A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Monday, October 24, 2005

C. P. Argh

Aquaman made his live-action debut in last Thursday night's Smallville, as University of Miami swimmer Arthur "A.C." Curry. He immediately kicked things off by saving Lois, and then nearly killing her again. You see, Lois attempted a dive into Crater Lake (and did you notice the mountains surrounding the lake?), hit her head and fell unconscious in the water. Aquaman rescues her, brings her to shore, and performs CPR until she spits up some water. Cue Lois falling head over heals for A.C.

The problem is, Aquaman apparently learned first aid off a Denny's placemat. Not only does he arguably pick the wrong kind of first aid to administer, he also performs it so incorrectly that it could well have hurt Lois.

CPR, short for "cardiopulmonary resuscitation," deals with exactly what the name suggests: the heart. It's an emergency procedure for when a person suffers heart failure, and is intended to provide oxygen and circulation for the victim. It's a potential life-saver when a person's heart has stopped.

But for drowning? Well, there's some dispute. The Red Cross says that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation should be the first treatment, but the Heimlich Institute recommends the Heimlich Maneuver be performed first. They point to a 10-year study that showed CPR-only resuscitations ended in failure 42% of the time. I agree with the Heimlich Institute, and believe that one should attempt to expel the inhaled water before trying to breathe in new air.

Still, let's cut A.C. a break and say he's following the Red Cross's recommendation. If that's the case, he still gets it wrong. He carries Lois out of the lake, lays her on the sand, and immediately begins doing compressions on her chest.

Bad idea. Even though the Red Cross says to try CPR first, it only says to perform the mouth-to-mouth breathing part of CPR. Performing chest compressions on a person whose heart is still beating is pointless at best, and seriously dangerous at worst. They should only be done when a person doesn't have a pulse.

Checking for a pulse is just one of the initial steps of CPR, and even it comes after opening the victim's airway, establishing breathlessness, and (if the victim isn't breathing) administering some initial ventilation breaths. A.C. skipped all of those steps and jumped straight into doing chest compressions, the one part of CPR that Lois didn't need. It's unlikely Lois' heart would fail that quickly in the water, and since her subsequent treatment was not to get her to a hospital, it sure didn't sound like she'd just survived heart failure.

Furthermore, the valuable seconds wasted on giving Lois unnecessary chest compressions is time that should've been devoted to treating the actual problem of water in her lungs. The only purpose the compressions served was to provide the director with an opportunity for some close-up shots of Erica Durance's rack.

On the plus side, at least A.C knew to pinch her nose shut while giving the breaths, so he's not a completely lost cause.

Basically, for someone who joked about starting a Junior Lifeguard Association, Aquaman really needs to get himself some first aid training before he hurts someone. After all, CPR should only be administered by someone who's ben trained in the procedure (unlike A.C.). Incorrect portrayals of CPR in the media only serve to invite some overzealous good citizen to try and imitate bad first aid. Contact your local Red Cross if you're interested in taking their certification course.