Yet again we find the American media gripped by a non-event. Every day thousands of old people collapse and die. While it may appear strange to CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and Fox, old people dying is actually incredibly natural.
So when 87 year-old Lorraine Bayless keeled over at the independent living community of Glenwood Gardens in Bakersfield, California, and the staff on hand called the emergency services, it was unlikely she would survive for very long, and she didn’t.
The subsequent furore – headline national news, the internet swamped by half-baked pseudo-experts sounding off at the staff of the facility for refusing the woman cardiopulmonary resuscitation, (though I bet many of those who yelled the loudest hadn’t a clue what the acronym ‘CPR’ stood for), has pushed most of the day’s genuine news into obscurity.
I know nothing of the policies of this Glenwood Gardens facility, but it has been stressed that the woman was in the ‘independent living’ part of the complex, and was aware that emergency help would be restricted to summoning the emergency services.
To the uneducated American viewer it would, no doubt, appear callous in the extreme for staff to refuse this poor woman CPR. Either the national media were similarly ignorant, or they were playing on the lack of their audience’s knowledge to ‘heat up’ a dumb story.
CPR can be highly injurious, even when carried out by a trained person. On a frail 87-year-old it could prove fatally so. Apart from fractured ribs, complications include bleeding in the lining of the pleura, serious damage to the liver and spleen, and pulmonary problems. Unless she was in remarkably robust condition for her age, CPR was as likely to kill her as keep her alive.
Despite the fictions of TV soaps and Hollywood, CPR does not ‘bring you back’ to life. At best, all it can do is keep the body’s tissue from deteriorating from lack of oxygen until professional assistance (usually in the form of a defibrillator) is available. If that fails to start the heart then the patient is already dead and CPR was a waste of everyone’s time.
Glenwood Garden’s policy of non-intervention was probably determined by fear of legal repercussions. The idea that such an issue could result in someone losing their life is horrific to most of us. So, blame the lawyers. In Lorraine Bayliss’s case her death was almost certainly inevitable.
The woman’s daughter, herself a nurse, stated she was totally satisfied with the care her mother had received. Obviously, she was more aware of the best nursing approach to her mother’s condition than were the idiot news broadcasters, and those factions of the US public stupid enough to assume their media is actually feeding them something newsworthy.