Shockingly Easy: How to save a life

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A CASUALTY lies prostrate on the floor in front of me and the clock is ticking.

All the signs show that she has gone into cardiac arrest – lack of pulse, no breathing, an unnatural pallor – and every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces her chances of survival by ten per cent.

Lizzy performs CPR on a dummy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Lizzy performs CPR on a dummy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

If I don’t act quickly then she will die.

Fortunately my casualty is made of plastic – as I am learning to use a defibrillator from the first responders at the ­Scottish Ambulance Service.

As part of our Shockingly Easy campaign, I was invited to a training session for the heart-start machines along with members of the Edinburgh South Football Club, Edinburgh Cricket Club, Lismore Rugby Club and Edinburgh Tae Kwon Do club at Inch Park Community Sports Club.

The electric shocks which zap from these unassuming boxes wield the power to restart the heart of someone who has gone into cardiac arrest.

It is quite a feeling to know you are responsible for the machine which could bring someone back from the dead.

“There is no reason to be afraid of using a defibrillator, says Sam Grieve, community defibrillation officer for the ­Scottish Ambulance Service, who is leading the session.

“I always say that by the end of the training everyone comes and says to me ‘Is that it?’ Because it really is that ­simple,” she adds.

“The important thing about these sessions is it is familiarisation rather than training.

“You don’t need training to use a defibrillator and no-one should be put off using one.”

Often the first sign of a ­cardiac arrest is when the person becomes unconscious and the most important thing to do is call 999.

“The key thing to saving someone’s life is quickly ­starting the chain of survival – early recognition, early CPR to buy time, and early defibrillation,” she says.

Call handlers will describe the process and tell you when a defibrillator nearby – if someone else is there to help. The briefcase-sized box contains two pads, which are go onto the victim’s chest.

Any jewellery needs to be removed and a towel should be used to wipe away any excess sweat to allow the pads to work. All machines come with a spare pair of pads – in case the original pair are damaged- as well as a razor to remove hair from the chest which can stop the pads from working.

Sam said that once the pads are on, the electrodes inside transmit the heart rhythm back to the machine where an ­internal computer analyses whether a shock is needed.

If the heart rhythm is irregular, then a helpful voice will speak from the box to say a shock is about to be delivered.

Sam shows us how to deliver CPR by interlocking both hands and pressing down on the centre of the casualty’s chest at a rate of 100 compressions a minute.

If you are able then you can give two breaths into the victim’s mouth while holding their nose every 30 compressions. The volunteers are a bit nervous but Sam assures us the shocks will not harm a healthy person, as the defibrillator only activates when there is no heartbeat. Sam also says there is also no risk of using them while in the rain, as they are permitted for use in swimming pools and leisure centres.

Each defibrillator contains 300 shocks and a five-year battery life which the ambulance service will help to maintain.

Gary Davidson, coach of Edinburgh South FC Ladies team, says he couldn’t believe how easy the devices are to use.

The 26-year-old, from Leith, says: “The hardest bit is doing the CPR for two minutes. You don’t think two minutes is a very long time but its hard work. Before I might have looked at one and thought ‘I’ve never used this before. How does it even work?’ But it just makes so much sense.

“So many people use the club and before no-one was sure what to do in this situation whereas now they are just going to run for it.”

The Scottish Ambulance Service offers free defibrillator training to organisations.

Contact Sam Grieve by e-mailing


THE News has joined the family of Jamie Skinner in launching the Shockingly Easy campaign. We hope to ensure there is a life-saving defibrillator in every Lothian sports centre. Here’s how to help:

• Raise the issue with the committee of your local sports club and ask them to support the campaign.

• Learn CPR skills or volunteer to host a training session at your club. If you can help, e-mail

• If you already have a defibrillator, please let us know too, so you can be added to the ambulance services’ defibrillator map of the Lothians.

• On social media.

• If you want to make a donation, cheques payable to The Jamie Skinner Foundation can be sent to Shockingly Easy, Edinburgh Evening News, Orchard Brae House, 30 Queensferry Road, EH4 2HS. Donate online at, search for Jamie Skinner.