When our family of four camped in Newfoundland in 1960 we spent a day at
Bowater’s Beach. Near the water’s edge there was bright red board on a saw
horse; it looked like a double-wide teeter-totter. It had four hand holes, and
there were straps to hold a person securely on the board.
This “tilting board” was for reviving swimmers who were nearly drowned -- a
device that was obsolete many years before our camping trip. However, as with
the tilting bed used in hospitals, the wide teeter-totter might be helpful in
More important, it might be used by bystanders who had no idea how to do the
My interest in ancient and outmoded methods of artificial respiration relates
to the fact that I’ve taught swimming, water safety and lifesaving since 1935.
That year our local Red Cross chapter sent me to a National Aquatic School in
Arkansas, and I was employed by Christian College at the beginning of the fall
semester. Artificial respiration history helped in my teaching of first aid
Early missionaries heard word-of-mouth stories of how the Chinese gave first
aid to nearly drowned victims. They put them, chest deep, into a kettle of hot
oil! By the time the oil was warm it was too late to restore breathing.
However, the rescuers must have felt that they did the best they could.
Flailing the patient with thorny briars, like immersion in hot oil, was used
about the time of first-recorded history. Flailing might have made the victim
gasp for a breath, if it had begun soon enough. However, the time lost in
finding the right thorn bush, cutting the branches, running back to the
disaster area and ripping off the victim’s clothing would have been too late.
These early methods are among the oldest ways that caring people used when
natural breathing was interrupted. Don’t try them.
Russians covered victims with warm sand, up to the chest, with the victim in
either a sitting or lying down position. American Indians used fresh, steaming
animal dung applied to the abdomen. Imagine the problems that this presented.
American Indians also induced tobacco smoke into the non-breathing person’s
rectum. They killed an animal, removed its bladder and tubes, then blew strong
smoke into one tube and inserted the second tube into the victim’s bottom. By
squeezing the bladder, the smoke was forced into the intestine. This idea was
copied in Europe where it was used in the 18th century.
Remember, I’m not giving lessons. I’m only relating history.
Even into the 20th century, untrained rescuers were depending on equipment
that was usually not on the spot when someone suffocated. The lack of air
resulted from drowning and also accidents such as hanging, cave-in, contact
with electric wires, choking and other causes.
The time lost in getting supplies ready was costing lives. “Direct” methods
of artificial respiration were introduced about 1850. Direct methods are those
that can be done without equipment or devices of any kind. It wasn’t necessary
to have a second person to help. More lives could be saved by one rescuer,
using only his two bare hands.
On another Tuesday I’ll tell about pullmotors, fireplace bellows, horses,
trees, ropes and other equipment that slowly lost its popularity. And I’ll
describe variations of Heimlich’s effective maneuver.