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4 Common Confusions about CPR and First Aid

What if you walked into your grandmother’s house one day at the precise moment she was having a heart attack in bed. What would be the first thing you should do?

Apply CPR right? Wrong! The first thing you should do is get her off the bed and onto the floor and THEN apply CPR. Because CPR needs a hard firm surface below the patient to be effective. If you left grandma on the bed and tried to apply CPR, the soft, bouncing mattress would not give you enough resistance to your efforts and most of your energy would be wasted. It would simply not achieve the result that CPR is supposed to achieve. You would also tire faster and not be able to do it for as long as needed.

This is one simple but common confusion people have about CPR. Another is the use of a Defibrillator. If there happened to be an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) nearby and granny was having a heart attack, you’d go and grab it quickly and use it wouldn’t you?

Well not if she was still breathing and conscious! (Even if she was having a heart attack!) You only use an AED on someone who is “unresponsive and not breathing normally”. So essentially, it’s only for someone who is in this state. The good news is that AEDs are so smart these days that if you try to use one on someone when it is not the right time to use it on them, it won’t actually work! But you can waste time running for one if it’s not needed.

Now speaking of “unresponsive and not breathing normally” two other common confusions about administering first aid include not actually knowing when a person is unconscious and what “not breathing normally” really means.

Unconsciousness is not like sleeping. When someone is asleep you can easily rouse them awake. A shake of the shoulders, a gentle tap on their face, and they will wake up. But when someone is unconscious, they don’t respond no matter what you do. Yell, scream, shake them, anything. If they don’t easily come around, they are unconscious and that is what “unresponsive” means.

The other common confusion is whether or not someone is breathing. Sometimes after a heart attack, or even during one, a person may begin to gasp for air. And you can think they are still breathing. But if they are just opening their mouths every few seconds and trying to suck in air, this is an automatic body response and is known as “agonal breathing”. It’s often called “fish breathing” because it looks like what a fish does when it’s out of water and dying.

This type of breathing is not really breathing at all as it doesn’t bring in enough oxygen to the body. So, it’s basically the same as not actually breathing.

This is important because if you call an ambulance for someone having a heart attack and the person on the line at 000 asks you if the patient is still breathing and you see them gasping for air every 5 seconds or so, you could easily say “yes they are still breathing” when they are not actually. This can affect the urgency of the response and what they might get you to do while waiting for the ambulance.

These, and other common confusions about first aid and CPR are cleared up in our courses. You can book yours today at or call 1300 661 065.

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