they’ve been there. Unless it’s obvious they’ve been there for hours, days, you should start CPR by following CPR procedures.
11. Believing No One Will Call 911 If You’re Alone
Ideally, you’ll have two people who know CPR. In these instances, one is supposed to call 911 while the other starts CPR. After the person calls 911 and gives information, they help with CPR.
But what if it’s just you there? If you are a lone rescuer, it depends on whether the victim is a child/infant or teen/adult. For a child/infant, current guidance is that you yell for help and then start CPR immediately. If the victim is an adult, you will call 911 first if you can quickly do so and talk to 911 while you start CPR.
12. No One Will Do CPR If You’re the One In Trouble
A Cleveland Clinic study showed that more than 50% of Americans say they know CPR. Some of these people have taken a formal course. Some may just think they know. But the important thing to point out here is that people understand that CPR can save lives and most adults have taken the initiative to learn about CPR.
However, we shouldn’t get complacent. This is your life we’re talking about. We encourage you to ask the people around you if they know CPR. Start the conversation at work, school, or in the grocery store. The more people around you who know CPR, the greater chances you personally have of survival. Consider becoming CPR certified online and becoming an advocate for learning CPR.