Even before there was written history, human beings attempted to "raise the dead." Flailing a lifeless body with a fist full of thorny briars seems ridiculous, but it made the relatives feel that someone had tried to bring their loved one back to life. American Indians put warm animal dung on a lifeless one’s abdomen, thinking that life from the animal was somehow transferred to the dead human. In China they immersed the lifeless body in a kettle of hot oil. Russians covered the lifeless person in warm sand from his feet to his neck and shoulders. Useless!
For 60 years I’ve been interested in the history of attempting to revive people who were brought out of water, not breathing. A device called a pulmotor had been popular but was trashed because it was dangerous! We learned that devices were almost never in the right place when water emergencies occurred. However, people liked the pulmotor although it killed many people who could have been saved by what we now know about artificial respiration. The pulmotor worked like an automobile tire pump, and it destroyed delicate lung tissue.
In an advanced lifesaving class, we dramatized the old technique of draining the water out a person’s lungs. It took all afternoon to get the right rope, get it over a tree limb and tie it to a fellow’s feet. It then required three strong men to pull him up to pretend draining water out; of course it was only a demonstration, but water in lungs would not drain out - and there was no other way to get it out at that time.
In Europe an eccentric alchemist named Paracelsus, born in Switzerland in 1493, advocated using a fireplace bellows to blow air into the mouths of drowning victims - to get them breathing again. People liked the idea of having a "device" to use. As with the discontinued "mouth-to-mouth breathing," most of the air went into the stomach instead of the lungs.
Nevertheless, Paracelsus’ bellows device was accepted by some individuals for more than 300 years! One person alone could not hold the device, squeeze the handles and also close the victim’s nose to prevent air from escaping! Ridiculous as it was, and with doctors saying it didn’t work, people relied on Paracelsus’ bellows - so effective in managing fireplace heating in their homes.
In Paracelsus’ day - and in April 2003 - here’s what happens underwater when someone is drowning: the person "climbs," with hands and feet, his head is tilted back to keep mouth and nose above the water as long as possible. Gasping for air, the victim takes in water and sinks lower down. When he loses consciousness, water rushes into the airways and the lungs. Three minutes after the victim’s last inhaled oxygen, he or she begins suffering irreversible brain damage! In three more minutes, death will likely result. Read on!
In just 10 seconds, with four Heimlich maneuvers - faster for little folks - the lungs are cleared of water and breathing resumes! The victim would likely be flat on his or her back on beach or pool deck. The maneuver can be done with the victim in almost any position: seated, vertical or, for little ones, on an adult’s lap or on a picnic table. It can be done in water where the rescuer can get a solid footing.
Almost everyone knows how to do the Heimlich maneuver for choking, and it’s the same thing we use for drowning. Success depends on beginning the maneuvers within three minutes of the last inhalation.
What happened to "mouth-to-mouth," also called "rescue breathing"?
The simple truth is that you cannot force air into water-filled lungs! Henry Heimlich, thoracic surgeon, has told us that since l974! Now with nearly 100 percent success, we believe him!