Island Life by David Slack


A therapeutic dose

This morning at the gym a man collapsed and they called an ambulance. It occurred to me as I saw them go to work with the defibrillator that I hadn't seen one deployed in real life before. I have been prone alongside them, three times I've taken an ambulance ride with electrodes stuck to my chest and machine standing by, and if you watch the TV you know to get your hands out of the way when Abby says "clear". It's a wholly darker complexion of grim when some poor soul is lying on the floor, ringed by ambulance officers taking turns at CPR and administering the shock at steady intervals.

A defibrillator gives you "a therapeutic dose of electrical energy". In 1947 Claude Beck, a professor of surgery, tried it out on a patient. He had a theory that ventricular fibrillation often occurred in hearts which were "too good to die" and there had to be a way to save them. Let us all salute Professor Beck.

Let us also mention the late Kerry Packer, as reported by Wikipedia:

In Australia up until the 1990s, it was quite rare for an ambulance to carry a defibrillator. This changed in 1990 when Australian media mogul Kerry Packer had a heart attack and the ambulance that responded to the call did carry a defibrillator. After this, Kerry Packer donated a large sum to the Ambulance Service of New South Wales in order that all ambulances in New South Wales should be fitted with a personal defibrillator, leading to the Australian colloquial term for the device, Packer Whacker.

I like the colloquial style of Australians. I wouldn't give you ten bucks for a trailer-load of John Howard, cynical political football player that he is, but I like the way an unflustered Aussie can undo all the tension. Cardiac arrest? No worries. We'll get you on the Packer Whacker, mate.

Let me testify: when you're lying on your back contemplating your mortality, there's nothing so reassuring as an ambulance officer who treats the whole thing as a ten-minute taxi ride across town.

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