Broken bones, bruising and brain damage: This is the aftermath of CPR you don’t see

FOR medical professionals throughout Australia, it is a familiar scene. A patient goes into cardiac arrest and is then brought back to life using CPR — but this can sometimes be when the real trouble begins.

Broken bones and bruising is common but there is another much more serious side-effect from cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that is rarely talked about.

“What I would worry about a great deal more is brain damage. The brain doesn’t get blood to do it and a significant number of people who arrest come out with significant brain damage and that scares people much more,” Dr Charlie Corke told

Dr Corke, who will speak on tonight’s Insight special “Is it always right to resuscitate?” at 8.30 on SBS, said it was crucial people thought about what they wanted to happen if they ever went into cardiac arrest.

“The issue we’re trying to talk about is CPR ranges from something very simple, that you collapse, get a shock [and] the machines are there, and the outcome is a good thing. It’s a valuable, fantastic thing.”

But at the other end of the spectrum, when people became older and more frail, the outcomes were not always what people anticipated.

“We don’t tend to see those on TV — people either die or wake up. There was a study done that found about 75 per cent of people survive, which is ridiculous.”

In fact, the survival rate after CPR was as little as 15 per cent, for people in hospital and in the community.

Dr Charlie Corke says the aftermath of CPR is not easily understood by most people.

Dr Charlie Corke says the aftermath of CPR is not easily understood by most people.Source:Supplied

“The outcomes can be terrible and with much lower survival rates than you see on television,” Dr Corke said.

“People who are clearly very ill and deteriorating and struggling then have a medical crisis … Without permission not to resuscitate, we’ll ramp up medical care to try and save them, and often we can, but they end up a lot worse than when the deterioration started.”

It was not uncommon for the revived patients to be taken from the “intensive care unit to a nursing home”, he said.

“It’s not the happy ending you see on TV,” Dr Corke said.

Despite horror stories and the high number of “bad outcomes”, there could be good results, which complicated the issue for both medical staff and patients.

“You could end up in a very bad way. It just comes down to how much people are prepared to risk,” Dr Corke said.

It was at this point that many people realised the magnitude of what had happened and of the ongoing consequences.

Insight’s special investigation by Jenny Brockie explores these issues and debates whether the benefits outweigh the risks, while Dr Corke and other experts discuss what people need to talk about with their loved ones. Before it’s too late.

<i>Insight</i> host Jenny Brockie will examine the issue of whether people should be resuscitated or not.

Insight host Jenny Brockie will examine the issue of whether people should be resuscitated or not.Source:Supplied

Dr Corke himself has a care plan that outlines what he wants to have happen if he needs to be revived. For him, it all depends on the situation.

The younger the patient is, and how quickly they can access a defibrillator is what’s crucial to survival. For those people, CPR can have a happy ending — but what he hopes people take away from the Insight special is to start thinking about the issue.

For a lot of people, the thought of being in a worse place medically than before the CPR was a frightening thought.

“If people started thinking about it clearly their answer wouldn’t be ‘yes, yes’ under all circumstances. Very few people would come up with that answer to question,” Dr Corke said.

Insight screens tonight at 8.30 on SBS1.

Yes, indeed the scary side of CPR. But none the less having the skills to bring someone back to life is great. Get into one of Canberra First Aid and Training’s first aid courses in Canberra as soon as you can.

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