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The Lesson from Damar Hamlin. Are You Prepared for the Worst?

Damar Hamlin, a remarkable and beloved football player for the Buffalo Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest following what would appear to be a routine tackle. The video replays are horrifying and every player’s nightmare. Every coach’s nightmare. Every parent’s nightmare. Everyone’s nightmare.

When it’s your kid, your teammate, your grandchild, your player down, the game doesn’t matter anymore. Score doesn’t matter. Plays don’t matter. Nothing matters.

Except getting professional medical triage to that downed player. Immediately.

What we saw in the Bills/Bengals game was first responders doing what they do best. And no matter how this turns out, if Hamlin walks out of the Cincinnati Medical Center or not, care was given quickly and efficiently. No regrets.

But what if you suffer a debilitating heart episode, cardiac arrest, a stroke? You’re in your car. You’re at home. Alone. You’re with friends. You’re at Costco.

What about you?

This tragic event with Hamlin brings into sharp focus the ongoing debate about the safety of the sport. And I could cite all the stats about football and its brutality, about redesign of helmets, awareness of concussions and traumatic brain injury, about the influence of football movies such as The Blind Side and Brian’s Song.

But this isn’t about the Big Game or Monday Night Football traditions. I’ll let the NFL and its fans and players debate the safety of the game.

My message today is about your safety. Who will be there if you collapse? Who will give you life-saving CPR or have a defibrillator handy and administer the shock to bring you back to life?

Let us all think about this:

  • Do you know how to give CPR? Contact your local Red Cross and sign up for classes. At least view videos online to get a sense of what to do. It will be too little, too late if you have to access a YouTube video while Grandma is lying on the floor with no pulse. Or if the 911 emergency operator has to coach you through while the ambulance is en route. And as my EMT son reminds me, "The effectiveness of CPR is highly dependent on how much time you drill."

  • Who around you knows CPR? Talk with your family members. Urge them to learn CPR.

  • Where’s the AED? When you are in the mall, a store, church, a school, the airport, any public place, take note of where you might see an AED mounted on the wall. That bit of knowledge could be lifesaving, for you or someone else when panic sets in and hearts stop. Seconds count as we saw on the field with Hamlin. The CPR classes also show you how to use the AED. So a refresher course is essential.

  • Live alone? If you live alone, do you have an emergency lifeline bracelet or pendant? Why not? This is a life and death matter.

  • Medical alerts. If you have a medical condition that could be life-threatening, are you wearing a medical alert bracelet so first responders can readily see it? Why not? They are trained to look for them.

  • Who decides for you? Do you have an advance directive (sometimes called a living will) where you designate someone to make medical decisions for you, if you cannot? Why not? If you do not decide, someone will decide for you. As I discuss in my book, Farewell: Vital End-of-Life Question with Candid Answers, save your family the agony of making decisions for you and spell out your wishes now.

Don’t think too long about whether you and your family are prepared. Do it.

Join me on Instagram. Please note that I am posting an uplifting message about life and stress each day on Instagram at @AskDoctorEd. I am no longer posting these messages on Twitter. Join me on Instagram.

[Photo from Shutterstock.]

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