Would you know what to do? I confront a real-life emergency and feel helpless

This morning, I was walking (my current substitute for running until my knee decides to be in a happier space) when I looked across the street and saw a man lying on the sidewalk. A couple of people were gathering around him.  As soon as the light turned I hurried across to see if I could help.

A thin man in his late 50s with close cropped hair lay on his back. He was wearing running clothes and the white buds of his earphones lay next to his ears.  His eyes were open, but unfocused.  His skin looked pale. He was breathing rapidly, and with very exhalation he made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a sigh.  A neighbor was on the phone with 9-1-1, who advised giving him an aspirin.  The lady ran inside to get an aspirin (makes me kind of wonder if I should keep some in the house).

Another woman said she was his wife and that he had been running and suddenly collapsed.  She wore what looked like pink house slippers, so I’m not sure where she came from or if he collapsed right outside where they live.  She said he had an implanted defibrillator.  She seemed kind of oddly distant from what was going on - not talking to her husband or kneeling by him.

A third woman was kneeling by his side. She said she worked in medical imaging and knew CPR (but seemed uncertain of what to do since he didn't need CPR).  She had her hand on his wrist and said his pulse was not too bad. A man showed up with a blanket which was put under his head.
We got him half up and I think he managed to swallow the aspirin.  He mumbled that his defibrillator had gone off, which might have accounted for how shock-y he looked.  And just then, thank God, the fire department showed up (they are first responders in Portland). An ambulance was not far behind.

While I wasn’t particularly scared, I did feel uncertain about what to do, especially since he was breathing but was clearly in bad shape. The last time I took a CPR class was in 1990.  And I took an advanced first aid course in college where we learned how to deal anything up to severed limbs.  But that was 30 years ago.  I’m sure a lot of things have changed.

So what should I/we have done:

  • Called 9-1-1 (which was done)

  • Sat him in the 'W' position:semi-recumbent (sitting up at about 75° to the ground) with knees bent.

  • Told him to chew the aspirin

  • Asked him if he had any medications on him

  • Monitored and took note of his breathing and pulse rate (the medical imaging lady was checking his pulse only, and I’m not sure if she was noting it)

If he had been or had become unconscious, we should have:

  • Shouted at him: 'Can you hear me?' or 'Open your eyes'.

  • Gently shaken his shoulders.

If he didn’t respond, checked if he was breathing by putting a cheek right above his mouth and looking, listening and feeling for breath.

If he was breathing, we could have put him in the recovery position until help arrived, which is basically turning him on his side and lifting his chin forward to open his airway.

If he hadn’t been breathing, one of us could have put the heel of one hand between his niles, placed our other hand on top of the first, kept our arms straight and used our body weight to do press straight down on the chest at least two inches, 100 times a minute (using the old BeeGee’s song Staying Alive as a guide).  There’s no need to do rescue breathing if you haven’t been trained.

My local Red Cross offers a CPR/first aid class. I'm going to sign up.
I took a CPR class this winter, after my husband slipped on ice and ended up concussed (I thought, at the time that he fell, that it was a much more serious, seizure-inducing injury.)

Taking the class made me feel more in control of the thousands of variables we can't control in our daily lives. I hope you find the same, when you take yours!
I feel like I know some, but not enough.

My husband fell years ago while ice skating. He had his hands in his pockets and couldn't get them out. He complained of a stiff neck for several days. Then a long time later, he had an X-ray and was asked when he had fractured his neck! We were just lucky it didn't have a much worse ending.

The thing that startled me the most about the CPR class was how much strength it took -- I doubt I'd have the stamina to keep going for more than five minutes or so. (I was also surprised by the toll it took on my wrist, which is always twinge-y with tendonitis -- but in a real emergency, that's definitely secondary!)

I think the situation you encountered would be the scariest -- nothing at all that you can do, on a practical basis, but call in the professionals.
I've always been told to do CPR with Staying Alive. My friends does it to Another One Bites the Dust. I think that's counterproductive.
Especially if they come to to hear you humming it. When my mom was in the ER last year, the loudspeakers kept playing "Lullaby and good night" which felt really creepy given that we were trying to figure out if she was dying. Turned out they did it every time a baby was born.