Doing something different outside of the hospital: Restart a heart

I’m a paediatric trainee and this is my second full year of specialising in paediatrics. Most of my job, as you would imagine, is spent looking after unwell children and communicating with anxious loved ones. Imagine my happiness at being asked to join the “restart a heart” campaign with some of my colleagues and interacting with well children.

The plan for the day was to visit two primary schools and teach a range of year 3-6 children how to save someone’s life with cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

We arrived at the first primary school with trepidation, imagining what could go wrong. Each session started with our consultant introducing the team, explaining what CPR is, why we do it and running through a demonstration. We had a mixture of children who had and hadn’t practised CPR before. Post-demonstration the children were split into smaller groups and each surrounded a manikin to practise CPR. I was paired with one of my GP trainee colleagues and we got each child to run through how they would manage a situation. First hurdle of the day: in response to “Who wants to practise first?” each child took a comical one step back like they do in the movies. Solution: time for bribery – “Whoever goes first gets a sticker!” All the children took one step forward. The GP trainee and I laughed.

Throughout the day I was pleasantly surprised with how much the children had remembered from the demonstration and how well they’d grasped looking for danger, checking the patient, calling for help, checking the person’s breathing and the CPR itself. The final part of the demonstration was showing the children the recovery position, which with great excitement they practised on each other.

During the day we met a number of different groups of children. There was predictably lots of laughter about “kissing” the patient, despite us trying to explain that wasn’t what we were doing. I think in the end they understood we were trying to save a life. There were also some very forthcoming answers, including in response to “when might we use CPR” one little boy saying if someone was “executed”. The consultant handled this response remarkably well.

It was an amazing experience to teach something to children that I have had drilled into me since secondary school and throughout medical training. I would do it again in a heartbeat (!). It was a good reminder that not all children are sick all the time, which is how it can sometimes feel in acute paediatrics. I felt incredibly privileged to go into a child’s normal everyday life and interact with them.

Things I learnt from the day:

  1. It is possible to teach over 130 children in a day how to perform CPR if you have the time and willingness to do so.
  2. It reaffirmed to me how much I love working with and interacting with children. They learn quickly and have no qualms about shouting out whatever answer they feel is correct.
  3. I would have been a terrible teacher  I found it very difficult to keep control of six children at once let alone a class of 25 or more.
  4. No matter how fascinating and interactive your sessions are, if the sky turns orange that is much more interesting to a child.
  5. Even if you’re the one teaching you always end up learning something yourself. (Did you know if you call 911 or 112 you can still get the emergency services?)