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Sudden Death and the Myth of CPR [Paperback]

Stefan Timmermans
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 19 1999 1566397162 978-1566397162
Sudden Death and the Myth of CPR is for anyone who has taken a CPR course or who believes the images from television dramas. It is also for families of victims and survivors of CPR. It will engage emergency personnel, others in the medical field, and anyone concerned with ethical issues of death and dying. Anyone who has ever taken a CPR course has wondered, "What would happen if I actually had to use CPR?" In Western societies, the life-saving power of resuscitation has the status of a revered cultural myth. It promises life in the face of sudden death, but the reality is that lives are rarely saved. Medical researchers estimate the survival rate for out-of-hospital CPR to be between 1 and 3 percent. Sudden Death and the Myth of CPR explores the history of this medical innovation and the promotion of its effectiveness. The overuse of resuscitation, Timmermans explains, defines people's experience with sudden death, something he learned first-hand by following the practice of life-saving from street corner to emergency room. He argues that very few people are successfully resuscitated without brain damage despite the promotion of CPR's effectiveness through powerful media images. In vivid accounts of the day-to-day practices of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in one of the only studies of sudden death, Timmermans records the astonishingly frank comments of emergency personnel. Doctors, nurses, social workers, and paramedics express emotions from cynicism about going through the futile motions to genuine concern for victims' family members. If a person who was supposed to keep on living dies at the end of a resuscitative attempt, how socially meaningful is the dying? Timmermans asks tough questions and addresses the controversial ethical issues about the appropriateness of interfering with life and death. He suggests policy reforms and the restoration of dignity to sudden death. Author note: Stefan Timmermans is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University and is widely published on the topic of health care.

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"Out of his immersion in the sequestered inner world of the hospital emergency departments where sudden death and resuscitative efforts generally take place, Timmermans arrives at illuminating philosophical and sociological insights into how we all are, and ought to be, implicated in these processes, and admirable suggestions about how we can help to make them more dignified, consoling, and meaningful." --Renee C. Fox, Annenberg Professor Emerita of the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania "This deeply disturbing book documents the failure of modern society to deal with sudden death. Timmermans combines ethnographic observations in various Emergency Rooms with a detailed history of the emergence of CPR to debunk the myth that CPR is successful. Timmermans is a wise and humane guide through the tricky ethical issues surrounding sudden death. He argues for a new ethical code to restore dignity and choice to the dying process. This important and insightful book deserves to become a classic in medical sociology." --Trevor Pinch, Cornell University "A compassionate, meticulous portrayal of sudden death. Heroics are entirely banished in this first-ever ethnography of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and the record is set straight through a skillful, eye-opening account of the routines and practices of emergency medicine... [T]his is an indispensable read for social scientists and historians of technology and medicine, and also for specialists in emergency medicine and health-care professionals involved with death and dying." --Margaret Lock, author of the award-winning Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America

About the Author

Stefan Timmermans is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Brandeis University and is widely published on the topic of health care. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Glaring mistakes undermine the book's intention Feb. 17 2002
By A Customer
If you have any medical knowledge in resuscitation, there are some glaring examples in the book that the author really doesn't know what happens in a resuscitation event. Examples like:
1)"Knickerbocker...noticed that the dogs' blood pressure would increase when he put the heavy fifteen-pound paddles" (50)
2)"...or a prolonged pulseless anginal rhythm..." (122)
3)"LANKER: She must not even have a 60 [heart rate]. JOHNSON: Well, I feel a carotid [pulse]. So it should be at least a 60." (142)
While these examples seem small, the inaccuracies can seriously damage the author's credibility. Using the above examples, here's why:
1) The paddles DID NOT weigh fifteen pounds! The doctor needed to APPLY 15 POUNDS OF PRESSURE to the dogs chest to activate a safety switch. This is what caused the blood pressure to suddenly peak in the dog. We still apply several pounds of pressure to defibrillator paddles today; if the author had read a advanced cardiac resuscitation book he would learn of this.
2)Angina is the wrong word. Angina, or "heart pain" has nothing to do with the situation. Rather, the word should be "agonal" which means "dying".
3)When the nurse here says "60", she is not referring to the heart rate, but blood pressure. (We know this by reading the next line.) There is a big difference between the two, and the difference has clinical significance. (Traditionally, a carotid [neck] pulse, which is mentioned in the next line, indicates that the blood pressure is at least 60mmg.)
The book comes to some very strange conclusions ("Mouth to mouth remains an unarousing sexual act" Page 93) and some vivid and imaginative descriptions of CPR. ("CPR is unusual in the way it brings strangers into intimate contact.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "The Dignity of Sudden Death"? Give Me A Break! Dec 30 2000
Though Timmermans brings up many valid issues in this book, I disagree strongly with the idea of "restoration of dignity to sudden death". This seems like a make-nice way of saying not to upset family members with chest smacking and electric jolts of defibrillation.
Please! Dignity is for bystanders who don't want their sensibilities upset, not for the guy on the stretcher. I know. I was that guy. I may hold the world record for being revived. During a massive heart attack, I was defibrillated 72 times. It took almost three hours of work to bring me back. And guess what? I wasn't the slightest bit concerned with dignity. I just wanted them to keep working until they got me back.
Did I care if my chest was fried from the voltage? No.
Did I care that they stripped me and half a dozen people were handling me? No.
All I cared about was getting back so I could see my wife and I didn't give a tinker's damn what they did to me. Now, it's five years later and I am healthy.
Yes, only a fraction of people who arrest survive resuscitation. But some do. Resuscitation, by definition, is a last-ditch, desperate measure. Admittedly, most victims won't make it. But that's not why we do it. We do it for the ones who DO make it....
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and caring Feb. 18 2001
By A Customer
I work in emergency medicine and was sure I would hate this book. But I actually like it very much. Timmermans gives a nuanced and empathetic view of resuscitating. He explains how paramedics and emergency room staff are trapped in a double bind. Relatives expect them to save lives but resuscitation techniques rarely succeed in saving lives. The result are unrealistic expectations. Timmermans does a good job exploring the colorful history of resuscitation techniques and the role of insurance companies and managed care. I only wish he paid more attention to automatic defibrillators.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved the book. Jan. 18 2001
I loved this book. It is on a painful topic but it answered some nagging questions for me. My mother died unexpectedly and I never forgave my father for not staying with her during her last moments and always wondered why CPR did not keep her alive. This book provided some answers. It is informative and compassionate.
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