When you should stop CPR

There were a couple of news articles this week which got me thinking about the topic. In one, CPR was successful – in the more tragic story, it wasn’t.

CPR showing mouth to mouth

Naturally much of a first aid class focuses on when to do CPR and how. That’s why we’re there – as first-aiders, our first priority is always to save life. Still there comes a point in every class when we talk about reasons to stop CPR. These are the reasons:

  • The ambulance/EMS crew takes over.
  • A more qualified person/first-aider takes over, or someone at least as qualified as you steps in to help.
  • A physician pronounces the person is dead.
  • You are too exhausted to continue.

While you’re doing CPR as the first person there, you’re in charge of the situation. The first three of the points listed above involve you recognising someone more qualified than yourself and allowing them to take over, or at least direct care. You should always be confidant that you’re handing over to someone capable, but you need to be willing to recognise that if/when it happens.

Unfortunately in the first news story, this didn’t happen. As far as we can tell from the report, what the resort staff did was technically accurate CPR, for a first-aider who has done 4-8 hrs of training. What they didn’t do was listen to the medical staff with 4+ years of training. To make sure it’s really clear: if your ‘medical training’ consists of a First Aid course (from me or anyone else) then it is not superior to an E.R. (or A&E) doctor and a Critical Care Nurse. Recognise the skills and step aside folks. The fact that they’re from another country doesn’t matter.

CPR showing chest compressions

The happier story really emphasizes point 4 on the list: you are too exhausted. When teaching this, I always emphasize the key point for the casualty – if you stop, they die. It’s as plain as that. Exhausted isn’t the same as a bit tired. If you’re wondering for how long you can do CPR and ‘save’ someone, go ahead and read Dr J’s story. He brought someone back after 45 minutes. (OK, we recognise the fact she wanted to die, the point is that not knowing this he was successful after 45 minutes!) Book your place on a course and come along – we’ll expect you to do CPR in the class for 2 minutes. Most people are tired by the end of their 2 minute session. If not, you can certainly use Annie over the lunch break and see if you could manage 45.

About Tony Howarth

Tony is a First Aid & CPR Instructor Trainer with Sea 2 Sky Safety Training Services and the company founder. Tony started with the British Red Cross in 1994. Has acted as first aid attendant for hundreds of events & treated many hundreds of people as a result. He is experienced in training a wide range of courses. He previously worked as an ambulance attendant with the British Red Cross. He is now in BC as a first aid instructor, and an instructor trainer (one who trains others to become instructors) Finally, Tony works at Squamish General Hospital as the pharmacist manager when not busy training safety
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2 Responses to When you should stop CPR

  1. Dr. J says:

    Thank you for adding my successful experience with CPR to this fine article! Perhaps I did not present this clearly, but the patient did not have a DNR (do not resuscitate) request in place, and only expressed her wish to die after she awoke in the Intensive Care Unit. It was more of a reaction to finding herself that way, but she got over it as she felt better 🙂

  2. Pingback: First Aid – a Blog Round-up | Safety un-Limited

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