Paradigm Shifts In Resuscitation

We go through a series of paradigm shifts during our childhood and development: the moments that change our outlook on the world around us and how we influence it.

  • “There’s a whole world outside of my home!”
  • “People can be really cruel!”
  • “Sharing is caring.”
  • “Chicken pox are contagious!”

Similar shifts occur in our development as physicians. I remember very distinctly the moment that the pathophysiology of heart failure finally just “clicked” in my mind.

A similar shift occurred as I reviewed a recent AHA news brief on survival in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Unconsciously, I had developed a thought-process around out-of-hospital cardiac arrest that was very skewed.

  • As a child, I thought of CPR as some sort of strange voodoo magic that only lifeguards and doctors could perform. It always worked and brought people back to life immediately with nothing but a residual cough (as they spit out water and seaweed, usually).
  • Then, as I trained to become a BLS instructor during medical school, I realized that anyone could do CPR, but it didn’t always work. There was no magic about it – it was pure science.
  • Through my years in medical school, residency, cardiology fellowship, and critical care fellowship, I saw patients who never recovered, or who had profoundly poor outcomes despite survival and I began to think of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest as sort of hopeless. Of course, there was the occasional patient who walked out of the ICU, but I felt like most of the time, if CPR was done outside the hospital, it was not going to end well.

However, after reading about the profound increase in survival and improved functional outcomes after bystanders used AEDs for patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, I suddenly have much more hope. I look back on my own experiences and realize that those patients who did well were the ones who had immediate bystander CPR /- the AED, depending on the etiology of arrest. I think my learned pessimism made it more difficult for me to recognize this connection. But, studies like this show that the evolution in resuscitation science, public health and safety culture, and education can make huge differences in our world. It makes me more hopeful for the future and more thoughtful about ways that I can influence the health and safety of those around me. I think I’m more hopeful now that even small efforts towards improved public health, not just around resuscitation, but anything that makes a positive impact, are worthwhile.

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David K. Werho, MD is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California San Diego and a Pediatric Cardiac Intensivist at Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego.  His research focuses on pediatric cardiac ICU outcomes as well as interventions and curriculum development in medical education.  He tweets @DWerho and contributes to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Society Newsletter as editor and contributor.

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