You witnessed a cardiac arrest.
Witnessing a cardiac arrest or helping to potentially save a life can be an overwhelming experience. There is no “normal” way to feel. Your feelings are valid. Heartsight can help with information about the common experiences, thoughts, and shared emotions of others like you. Understanding your own experience can help you reduce uncertainty and move forward to well-being. Heartsight resources are based on clinical research and the lived experiences of others. You are not alone.
A cardiac arrest is a sudden life-threatening emergency. Witnessing a cardiac arrest and how that affects someone can be very personal. After the initial rush subsides, you may feel a range of emotions and struggle to make sense of what happened. The information below will help you understand the sequence of events and your reactions to them.
5 Things To Know
1. The success of the actions of a lay rescuer is based on whether an attempt was made at a second chance, not by the outcome.
2. With extreme stress, the brain struggles to process all the information coming in and develops fragmented memories of witnessing cardiac arrest.
3. It is normal for a person in cardiac arrest to bleed from their mouth, have reflexive agonal breathing, and have eyes staring into nothingness.
4. Paramedics check a person’s responsiveness, breathing, and pulse to determine cardiac arrest and initiate emergency procedures.
5. After initial treatment to stabilize the vitals, paramedics either transport the person in cardiac arrest to the hospital or terminate resuscistation in the field.
Cardiac arrest is unique and represents the heart-brain connection
What’s happening to my loved one during CPR?
What were the paramedics doing, and why?
They said, “_______.” What does that mean?
I feel terrible, lost, and have several questions. Is that expected?
Can I ever ‘unsee’ what I have seen?
How do I process my thoughts and feelings?
In the first few days to weeks, you begin to process your feelings and seek validation that your feelings are normal. You may begin to ask questions to seek clarity on what happened. The content below may answer some of your questions.
5 Things To Know
1. CPR gives people experiencing cardiac arrest the very best chance of survival, and benefits clearly outweigh any potential harm.
2. In the first month of witnessing trauma, memories are often disorganized and stored as fragments based on how our senses experienced it.
3. The majority of us are able to piece together these sense memories to form an interconnected story, as opposed to continuing to live in that moment.
4. Understanding that what you are feeling is normal can help you begin to process the experience and develope coping skills.
5. Remember, you are resilient. The mind is a powerful tool in self-recovery.
Did my CPR help or hurt them?
How do my senses store traumatic memories?
How do I begin to understand my thoughts, feelings, and memories?
How can I recover?
As you process your experience and gain closure around the feelings, sights, and sounds you encountered, the intensity of your emotional symptoms will likely lessen. However, actively engaging in self-care strategies that may seem simple or straightforward, can positively impact your overall well-being. The strategies listed below will help you come to terms with what happened and address the witnessed aspects of cardiac arrest.
5 Thing To Know
1. Daily exercise, healthy eating, good sleep, and stress management strengthen resilience to overcome trauma.
2. Specialized practices like sensory grounding, mindfulness, creative activities, journaling, or social support can complement basic self-care.
3. For those who find comfort and strength in their faith, seeking support from a faith-based counselor may be valuable.
4. If symptoms persist beyond the initial weeks or months, it may be time to seek the support of a mental health professional.
5. Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it can be an empowering step towards long-term healing.
Are there lifestyle changes I can make to recover?
What are my options beyond lifestyle changes?
Why am I still struggling? Do I need more help?