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Arrested development

Copperfield finds his latest CPR refresher pointless – he’d be far more inclined to leave the heroics to the local hoodie and head for the nearest pub

Copperfield finds his latest CPR refresher pointless – he'd be far more inclined to leave the heroics to the local hoodie and head for the nearest pub

It's lunchtime. This seminar is eating in to my half day like a health visitor working her way through a packet of HobNobs.

In front of a room full of GPs, registrars and nurse practitioners, a chubby paramedic breaks some startling news. ‘Ladies and gentlemen. This year the heart has been moved to the right side of the chest. All resuscitation techniques are now the mirror image of those we taught you last year. Left-handed health professionals will find the new procedures especially straightforward.'

Only joking. In reality nothing has changed since the last time we sat through an arse-achingly tedious CPR refresher.

Item one on the agenda is ‘Approaching the Unconscious Patient'. This implies movement towards the stricken creature – whereas item one on my personal agenda in this situation would invariably be ‘Approaching the Nearest Public House'.

Let's not delude ourselves. Unless you're a homicidal maniac, the odds of being on the scene at a proper cardiac arrest are virtually zero. It has happened to me once in my entire career and that wasn't exactly accidental, as it had been my overzealous injection of verapamil that had stopped the poor bugger's heart in the first place.

In my neck of the woods, the odds of stumbling across, or even over, a drunken semi-conscious crusty are far higher. I need a pie and a pint more than he needs me.

So there's about as much chance of me pushing through a crowd of camcorder-wielding onlookers shouting ‘Let me through, I'm a doctor!' as there is of my sending a thank you card to a social worker.

No-win situation

As far as GPs are concerned it's a no-win situation. If we do the decent thing and fail, we're incompetent. If we succeed, so what – isn't that what we're trained for?

Better to step aside and let someone who might stand to gain have a chance of glory. If a passing hoodie were to perform successful CPR, think of the enormous improvement there would be in society's view of teenagers. There would be headlines in the local paper, photo ops with local MPs and record hits on the YouTube footage.

Whereas you or I would just be viewed as doing our job. A mention on page seven of the local free press – and then the risk of a double-page spread in the following Sunday's tabloids, reading something like: ‘GP who saved heart attack plumber knows nothing about gastrin-secreting pancreatic neuro-endocrine malignancy, say outraged relatives. Department of Health promises action and suspends danger doc on half pay.'

I'm not saying there aren't upsides to kerbside CPR. I can tread on the victim's hand to assess his response to pain and I get to stick a finger deep into each nostril and yank his head back as far as it will go to clear the airway. I can crack a couple of ribs with impunity or roll him away from me into the recovery position so he vomits over an uppity first-aider's shoes.

On the other hand, I can just dial 999 and then stride purposefully toward the aforementioned pub for a swift half. Or two.


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